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The harrowing sequence of events from a father

The harrowing sequence of events from a father

The father of a 13-year-old child, who was sexually harassed recounts the harrowing sequence of events that happened after they decided to lodge a police complaint

The father of a 13-year-old child, who was sexually harassed recounts the harrowing sequence of events that happened after they decided to lodge a police complaint

After our 13-year-old daughter disclosed that she had been sexually harassed (forcibly hugged and kissed) by an acquaintance, a college student, we visited the police station to give a complaint.

Two women constables made preliminary enquiries with my wife and child, with the Inspector joining them a short while later. The Inspector and a constable then further interviewed the child in another room without my wife present, concluding no serious action was warranted but the harasser would be warned.

On further investigation, they said, if action was necessary they would proceed as per the law. However, no acknowledgment of the complaint letter was given. I learnt later that the POCSO Act, which has provision for our daughter’s harassment as an offense, does not allow for warnings. In fact there is a clause which states that if police don’t record a complaint, a case can be filed against them.

Later in the day, since our daughter disclosed a few more details, we took her for a medical examination, which indicated she had been sexually assaulted. We again approached the police station to register a complaint with the new information. However, since we arrived at 8.45 p.m. and the concerned Inspector was unavailable, we were told to come back the next day. (Not once were we informed that children are not supposed to be brought to the station for the registration of a complaint or that only AWPS process POCSO cases).

The next day, while we were asked to wait outside in the reception area, my daughter was questioned by different police officers, both men and women, for over three hours.

Since the police wanted the complaint written in Tamil and neither of us know the Tamil script, a draft was prepared and our daughter, who takes Tamil as a second language, wrote the complaint in Tamil.

We were then asked to arrange for vehicles to take the police personnel to the location of the exploitation. Our daughter alone was asked to accompany a young-looking police officer in plainclothes into the apartment complex to identify the flats to which she had been taken by the assaulters, while we, and the rest of the police party, waited downstairs. We were very anxious.

Subsequently, I was asked to drive the police to another location, leaving my family waiting on the road side for at least half an hour, until another vehicle that I had arranged arrived. They then followed us to the location of arrests, where one of the accused was bundled into the same vehicle as our daughter to reach the police station. At some point in the evening, police asked me for my vehicle key to go and arrest another alleged assaulter.

From the time we reached the station, 4.30 p.m, till around 11 p.m., our daughter was repeatedly questioned by different police personnel without either of us in the room. If you count the number of times my daughter was questioned, it would seem like she was a mechanical toy, who would talk on demand.

Throughout the day, she only had some snacks.

Even while filing the FIR we had to protest to make sure all details were reflected correctly. And we were given a copy only two days later. We still have not been given the Form A– Entitlement of Children, who have suffered sexual abuse to receive information and services– as per the POCSO Rules, which subsequently we learnt about.

Our stress increased the next day as the constable who accompanied us for the medical examination was in uniform.

We had a long wait at the hospital as the examination was to be done by a doctor, who was already in the theatre. It was surprising that in a hospital exclusively for women, there was only one doctor who could do the examination. While waiting, we were asked by the accompanying constable to buy a new set of clothes for our daughter, which she was asked to change into at a nearby police station, so she could hand over the clothes she had been wearing since the morning. We were perplexed as this was at least a week after the last-known sexual assault, and she was certainly not wearing the clothes in which she had been assaulted.

After the examination was over, we were asked to wait some more time as a senior officer wanted to meet the child. The officer, on arrival, sat in my car with another officer and interviewed the child, again with neither of us present, for about an hour while we waited outside the car. We just could not understand the purpose of these multiple interviews. At last count, this was the 17th interview.

Throughout the day, while we were in the hospital, the police kept calling over the phone asking our daughter to clarify doubts.

The hospital saga continued the next day, which was spent being bounced between two hospitals for various tests. There seems to be little understanding regarding the availability of the testing procedures in hospitals, causing hardship to already traumatised victims. We learnt later that one of the tests was not necessary at all. In my daughter’s case, it was age assessment through an ossification test using radiographs. This is after I had already given the birth certificate and a bonafide certificate from the school as age verification. After taking the police constable to the FSL Lab to drop off samples, we were taken to the Child Welfare Committee (CWC), ostensibly for counselling.

I learnt later that child victims of POCSO offenses need to be produced before the CWC only under three conditions; none of these conditions pertained to our daughter. Neither is counselling a one-time interaction. The question then begs as to the necessity of this engagement. So this again seems to be either a mindless routine process or some sort of vicarious voyeurism.

At the CWC again, our daughter was interviewed separately without the parents. In fact completely tired by all the running around, she was asleep and had to be woken up for the interview.

Later in the evening, we were asked to hand over the tablet she had been using to communicate on social media, to the station. We have not been given a receipt or any acknowledgement of handing over this item to police custody, to date.

We were called early morning the next day to come to the station, as soon as possible, and wait in the car as the police had detained some more suspects. Again we were asked to arrange for a vehicle, which was on call for about six hours before it was dismissed, as it was not used.

After waiting for a long time with our daughter, we were asked to go home.

A couple of days later, court summons was brought by a constable to our house around dinner time, asking our daughter to be present at court next morning. Why were we given such short notice time? Our daughter was in the midst of exams and I requested an afternoon slot.

While getting ready to leave for court the next day, one of the police personnel called, regarding the directions to my residence as ‘a senior officer wanted to visit’. After I questioned the purpose for this visit, he quickly backtracked and said the Officer wasn’t planning to visit, but just wanted to confirm the address. A little later, much to my shock, the senior officer showed up at our doorstep, along with uniformed personnel. This was despite us telling the same uniformed personnel, earlier in the day, categorically that they should not come to our residence in uniform but to meet us at a common point en route to the court.

Despite me saying it was getting late and it would take some time to reach the court, the senior officer proceeded to make himself comfortable while making some desultory talk. Agitated by the delay, I told him there is no point in having this inane conversation, and that this visit seemed highly irregular.

It is also obvious many personal details of my family and the case, which only the police knew, are now in public domain. How did this happen?

Almost every day, there is some interaction with the authorities about one thing or another. Besides the initial leave I took from work, I can still only work in fits and starts. With all this, how can I economically and emotionally support my family through this crisis?

(As told to Vidya Reddy of Tulir Centre for the Prevention and Healing of Child Sexual Abuse.)