It’s A ‘Lose Lose’ Situation for most Sexual Harassment/Rape Complainants

Think Recent Articles on #Pachauri, #Tejpal Cases

The apologia for Pachauri carried by the Observer (The Guardian's sister paper), quotes him saying it is suspicious that the complainant documented thousands of his messages. “What is disturbing [is] that right from the first day over a period of about 16 months she was creating and assembling an archive of messages, which to anyone would seem very unusual,” he says. 
If a complainant of sexual violence fails to show documentary evidence, she is accused of lying – why didn't she document it all, why did she delete a WhatsApp message she claims to have sent to a friend about the violence, why is she pretending not to know how WhatsApp works, she must be lying, etc. And if she DOES meticulously document prolonged sexual harassment, why, how suspicious, why would an innocent woman document messages from her boss! For a woman complainant, it is always Lose, Lose – because she is always The Accused.
Her behaviour is always suspicious. And if the accused is a big gun who can pull strings, and get international and national papers to carry versions slanted towards him, suggesting the complainant was both 'flirtatious' and part of a 'conspiracy' by climate change sceptics/communalists/secularists etc, if legal processes like chargesheets and trials are endlessly delayed in blatant mockery of the law, well, that's life, isn't it?

The woman complainant in the Tejpal case has just written to the Editor of the Mumbai Mirror about a slanted piece full of factual errors calculated to create sympathy for the accused, with zero journalistic concern for the complainant The Mumbai Mirror piece does not reveal that the author has a conflict of interest; it talks of the impact of a delayed trial on the accused – but does not bother to ask how such delay affects the complainant and witnesses, and it does not reflect on the fact that the delay is caused by Tejpal himself.
Tejpal has sought and obtained a stay from the Supreme Court on grounds that he has not been provided cloned copies of the CCTV footage, accuser's mobile phone, laptop etc. He got the stay in spite of the fact that the technology for such cloning is unavailable in India – would your average accused man, were he not a man with immense pull like Tejpal, be able to get such a stay on such grounds? Yet this piece talks of Tejpal as though he were the victim, the only one facing any suffering or loss to his career and life.  Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie, in her TED talk on feminism, talks of how we make women feel that "being born female they're already guilty of something."
And in case after case of sexual harassment and rape, women complainants are treated as though they must have been guilty of something, while the achievements and exploits of the 'great men' they have accused, are narrated to us over and over.
'He is a Godman, he is being falsely accused by secularists'; 'he is a well respected secular figure, the complainant must be a stooge of the communalists'; 'he is an environmental hero, the complainant must be on the payroll of climate change sceptics'… This goes on and on, over and over again, in case after case.
It seems we can never pause and say of our friends, our heroes, our gurus, 'He is a friend, he is someone I love and respect, and while it is difficult for me to say this and while I am concerned for this person and find it difficult to imagine him as a sexual harasser or rapist, I will not accuse and defame the complainant and assume she is lying. I will face the possibility that this 'great man' might in fact be guilty.
I will not interfere with due process by gossiping/writing about how the complainant must be guilty, even if I assume the accused to be innocent till proved otherwise. I will reflect soberly on the huge traumatic costs – in terms of her health, her personal relationships, her career, her finances – of making a complaint against a powerful person.
And above all, if I am aware that in fact, this friend habitually behaves with a sense of sexual entitlement over women, especially women employees, I will not make excuses for such behaviour and will not suggest that modern women should not make a big deal about unwanted sexual contact by a boss/friend/mentor.
I will not say Boys Will Be Boys, Men Will Be Men, Great Men Will Be Great Men, and unwanted, forced sexual contact is something women will just have to learn to live with."The occasions on which people take such principled stands are indeed rare. And until such stands become the norm rather than the exception, sexual harassment and violence too will continue to remain the norm, not the exception. 
(The author is Secretary, All India Progressive Women's Association, AIPWA) 



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