Mumbai unsafe for minors: My father raped me, but cops refused to believe me, says 17-year-oldmumbai Updated: May 18, 2017 11:06 IST
“He came into my room in the middle of the night. I told him to go away, but he started molesting me. I told the police about it, but they refused to believe me when I said my father was my attacker.”
For 17-year-old Esha (name changed), the fight had just begun. She wanted to talk about the abuse to stop it. But no one would listen to her. She told her brother, but he ignored her.
She went to the police to complain that her father, a construction businessman, had sexually assaulted her, repeatedly.
But even after weeks of trying, Esha alleged the Bangur Nagar police was suppressing the matter and had made no arrests.
This was after Esha had given the police details of her abuse, which she had regularly recorded in her personal diary. In one account, she said the family had gone to a farmhouse in Lonavla, when her father came into her room and sexually abused her.
“My whole family was in the same bungalow.”
Esha’s advocate told HT the girl’s father was known to a police inspector, who was deliberately slowing down the probe.
It was only after she took the complaint to the police commissioner did the case get transferred to a different police station, which began a probe.
What is the problem?
In several such cases HT came across, children already struggling to cope with being attacked and assaulted had to go on to face intimidating police officers who often did not take them seriously.
NGOs working with survivors of child sex abuse said one of the main reasons for this was poorly-staffed police stations.
“The law says a woman police personnel should be there when the child is narrating the abuse. Most of the time, this does not happen. It says the child reporting the crime should be made comfortable. But the complaint is often recorded in the officer’s room and the child feels intimidated,” said Gauri Ambavkar, a counsellor with SNEHA, an NGO that works with children coping with abuse.
Ambavkar pointed out that most male officers are sensitive to the issue. The problem was a much larger one — that there is no system in place to ensure the child feels safe talking about abuse.
Not the only problem
“Why did you not complain earlier?” “Tell us again what he did to you?” “Give us more details... what exactly happened?” “Are you sure you are not making this up?”
Experts said questions like these make children reporting the abuse shut down. The system is fundamentally not child-friendly, they said.
“When a child comes forward with a complaint, different authorities start asking all sorts of questions not to help the child, but to satisfy their own curiosity. The attitude of those interviewing the child needs to change,” said Priti Patkar, the co-founder of Prerana, an NGO that rescues sexually abused children.
Volunteers from SNEHA told HT about one case in which they rescued a child and took him to the police station to register a case.
“After just one visit, the child stopped speaking to us volunteers because the police asked him questions that made him uncomfortable. If a child is asked questions like, ‘Why did you not approach someone earlier?’, he turns hostile and changes statements when appearing before the magistrate. This certainly does not help his case” Ambavkar explained.
Activists also pointed out the need for a more sensitive legal system.
“There are a lot of police stations that have specially-designed rooms. They are filled with paintings, toys and storybooks. But this change is tokenism. A child-friendly system does not just mean better infrastructure. If the tone of the police personnel does not change, if the body language of the interviewer is intimidating, you cannot call it a child-friendly system,” Patkar said.
Post POCSO days
Several social organisations said the legal situation is much better today than it was five years ago, before the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012, was implemented.
But the change is not consistent and the law is yet to act as a strong enough deterrent.
Patkar said children decide to talk about the abuse and name the attacker only because they want it to stop.
“That is their idea of justice. But, they are forced to go through an unfriendly legal system and they are not ready for it. We need to minimise the trauma because the child is already reliving it at every step,” said Patkar.