Otherwise, for instance, one could have the Principal feeling she is damned if she does and damned if she doesn’t .A Principal who forthwith registers a complaint if their is an incident of sexual assault on the premises, may find herself at the receiving end of the wrath of the child’s parents.
One is not able to say whether sexual offences against children are rising or whether the incidents are being increasingly reported. Either way, it is a matter of alarm that these sexual offences are being committed. For far too long, the violators have escaped or at best simply been transferred. Obviously this has sent all the wrong signals to all potential violators. These offensive acts are almost always planned and often by perfectly ‘normal’ men who perceive women or children as commodities.
The preventive systems as well as the systems that could have helped ensure proper registration of cases, proper investigation and proper prosecution are yet to materialize. The Victim Assistance Units, stipulated for under the Goa Children’s Act, 2003, which are supposed to be comprised of a dedicated multi-disciplinary team of persons providing various kinds of much needed assistance to a victim/survivor of sexual abuse, have yet to see the light of day. The Helplines therefore are rudderless. How can the Government be so callous? The Vishakha Committees are yet to be set up in most schools.
Then there is the overall disbelief. The disbelief could range from the level of the parent to the level of the judiciary. To add to this are the perceptions of ‘honour’. The head of an educational institution once told me that the honour of their institution was being eroded with recognition of the occurrence of sexual harassment on the campus of the institution. It took a while to convince him that the honour of any institution would in fact be upheld if the institution stood up against sexual harassment and sent a strong no-tolerance message by reporting incidents and providing the necessary support to the victim.
What of their culpability in letting it happen? Those in responsible positions in school are required to be duly diligent. But despite this, if the incident still occurred, the guilty who abetted the occurrence by commission or omission should be dealt with with an iron hand by those on whom the responsibility is thrust. This calls for protocols in place as to what the prevention systems and crisis response systems in a school are supposed to be, and who is responsible for the same, what are the responsibilities of the principal, of the teachers, of the counselors, of the parent-teacher associations, of the office staff and the other non-teaching staff, of all the contractors with whom the educational institution has a contract such as the security services and their employees. Unless these protocols are in place, there will be no yardsticks by which these various service providers/employees can be assessed and held accountable. Otherwise, for instance, one could have the Principal feeling she is damned if she does and damned if she doesn’t. A Principal who forthwith registers a complaint if there is an incident of sexual assault on the premises, may find herself at the receiving end of the wrath of the child’s parents. And on the other hand, a Principal who waits to establish contact with the parents and then registers a complaint may also be faulted for not promptly complaining to the police. The protocols therefore must be crystal clear.
At the root of it all are however the education system, the media and the family which glorify stereotypes of machoism and jingoism in men and docility and submissiveness in women.
Activist and human rights lawyer, Albertina Almeida is member of the Regional Council of the Asia Pacific Forum for Women Law and Development.