When the law protects but justice heals

The photograph shows a series of posters developed by students of Vidyasagar School of Social Work, Kolkata as part of a child sexual abuse awareness generation workshop organized by RAHI Foundation in 2015. There are three posters pasted on a wall next to each other with messages related to child sexual abuse in English and Bengali. One of them says, “Stop child sexual abuse” with imprints of human hands all around the text – both text and imprints are in red colour. Another poster adjacent to the first shows a large and beautifully drawn illustration of the face of a girl child with her eyes closed and a hand placed on her mouth to stop her from speaking. The text below the illustration, when translated from Bengali into English, implies that the elders say children should keep quiet about sexual abuse, or else the ‘abusers’ will scold them. The third poster shows the illustration of a small girl child with her hands spread out, and the hand of a grown up, much larger in size than the child, next to her. The entire illustration is enclosed inside a square box. The text above and below the box says in capital letters “Stop child sexual abuse”. This poster too has imprints of the human hand in red colour spread around the box. The names of RAHI Foundation and Vidyasagar School of Social Work are mentioned on the edges of the posters. Photo courtesy: RAHI Foundation

QA - Child Sexual Abuse, Feb '19
A purely legal response to incest and child sexual abuse can be inadequate says RAHI Foundation

Reader queries

Is there any law in India to deal with incest and child sexual abuse? What kind of punishment does it involve for the perpetrators of abuse? What does it do to protect the victims?
Gender rights worker, Kolkata

Yes, there is a specific law to deal with sexual abuse of children (people less than 18 years of age). It’s called the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012, or POCSO in short. This law is gender neutral for both victims and perpetrators and covers a range of sexual acts. You can read about the penalties prescribed under the Act here.

However, while it’s very important to have a law, it’s equally important to understand that the law alone cannot be the answer when it comes to protecting victims of incest and child sexual abuse. In fact, in RAHI Foundation’s work with survivors of incest and child sexual abuse over the years, we have found that for many of them, the concept of justice is different.

Quote: Victims and survivors of abuse need to be believed and supported by those close to them. Abuse happens in isolation but recovery cannot. It happens in the context of relationships that provide physical and emotional safety. A good support network helps in mitigating the trauma. So a positive social response to a disclosure of abuse is critical, and involves looking beyond the law as a means of redressal.

The survivors don’t necessarily want to take their abuser/s to court or punish them through the criminal justice system. What they’re looking for is an acknowledgement by the abuser, and the family, of the abuse and the harm it has caused, and an apology! This goes a long way in healing.

Victims and survivors of abuse need to be believed and supported by those close to them. As we say, abuse happens in isolation but recovery cannot. It happens in the context of relationships that provide physical and emotional safety. A good support network helps in mitigating the trauma. So a positive social response to a disclosure of abuse is critical, and involves looking beyond the law as a means of redressal.

About the main photo: Posters developed by students of Vidyasagar School of Social Work, Kolkata, as part of an event to generate dialogue on incest and child sexual abuse in 2015. The text in the poster in the centre, when translated from Bengali to English, implies that the elders say children should keep quiet about sexual abuse, or else the ‘abusers’ will scold them. Photo courtesy: RAHI Foundation.

For the previous issue of this Q&A column on incest and child sexual abuse, please click here – Editor.

Author Photo

RAHI Foundation

RAHI Foundation is a centre for women survivors of incest and child sexual abuse based in Delhi and Kolkata. It has been working since 1996 to end incest / child sexual abuse and address its long-term impact on women survivors. Write in your queries to kolkata.rahifoundation@gmail.com, and they will be answered with due respect to confidentiality.

Comments So Far

  • Image Anonymous   20-02-2019 | Reply

    But if the abusers are not punished, they will repeat their behavior. How is just acknowledging going to help? Why shouldn't these people simply be locked up!!!

    • Image RAHI Foundation 20-02-2019

      We understand your sentiment. Incest / CSA evokes strong feelings in people. However, when we are looking at intervention, we need to channelise our personal feelings such as anger and frustration into what responses that are effective. Yes, the abuser definitely has to be made accountable for his actions. Sending him to jail is only one way. Confronting the abuser and ensuring that he owns up to his actions and makes amends is another way, one that we believe is more effective in the long run, and certainly beneficial to the healing of victims and survivors and restoring of families. This moves away from a punitive approach to a more restorative one. Regarding re-offending, abusers need help in order to stop and we should be able to create spaces for that.

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