The Calcutta High Court recently pointed out the stigma attached to sexual assault and rape survivors, which discourages them from opening up about the crimes against them.
While quashing a case registered under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (POCSO), Justice Bibek Chaudhuri said that there is a "plethora of reasons" why sexual assault survivors don’t disclose the crimes.
He noted that sexual assault survivors are discouraged from filing criminal cases because, first, they are not believed by the authorities and, second, because of the social stigma that the woman and her family would be subjected to when the case comes to light.
Calcutta HC On Sexual Assault Survivors
The judge observed while quashing a sexual assault case filed against a senior citizen for allegedly molesting his grand-niece when she was about 15–16 years old. The girl had filed a complaint when she was 18 years old.
The court noted that one of the reasons the case was sought to be quashed was because of the delay in filing the First information report (FIR). Most importantly, sexual assault and rape can cause lifelong trauma to the survivors, which is impossible to calculate mathematically or estimate a calculated time limit as to when a person could recover enough to be comfortable enough to file a police complaint.
The court also highlighted the social stigma that the survivor and their family members have to carry for their entire lives since they would be ostracised by society if the accused were proven innocent.
Referring to this case, the court pointed out the prosecution’s submission that the girl had tried to tell her father about the sexual assault after it happened. However, her father had "shut her down," accusing her of lying and having a dirty mind.
The court, therefore, noted that it cannot be said that the girl didn’t try to raise a complaint against the accused once the act was committed. She immediately informed her father, who failed to believe her. Hence, she could not believe him after she was violated a second time.
The aftermath of abuse
Further, the court said that when the survivor informed her brother about the sexual assault, they were threatened by her father and family members. The family also issued similar threats when the girl finally filed a criminal complaint.
Hence, the court concluded that there was a cogent reason behind the delay in filing the case. The court also added that such "technical grounds" cannot be the reason for dismissing an investigation into a heinous crime such as sexual harassment of a girl.
The accused had filed a counterargument alleging that there was a long-pending matrimonial dispute between the accused's nephew (girl’s father) and his wife (girl's mother). However, the court wasn’t convinced.
The case was that the girl was violated by her grand uncle, who allegedly touched her private parts and later flashed his private parts to her on two occasions in 2018 and 2019 when she was 15–16 years old. The incidents allegedly happened during Rakshabandhan and Diwali celebrations at home when the girl’s mother was out of town.
Matrimonial disputes have arisen between the girl’s parents, leading to several rounds of litigation between them. In 2021, the girl’s mother suggested that they might have to return to their father’s place due to financial constraints, which the girl immediately opposed. It was at this time that the girl disclosed the sexual assault incident to her mother, following which the criminal case was filed.
It was also submitted that the girl was diagnosed with facial paralysis in 2020 due to trauma. The court was also informed that the girl’s family was made to wait for a long time before the police took the complaint.
The accused filed a petition at the high court in 2022 seeking to quash the criminal charges on several grounds, including being falsely implicated as a result of matrimonial altercations between his nephew (the girl’s father) and his wife (the girl’s mother).
The court, however, dismissed the petition, noting that the matter was in the investigation stage. The allegations in the FIR make a prima facie case against the accused, and hence the FIR cannot and should not be dismissed.