Sexual assault, sexual harassment, sexual violence.
We have been reading a lot about how women have been subjected to sexual harassment, abuse, violence across industries, especially in the entertainment and media industry.
There have been accounts of female actors, directors, audience members, regular people who have suffered at the hands of certain male celebrities. Innumerous women have come out on social media to share their stories of sexual harassment.
The reactions to these stories have been mixed. Some believe the alleged victims and some support the alleged perpetrators. The arguments in favour of the accused men vary from “I know this guy, he’s not like that” to “why did you not come forward back then, why now?”
The air around these scandals are marred with disbelief towards the women for they lack evidence or they have come forward years after the incident took place.
The reaction pattern is quite similar to the #MeToo movement in the USA. It started with Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby, Bill O’Reilly, Louis C.K, etc. From actors, producers to comedians, newscasters, politicians, judges, even the President of USA has been accused of sexual harassment by victimised women!
The initial reaction was of disbelief as it involved powerful and popular celebrities. People could not believe or did not want to, that these popular personalities were capable of such crimes and allegations. So naturally, the victims were put on the defence. The onus fell on the accusers and victims to prove their stories.
Imagine, being the victim of a crime and then being asked to not only having to retell and relive your crippling story. Then being told that unless you get evidence, you are lying for publicity or money? The mindset of the society at large is that if a person is good or decent before them, they believe that they are the same for everyone.
Truth of the matter is that perpetrators choose their victims carefully. They will oppress the ones they perceive to be weaker. Someone who would not tell on them due to financial, social or other disparity in status. They will not hit the ones who will call them out or hit them back.
Recently, in the controversial confirmation hearing of now Supreme Court jurist, Judge Brett Michael Kavanaugh, at least three victims came forward with sexual assault allegations. Of them, Christine Margaret Blasey Ford, professor of psychology at Palo Alto University and a research psychologist at the Stanford University School of Medicine, gave a sworn testimony before the confirmation committee. She gave a moving and detailed account of the assault by Kavanaugh. Yet, after a hasty FBI investigation, Kavanaugh got a confirmation as a judge of the Supreme Court. The victim was openly mocked by President Trump in a rally!
This is why the victims take years to come forward. Not only are they met with disbelief, they are mocked for their ordeal. Their morality, character, career, personal lives are put on a media trial, where people get to weigh in and comment.
Closer to home in India, we have actor Tanushree Dutta accusing actor Nana Patekar of sexual harassment. She was sent legal notices by the veteran actor Nana Patekar and director Vivek Agnihotri. Then we have actor Sandhya Mridul coming out in support of director Vinita Nanda, while sharing her encounter of sexual harassment at the hands of veteran actor Alok Nath. The comedians like Utsav Chakraborty, Varun Grover, Gursimran Khamba, Kanan Gill have been accused of varying degrees of sexual harassment.
To be clear these are all allegations at this point, corroborated by the victims account. Most of the accused like Gursimran Khamba has stepped aside from the organisation of AIB. Utsav Chakraborty has accepted that his behaviour has been unwarranted on social media and has been condemned and distanced by AIB and other comedians from the industry.
But is this enough? What do the victim of sexual assault need to do in order to get justice for ordeal?
The law in India protects women from sexual harassment under the provisions of the Indian Penal Code.
Under S. 354A of IPC, any unwanted physical or verbal advances which could outrage the modesty of a woman, is punishable by fine and/or rigorous imprisonment.
Under S. 354B of IPC, any assault or use of criminal force against a woman with the intention of disrobing her is punishable by 3-7 years of imprisonment and/or fine.
Voyeurism is punishable under S. 354C, stalking under S. 354 D, rape under S.375.
You can read about sexual harassment laws here.
There are specific legislation for sexual harassment of women at workplace. You can read about duties of employers towards employees here.
With the victims speaking out against their oppressors, the time for change seems to be upon us. At long last the victims are breaking their silence and holding their oppressors accountable for their crimes. But calling them out on social media will only expose them and maybe force them off their celebrity status. It is not justice to have them resign from their position of power. True justice would be for them to realise that oppressing women or forcing them is not acceptable. There should be a due process of law involved. Knowledge is power. But we must know how to wield such knowledge.
You can also learn more about the prevention of sexual harassment at workplace, learn how to file an FIR. For a more thorough understanding of the criminal litigation and trial advocacy there is criminal law course available too.
The biggest lacuna that I find in the present legal system, is the gender inequality. Both the IPC, POSH looks at sexual harassment or violence against women alone. As I’ve mentioned earlier, the oppressors choose their victims carefully. Sometimes the men are oppressed too.
But they do not have any clear cut legislation protecting them so. If we want true justice to be served, we need for the oppressed men to come out and feel safe enough to share their stories without the fear of being shunned, judged or mocked.
Until the victims have the safe space to come forward and be heard, the oppressors will have a free reign. Their biggest strength comes from the silence and shame that the victims are subjected to. The fact that they will never be held accountable for their actions, for no one will dare come out as the victim.
I sincerely hope that we the people, become more sensitive towards the victims, and the legal system provide timely justice to the ones who believe in the system. The hope that our support goes beyond using hashtags and social media, and we speak out against any act of sexual violence and harassment. Many of us, even if not the oppressors, are the silent spectators or the enablers of such heinous acts. We must come together in support of the victim, and speak out whenever we see such crimes or offences.