Can’t let loose and then lose track of repeat sex offenders
As in the case of the Delhi serial rapist, men accused of rape were found to have a past record of sex crimes. Following the case, women and child development minister Maneka Gandhi has revived her demand for a national crime register under which sex offenders are mandated by law to provide their personal details to the local police on a regular basis.delhi Updated: Mar 02, 2017 10:28 IST
Sunil Rastogi, a tailor accused of sexually assaulting girls in four states for over a decade, was arrested for the first time in Rudrapur, Uttarakhand, in 2006. In six months, he was granted bail. He jumped parole and went underground, only to be arrested again from the same place in July 2016. This time too, on charges of rape.
In 10 years since his first arrest, investigators say, Rastogi made Delhi his hunting ground. He kept going back to east Delhi’s New Ashok Nagar, where he had started out as a tailor 15 years ago.
But it was not until December 2016, that one of his alleged victims of the Delhi serial rapist from east Delhi reported his crime to the police and he was arrested again. This month, two more girls came forward. The investigators are still counting the number of sex crimes he may have committed. They are also convincing many more victims — some are adults now — to file formal complaints.
This, however, is not the first time, men accused of rape were found to have a past record of sex crimes.
Shiv Kumar Yadav, the Uber driver accused of raping an executive in Delhi in December 2014, was earlier arrested on charges of raping an employee of a Gurgaon pub. He spent seven months in jail but was acquitted for lack of evidence. In 2013, he was arrested in Mainpuri, UP, on rape charges but released on bail. Also under investigation in two molestation cases, Yadav forged a character reference by police to find employment and a fresh crime stint in Delhi.
Following the latest case, women and child development minister Maneka Gandhi has revived her demand for a national crime register under which sex offenders are mandated by law to provide their personal details to the local police on a regular basis.
But, as Child Rights and You’s Puja Marwaha pointed out in HT last week, Rastogi’s name would have figured in such a register only if he was convicted. Conviction rates are among the lowest under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act. For 1,072 convictions in 2015, there were 1,418 acquittals.
At the same time, successive studies have found that publicising sex offenders made them vulnerable to vigilantism and chances of recidivism increased when public access to such registries limited their housing, employment and educational opportunities. Such registries should be held by the police and not made public, experts maintain.
One also needs to be realistic while drawing up a sex-offender registry. A report by Human Rights Watch in the United States found that five states required men to register if they were caught visiting prostitutes, 13 of them required it for urinating in public (in two of which, only if a child was present), 29 required listing of teenagers who had consensual sex, and 32 states registered flashers and streakers. As a result, the number of registered sex offenders in America has exploded, The Economist reported in 2009.
In any case, watching a sexual predator for recidivism is possible when the state can identify one. For three cases of child rape recorded daily in Delhi, many never make it to any crime register. Also, in 95% of the cases reported in 2015, the perpetrators of sexual assault were known to the child.
Reporting sexual assaults, especially when the abuser is not a stranger, or worse, when he is a family member, requires remarkable courage because most often the victims are emotionally and financially dependent on their abusers.
Be it a repeat offender, an opportunistic abuser or a family member involved in the act, detecting sex crimes and helping victims, experts say, become easier when there is a support system in place. Under the POCSO Act, teachers are required to report child abuse if they get to know about one. But as pointed out in this column earlier, in most schools, they have little time and sensitisation to engage with students individually.
Besides, thousands of children are not enrolled in schools. The children of poor working parents are vulnerable because they are left home alone or under the supervision of a relative or a neighbour. Delhi keeps no record of abuse among street children, underage labourers, beggars and the destitute.
The child welfare committees and counselling desks at the city police stations are geared to provide help only after such violence has occurred. Those who have reasons to fear the worst need preemptive help. Victims who have been courageous to report abuse deserve justice. And the state has no excuse for letting loose and then losing track of repeat offenders.