Sneha Kupekar, Communication and Strategic Initiatives (CSI) Department
Mumbai, November 12: The National Initiative for Child Protection (NICP) workshop at Nirmala Niketan for sensitising the top officers of the Mumbai police force on Child Sexual Abuse (CSA); saw 50 officers take a day out from their schedule to participate. Resource persons drawn from the law, counseling and medical professions held the interest of the officers as they took them through the basics of the three pillars of Child Protection.
In the words of Ranjeet Chouguley, International Director, Networking and Legal Interventions & Prosecutions, Justice and Care who conducted the Law workshop, "You are the strategisers of the force. We know you do not deal with cases yourself, but through you we are hoping to reach the lower ranks. Together, we can make a world of difference to how children in this country are protected."
Naina Athale, Faculty Member, Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) agreed. "There have been times when I conducted workshops that people have walked out saying such things do not happen in our communities. However, I am confident that this will not happen here as all present understand the gravity of the situation before us."
Starting with case studies and the use of art work to put children at ease, Athale helped participants broaden their horizon of what consists of sexual abuse. While many had dealt with cases of abuse, there was low awareness that exhibitionism and digital penetration could also attract punishment under law. The participants were then apprised of Section 294 through which perpetrators of obscene acts such as exhibitionism, songs and expressions in public places can be booked.
On the question of how to judge a case of abuse, Chouguley asked police officers to use only one parameter, "Always think would this be all right if it was my child? If the act is not right for your child then it is not right for anyone's child."
Contrary to the myth in society that only strangers abuse children and abusers are monsters who are immediately identifiable, Athale used research to show that most abuse happens within the family and that 75-80 per cent of abusers have average IQs and only 5-10 per cent are violent. The fact that many abusers employ grooming techniques for the children and often collaborate with law enforcement agencies came as a surprise to many in the audience.
Athale said, "Incest, pedophilia and sadism all come under the umbrella of CSA, though sadism can also be between husband and wife. Many a times I have come across fathers who have said that they felt it was better to teach their children about sexual issues themselves rather than they finding out through someone else. It is at times like these that it becomes clear that children are never responsible for the abuse they suffer and sexual abuse is never an act of love."
The participants also asked for clarity on the common age of consent, since different laws assign different ages for being considered as adults, with most agreeing that the common age should be 18 years. The draft law for CSA which is expected to be tabled in the winter session was also discussed.
Resource persons also stressed on the long term effects of abuse on children and their inability to give exact descriptions of abusers to law enforcement agencies and difficulties in remembering sequence of events.
Chouguley said, "It is important for the police to describe whatever they feel when they first meet the victims, whether the victim was scared, was facing a difficulty in talking etc. because the police play a crucial role in being the eyes and ears of the judge as they are the first people in contact with the victim."
Giving an example of a judge going out of her way to put a victim of abuse at ease, resource persons spoke of Justice Ranjana Desai of the Bombay High Court who created a series of parameters for a case to make the victim comfortable while giving testimony. "The accused was brought in to the back of the court and didn't stand in front of the victim. The advocate representing the accused had to submit the questions in advance which were asked by the judge, thereby freeing the victim from facing an agonizing cross examination," said Chouguley.
He further stressed on the importance of presenting a human face to the police force and changing people's perception that they have nothing to gain from registering a police complaint. "Please make the effort to file cases and book the offenders wherever possible. In most cases of obscene acts, the offender is simply beaten up or allowed to leave after a warning. It's important for fines to be slapped and cases to be filed, because till these acts do not hurt them financially offenders will not learn a lesson," he said to support from many officers.
On the question by a participant whether doctors are duty bound to disclose abuse, Dr. Pawan Sabale, Assistant Professor- Forensic department of Nair hospital said, "Doctors are not duty bound to disclose abuse, due to confidentiality issues. Many a times, the atmosphere in hospitals, the various formalities, curious looks by other patients deter victims from coming to hospitals in the first place."
Dr. Sabale also threw light on the psychological counseling and protocols and procedures followed during the medical examination of children. "Age is determined only after a battery of tests and abuse can be determined through vaginal, cervical smears and oral and rectal smears. It's best to conduct an exam within three days so that there is a high probability of evidence being found."