In recent times, there is an increasing trend in complaints of sexual harassment of young school children. This horrendous crime happens to children of all ages, from pre-school to Universities, causing severe, lifelong trauma to the victims. India, like all countries, has strict laws that punish offenders. But what are these laws, and how do they protect the victims? Is there any way to prevent these crimes from happening in the first instance?
A look at the incidents brought to light in the recent years
According to an analysis by Child Rights and You (CRY) of the 2018 National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data, there is a rise in child abuse crimes across Tamil Nadu at 18%, double the national average 9.9%. This uptick could mean the crimes are being reported and recorded with adequate action being taken, which is a positive sign. This indicates that these crimes are taken seriously and not brushed away. But nevertheless, the increase in uptick is a concern to the public and the authorities.
Among the first set of examples cited in National media, the pre-school age group child victims are targeted by close relations or persons in the same residence. The predator criminals take advantage of the unsuspecting and defenseless young victims to force them into horrible acts. Through our research, we understand that most of the victims are unaware and do not realize the victims committed to them. This often leads to repeated offenses committed over a long period before being acted upon.
The second set of examples in the middle school to high school age group, the criminals range anywhere from the school bus drivers, Janitors, and even Teachers. The accused indulge in heinous acts of both physical and non-physical nature. The victims in this age group are often aware of the crime, but these fail incidents are often not reported. This is because the victim gets threatened by repercussions, and/or the parents and guardians do not take it seriously. Even if they do, the school authorities often brush these off as regular incidents with minimal action when these are to be reported to Police officials. The school establishments often want to protect the “Brand Value” and hush up these to prevent the public backlash.
The third set of examples is at university levels. The young adult victims are targeted by predators masquerading as highly qualified, experienced Professors. The crimes committed in this phase are often sophisticated, involving social media coupled with unwarranted advances citing quid pro quo situations. Unlike the previous two sets, these incidents are usually ruled with different laws since the victim is often a major. But here again, the educational institutions play a role in diminishing the gravity of the issue, often allowing the crime perpetrator to escape free and encourage them to repeat the offense.
A closer look at the underlying factors
- The victims often fail to recognize the crime in the first case. This is the case across victims of younger age and/or where the crime can be Non-physical nature.
- The victims often lack clear communication, support, and guidance from parents or guardians. This is the case with school victims who often feel reprimanded even though they are the victims.
- The institutions do not take all the reported complaints equally seriously. These complaints are often shelved, hushed off silently with the dismissal of the accused.
- The complaints do not get registered with the police authorities. This prevents them from acting on these perpetrators even in genuine cases.
- There is an underlying need for a sex offended database to ensure the younger population is protected from these offenders.
An underlying note on the Repeat Offenders
Despite the heavy set of laws, it is often seen that the offenders have committed repeated offenses with the same or different victims over a period.
The first example of this case is the mention of issue in social media, PSBB, a prominent education institution in Chennai, India, where nearly 1000 alumni of the school have signed a complaint against an individual staff stating sexual harassment. The school management has acted after the uproar on social media. The police have arrested the accused with an FIR filed. While the authorities still investigate the case, we can understand the teacher has been associated with the institution for more than 20 years. It is surprising to see that these repeated offenses have not been noticed and acted upon earlier.
The lack of action often causes the predators to embolden and repeat the offense with the same and sometimes, even across multiple victims.
This behavior is seen across cases across victims of all age groups. This report of an eminent Professor’s repeated offense is a flagrant reason why these cases should be reported and filed with legal authorities to prevent them from happening again. The mentioned institution Great Lakes Institute of Management, Chennai, had its students reporting on the obscene offense committed by one of its professors repeatedly across students across different batches/years. The management took the case lightly in the initial years allowing the visiting staff to return to teaching duty after initial warning and dismissing him a few years later. The predator repeated his offense in his next work location Amity University, Mumbai, where he was dismissed after investigation. This example questions about institutions not acting upon incidents seriously and questions the quality of background verification done on educational personnel before hiring them.
What can be possibly done to prevent these heinous crimes from happening?
It is suggested that
- Parents and Guardians should teach their children on “Good” and “Bad” touches in the early years
- Parents and Guardians should spend time talking with their children daily to listen and understand their lives with an open mind. This will give a certain sense of belief and confidence to the children in their support structure.
- Educational institutions should act upon the reported cases by thoroughly investigating them with urgency, fairness, and seriousness.
- Parents, Guardians, and educational institutions should file a criminal case against the offenders in case of genuine complaints so that the Police authorities are aware of the issue and act upon them. This is very important to prevent criminals from repeating their offenses.
- A nationwide database with details of such accused prevents them from getting a job in such sensitive establishments. This needs to be established and thoroughly enforced along with the current POSCO laws protecting the victims.
For the brave survivors who told their story,
You’re not a victim for sharing your story. You are a survivor setting the world on fire with your truth. And you never know who needs your light, your warmth, and raging courage – Alex Elle