Chennai

How the police handle sexual harassment complaints now

With several allegations being made against teachers in schools on social media, the police are facing a unique challenge — they are unable to take action, because of the lack of formal complaints in such cases. Sometimes it is difficult even to identify the complainants as they are on social media and some of them live abroad, while others are unwilling to give in writing their complaint, though they do want action.

In at least four schools in the city, the alumni numbering around 200 each or more joined together and sent their complaints online recording anecdotal instances of abuse or shaming. In this format, more than 200 sexual harassment complaints, which include alumni of half a dozen schools, were received by the Crime against Women and Children section from the last week of May.

Police personnel then thoroughly scrutinised all complaints to see if a concrete case could be made out, also in consultation with legal experts. Police also made schools and educational institutions establish a redressal mechanism in place so as to ensure that students studying at present are safe.

A woman police inspector said, "Sometimes, it is very tough to identify the victim in order to receive a formal complaint when people send anonymous complaints. The allegations of sexual harassment were circulated on social media by affected parties, but when it came to registering a formal complaint with the police, they did not come forward. How can we register a first information report(FIR) without a complaint."

"In case some of the victims are hesitant, we try and talk to them and counsel them. We talk to the victim's families or parents as per the POCSO rules. We are giving them an assurance that we will take care of them, keep their name anonymous, not reveal their identities. In some instances, we got very good results. We also ensure in our records that their name is not revealed, said another senior officer in Crime against Women and Children section.

A number of reasons were citied for victims not coming forward to register complaints — victims feared backlash in society; some of them are married and fear the issue will be problematic now, some students now live abroad, an are not able to travel in these pandemic times. In some instances, students who passed out 20 years ago have made charges — this was at a time when there was no POCSO Act, police claim they are exploring how justice can be rendered in that case.

"Even as we make our enquiries about the complaints, we ensure that the school management also takes action/starts an enquiry Wherever there is concrete evidence made out, we book a case and definitely go for criminal investigation," said the senior official.

The police have also started mailing complainants of the action taken against the perpetrator. "They respond to us, thanking us for taking prompt action. In most of the instances, they write to us saying, they would be happy if some action was taken, and they are sure they want the children studying now in school to be protected. But they are not necessarily interested in registering a formal complaint or arrest," the officer added.

Adhilakshmi Logamurthy, an advocate, said, "Young girls express their grievances openly now on social media even though they might have been harassed a few years ago. It shows that there was no proper redressal mechanism established in schools and educational institutions. Even if such redressal forums are established in a few schools, they do not function effectively or without bias. Adequate awareness campaigns should be conducted to ensure each and every child is bold enough to make a complaint in any eventuality without fear."


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Printable version | Jul 26, 2021 11:13:17 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/chennai/how-the-police-handle-sexual-harassment-complaints-now/article34897778.ece

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