“Sexual violence and know your rights”- 6 January 2016.

Crimes against women are on the rise as we had always expected. As women enter the work force in large numbers they become more prone to bullying, criminal assault and victimisation. The factors are several ranging from economic variables to socio-cultural-psychological variables. Highlighting the case of one ‘Nirbhaya’ was good enough to tell the whole country the sordid state of affairs of sexual violence against women. Honourable Minister Maneka Gandhi has highlighted the plight well by mentioning that six month old baby girls are being molested too. Such is the extent of the mental sickness of such offenders. Girls are being raped by their own fathers, uncles and cousins in their own homes. A large percentage of sexual violence takes place in homes besides the ones on the streets. With such a sorry picture women as a community have to become very alert about their physical safety, their legal rights, they should move around with full consciousness about safety measures and never make light of the danger lurking behind the corner.

Amnesty International India and the Bengaluru Police came together in July 2015 to start a unique initiative that encouraged active community participation in reporting sexual violence with safety and dignity. The former Bengaluru Commissioner of Police took the initiative in inviting the citizens of the city, which has witnessed growing crime rate against women, to change the situation by becoming actively involved. He said, “We want you to be a part of the system. We are, after all, your police.” The police force has a major role to play in such cases. A friendlier and trust worthy police force will invoke faith in the institution and the justice system. So far most affected citizens have not many good words to say for the police that arrive on the scene or the ones you meet in the police station. Nevertheless any positive initiative in this direction is welcome and we know change is always slow to come.

Beside an efficient and competent police force what we need is public awareness about their rights and privileges. People should not just resign themselves to the situation but should wake up and take interest and positive action. A step in this direction has been taken by Amnesty International India. They have started a “Know Your Rights” programme to educate people about reporting sexual violence. This is done free of cost through virtual reality, e-learning, WhatsApp, and a missed-call service. You can log onto learn.amnesty.org.in using your Gmail or Facebook account to access the e-learning modules.

The program highlights eight points. The first one is the definition of Sexual violence. This definition does not include physical harm only. The law was changed in 2013 to cover a broader range of offences, including sexual harassment, voyeurism and stalking. Women can be stalked online too besides the streets and this can be reported.

The second point is that one can file an FIR against sexual violence in any police station, not necessarily the one nearest to the incident. This makes sense because the woman might like to file it nearer to her home and not the site of mishap.

The third point is that the complaint can be registered over phone or email and then she would need to go in person to register the FIR. The fourth point is that an FIR can be filed by a friend, witness or a family member too. But they must have the full consent of the survivor and the survivor must be willing to be part of the investigations later. This is a good step for the victim may not be in a position to visit the police station immediately due to her trauma and may do so at a later date. This brings us to the fifth point- that if the survivor of sexual violence is physically or mentally disabled the police must visit her home to register the FIR. The sixth point is that the Police cannot refuse to file an FIR. A police officer who refuses can be punished under law and you can register a complaint with higher authorities.

The seventh point emphasises that a woman police officer must be present when you file an FIR against sexual violence. And lastly the eighth point states that after registering an FIR, one is entitled to a court-appointed lawyer. But you always have the option of consulting your own lawyer which may be advisable some times.

This initiative needs to be taken up seriously in all states and cities and young girls and women need to be made aware of the ‘Know your rights’ so that more cases would get reported as women gather the courage to break their silence.


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