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Sunday, Dec 08, 2019

Death penalty makes catchy headline, but we need more fast-track courts: Trisha Shetty

For the 29-year-old founder of SheSays, which provides legal, medical and other assistance to survivors of sexual violence, and is one of the safety partners of social media platform Twitter, the experience was transformative.

india Updated: Nov 03, 2019 06:50 IST
Dhamini Ratnam
Dhamini Ratnam
Hindustan Times
Trisha Shetty hopes to expand the work of SheSays — which offers legal help, counselling and other assistance to survivors — to rural India
Trisha Shetty hopes to expand the work of SheSays — which offers legal help, counselling and other assistance to survivors — to rural India
         

At this time last year, law graduate Trisha Shetty was at New York’s Columbia University, as one of 12 change makers from around the world brought together by the Obama Foundation’s flagship Scholars Programme. For the 29-year-old founder of SheSays, which provides legal, medical and other assistance to survivors of sexual violence, and is one of the safety partners of social media platform Twitter, the experience was transformative. Back in India now, Shetty hopes to expand the work of SheSays — which offers legal help, counselling and other assistance to survivors — to rural India. HT speaks to Shetty about her learnings from her work with sexual abuse survivors, why the death penalty is a bad idea for cases of child sexual abuse, and other issues. Edited excerpts:

1. Tell us a bit about SheSays and what does it mean when you say that it provides end-to-end support to survivors?.

Our work has always been needs-driven, especially after the Nirbhaya incident [the violent gang rape of a 23-year-old physiotherapy student in 2012], when we started more conversations around sexual violence. I am a lawyer, so I know that Section 357C of the Code of Criminal Procedure says that treatment must be provided to victims of sexual assault, free of cost, at every hospital, whether private or public. But what is actually happening on ground?

It’s not like we figured out an ingenious idea of how to end gender-based violence. [SheSays] does really rudimentary on-ground work, because that’s what’s needed. The field visits I did, I realised that there was a lack of access to redressal agencies for survivors. For example, we helped the family of a four-year-old child who had been raped— we went with them to the police station to ensure that the case was filed. We paid a follow-up visit to the hospital, and got the doctors to check her after a wait of hours. The doctor who was examining her was worried about her pelvis being fractured, so she asked for an X-Ray. While the parent was standing in a queue, they {family} were asked to pay for it, which legally they shouldn’t have to. We had to step in. A big learning is that a lot more needs to be done when it comes to survivors access quality healthcare.

Secondly, the rhetoric of ‘hang the rapist’ is a damaging one.

2. After the Kathua rape {and murder of an eight-year-old girl}, the Criminal Amendment Bill was passed which awarded the death penalty to rapists whose victims are below the age of 12. Why do you think it isn’t an effective deterrent?

We need to unpack this. In most cases of child sexual abuse (CSA), the perpetrator is usually intimately known to the child, either family, relative or family friend. When we speak of CSA, we prefer the narrative of a stranger in a dark alley. But that’s usually not the case. How many people will report abuse if a family member would get sentenced to death? Death penalty cases also take very long to process. Take the Nirbhaya case, where the convicted are still alive though they have been awarded the death penalty. The point is not so much about the severity of the punishment, but about providing swift and assured justice.

Death penalty makes for a catchy headline, but what we need is more investment in our judiciary to set up more fast-track courts. .. We need comprehensive education about CSA in schools and colleges; more public prosecutors to fight these cases, and who treat victims with sensitivity... Swift and assured justice is the only deterrent of crime.

3. How can social media be used effectively when the online space itself is rife with abusive behaviour?

There are laws that address online abuse, such as the provisions against stalking, criminal intimidation with intent to cause harm, the Information Technology Act. Online spaces are highly gendered and a lot of the abuse that women face here is sexualized. From personal experience, reporting online abuse is a long process and social media sites need to do a better job of responding. Having said that, social media is also a democratic platform, in that a survivor is not obstructed by formal structures to put her story out. In the Me Too wave, women’s voices were heard, and they banded together in solidarity. They claimed their own narratives.

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