Steps Needed To Avoid Retraumatisation Of Sexual Assault Survivors: Kerala HC

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During a recent hearing on a rape case, the Kerala High Court highlighted the issue of retraumatisation of sexual assault survivors each time they have to visit the police station. Justice Devan Ramachandran further invited suggestions to know how sexual assault survivors can be better supported.

‘We are retraumatising the victim every time they have to go to the police station. There are people who contemplate taking their own lives due to this,” said Justice Ramachandran of Kerala HC. He further added that there is a requirement of a system to ensure that the sexual assault survivors are not re-traumatised by repeatedly having to visit the police stations.

The Court observed this issue while hearing a case where a survivor alleged that she had to approach the police station repeatedly and has been facing harassment from the police officers as well as the accused.

She had to keep going to the police station for permission to medically terminate the pregnancy that was the result of the assault. While addressing the survivor’s plea, the high court observed that it the case of sexual assault victims, there is a lot of psychological trauma which happens immediately after the event, coupled with the physical trauma.

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“After the victim goes through the trauma, she or he – I am making this gender neutral, it’s not necessary that it is always a lady, it could be man, woman, child, anyone – has to go to the police station…. We are re-traumatising the victim every time they have to go to the police station. There are people who contemplate taking their own lives due to this,” said Justice Ramchandran. He further added that not everyone has a good support system. “Every brain doesn’t work the same way. Some people take more time than others to get over their trauma.”

One such suggestion was whether they could implement the protocol under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act for the other sexual assault cases as well.

The POCSO Act provides for the person to register a complaint and give statements only from the place of their choice.

“The honourable Supreme Court has also recently spoken about the vulnerable victims’ protocol. It is a great step in the right direction. Here, I want to see how a person can register a complaint and give statements including under Section 164 of CrPC (Code of Criminal Procedure) only from the place of their choice. In POCSO cases, there are definite directions for this and I think we can follow the same principles for all sexual assault cases as well,” said Justice Ramachandran.

Survivors have to bear long-term consequences of sexual assault as well as psychological baggage that comes with the trauma which ends up taking a toll on their health. While wounds may heal, the mind doesn’t let survivors forget their ordeal.

Having to repeatedly go to the police station does surely add up to the baggage. It is a positive development that the Kerala High Court has finally addressed the trauma of sexual assault survivors, however, the conversation can’t stop here. Concrete steps need to be taken to ensure that sexual assault survivors do not have to relive their trauma again and again in their quest for justice.