Pollachi Sexual Abuse: Why women do not go to the cops after sexual assault and blackmail

Victims in the Pollachi Sexual Abuse case put up with years rape, physical and mental harassment, blackmail and torture for year. Is our law doing enough to ensure justice and are our police stations
According to National Guidelines, victims' consent is necessary when it comes to medical tests
According to National Guidelines, victims' consent is necessary when it comes to medical tests

The Madras High Court has condemned the national media for not giving the Pollachi sexual abuse case the importance that it deserves. Besides the usual general apathy of the national media, this also shows that people are horrified by how large scale this blackmail racket is. Almost 200 women were molested and those turgid videos used to blackmail them over a period of seven years — and the accusers almost escaped scot-free, because not one of those women came out and registered a complaint. 

This raises a simple question: Why do women continue to fear the police, not have trust in the judiciary and choose to suffer in agony for years instead of telling somebody about how they were molested and blackmailed?

The answer is the same every single time. Because we treat the victims like they are the perpetrators. 

Are we telling girls it's OK to to get justice? Or hush them up?

In this case, especially, since a lot of the women went to meet their molesters voluntarily, going to the police was out of the question. But that should not be the reason why (in an ideal world) a woman is unable to go to the police, irrespective of the circumstances. Sudha Ramalingam, a senior advocate and activist says that we as a society have to become empathetic, "We have to start becoming aware and popularise the notion that anybody who is sexually violated deserves to get justice. The fear in their minds of the women should be taken away immediately," she explained. 

When it comes to any kind of blackmail, the victim's primary fear is that their secrets will come out in the open. And the shame that ensues will be the end of life as they know it. But continuing to live in fear will mean that the suffering continues. "The victims should be given the confidence to speak up about their trauma and the belief that they will find justice. The people around them should give them the support to approach the police," she explained. She cited an example from long ago, when two girls escaped from an ashram where they were being abused and found their way to Broadway bus stop. "Instead of making an inquiry, the people who found them lost and confused sent them back to the very place they escaped from. After that, somebody complained to the All India Democratic Women's Association and then they were rescued. But that's how things are — we don't know how to provide the best help for women in distress," she continued. 

Behind Bars: The four accused in the Pollachi sexual abuse, blackmailing case

A post-abuse medical exam is NOT mandatory

However, besides their lack of faith in the judicial system and fear of the police, women who have been abused also fear the medical tests they have to undergo. Recalling with words is one thing but having to put your body through tests to prove the assault can also be hard for many women. To avoid this, many women choose to not speak up. What is a relatively unknown fact is that women can DENY taking these tests. The police have to seek an informed consent for examination, evidence collection and even registering a case.

According to the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare's guidelines and protocols of medico-legal care for victims of abuse, the victim can deny undertaking medical tests and the police will still be required to file a complaint and take action based on available evidence. Very few women also know that as victims of sexual abuse they have the right to demand treatment from both public and private health professionals — which means you can get treated at any hospital sans insurance or a down-payment and they cannot refuse you immediate care. The guidelines state the the denial of treatment of rape survivors is punishable under Section 166 B IPC with imprisonment for a term which may extend to one year or with fine or with both.

The guidelines also explain clearly how the health professional and the police should behave with the victim, what words they should use in their interaction and how they should explain every single detail to the victim and get their complete approval. From not passing judgmental remarks to appreciating the survivor's strength in coming to the hospital to explaining to the victim that the incident was a crime and not an act of lust. Even if the police or doctors feel that there should be a medical test, the victim should be given a valid explanation and if she still denies it, the police are not allowed to force her in any way.

Another fact to appreciate in the guidelines is that they stress on the fact that presence of injuries is only observed in one third cases of forced sexual intercourse. The absence of injuries does not mean the survivor has consented to sexual activity. However, the unfortunate fact is that a lot of doctors and police are not aware of this fact. There has to be more awareness to ensure such information is accessible to all women who have been at the receiving end of such crimes.

The Police Station is scary. Period

To this day, police stations continue to be a scary place for normal people, let alone women who have been raped, manipulated and blackmailed. Retribution and justice need to you to relive your nightmare. And there's simply no way to avoid revisiting the horrid experience, Sudha said. But there are clear guidelines as to how a victim should be treated and following those will ensure more women feel safe and confident enough to approach the police, she added. "Speedy justice and a time-bound trial, these factors will encourage women to come forward," she explained. And yet, pendency on crimes against women is just as bad as pendency in any case in India. 

Even as we speak about police stations being a safe space for abused women, we cannot ignore the fact that the police have made tragic mistakes. The police handling the Pollachi case have been accused indirectly of silencing several women by revealing the identity of the one woman who came forward to file a complaint. In a press conference, the Superintendent of Police R Pandiarajan revealed the identity of the victim and other details as well. If that isn't enough to dispel any notions victims have of remaining anonymous, one has to wonder what is.

While the police cannot deny that revealing the name of the victim was an error, senior police officer Selva Naga Rathinam who is posted as the SP, Coastal Security Group in Ramanathapuram explained that the TN police take women abuse-related cases very seriously and that women should approach the police without any fear. "No matter how small the case is, if a woman approaches a police station, the police immediately take action. And there is no revealing of identity at all. We're very particular about that. We have the maximum number of women police stations and women will be dealt with respect and given due justice," he said.

But he also mentioned that more should be done to make society change and become a more supporting environment for women, "Forget the police, these days children are not talking to their parents, their families or even friends. We have to develop interpersonal relationships and have to be more supporting and encouraging of people," he explained.

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