Sexual harassment cases falling flat due to uncooperative victims

  • Shailee Dogra, Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
  • Updated: Jun 21, 2014 08:47 IST

After being booked by the police for sexually harassing a neighbour, man and his two sons were acquitted of the charges by a local court on June 11 after the victim failed to identify them.

On February 7, 2013, Balwinder Singh along with his sons Lakhbir Singh and Hardeep Singh, all residents of Sector 38, were arrested by the police following a complaint filed by their neighbour, Praveen, who alleged the three had sexually harassed her sister, Sonu, by attempting to disrobe the latter. She claimed the accused injured them during the scuffle that ensued and tore Sonu’s clothes. However, the case fell flat as the victim as well the complainant failed to identify the accused, thus facilitating their acquittal.

This is not an isolated case where, owing to the failure of the victim to identify the suspect, charges brought against them are dismissed. Despite stricter laws in place the conviction rate remains dismally low as victims often turn hostile, leading to the suspect’s acquittal. During the past year only two people have been convicted of sexual harassment.

“Despite an increase in the number of such cases being filed by the police, which in turn is due to increased awareness about sexual harassment, most of them still end up in a compromise due to witnesses refusing to cooperate, societal pressure and the callous attitude of law enforcing agencies. The conviction rate still remains low as victims turn hostile facilitating acquittals,” said advocate Yadvinder Singh Sandhu.

Another lawyer, Inderjeet Bassi, added, “There have been cases when the law is misused for ulterior motives but we can’t say all instances in which the accused are acquitted because of victims turning hostile are false cases. This also indicates the victims are pressurised to enter into a compromise as we don’t have witness protection programmes to safeguard victims.”

“Victims doing an about turn in cases of sexual assault is not a new phenomenon. There are a lot of pressures at play in forcing the victim and her family to withdraw charges where either the father or another relative is the suspect. Social stigma and pressure from relatives is what makes the victims retract their allegations,” opined advocate Amit Kumar.

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