Coimbatore school sexual abuse case shows how survivors are silenced

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“The choice of your words is very hurtful (sic),” he tells her when she calls her actions “abuse.” “The only place I’ve slipped is in your case. […] It will not arrive [again]. It was completely accidental. It was not my intention to sting you, and not your intention to sting (sic). The words were said to have been uttered by Mithun Chakravarthy, a teacher at the prominent Chinmaya Vidyalaya school in Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu, to a class XII student whom he allegedly sexually assaulted. The student – a 17-year-old girl – committed suicide on November 11. Her parents and a friend alleged that in addition to the sexual assault, she was also harassed by the teacher for a period of six months.

On November 13, screenshots of WhatsApp conversations allegedly between her and “Mithun sir” and a call recording – included by police as evidence in the case – were leaked. In the roll call, a man’s voice, supposed to be Mithun’s, seemed to make the girl believe that what had happened between them was consensual; and that she should keep mom pretty much the same. In fact, when she says in the recording that she wants to report the incident to school authorities, he asks her why she “intends to mess it up.”

Screenshots of WhatsApp conversations, allegedly between Mithun and the victim, show a similar pattern of conversation: with the young girl expressing her emotional distress and unease over what happened, and telling her that he is ” hurtful ”that she considers this abuse. “Virginity is not only for girls but also for boys,” Mithun replies in one of the screenshots. At one point, the girl even says that it was because he felt “hurt” that it got to this point, apparently referring to the alleged cover-up.

Although the veracity of these conversations and call recordings could not be independently verified by The minute of the news, let’s start with a few points. Assuming the conversations are legitimate, the accused in this case is a 31-year-old male. It does not matter if he believes the alleged sexual assault was consensual, accidental or a simple “mistake”; Sex with a child is a crime under the Protection of Children Against Sexual Offenses Act (POCSO). The victim was absolutely right to call what had happened “abuse”. And what the accused teacher was doing in those conversations with her was emotional blackmail and gaslighting in order to legitimize the abuse, to make her feel like an accomplice, and to silence her.

Gaslighting is a form of emotional manipulation where the abuser tries to distort the narrative, makes the victim doubt and distrust their reality or version of events, and attempts to portray themselves as a victim in relation to the victim. real. In this case, there are many examples of the same in the alleged call recording and conversations. For example, he tries to reject and shame the victim when she asks him if he was talking like that with another student too, saying “don’t talk like a boy.” loosu. He also tries to make her believe that the alleged sexual assault was a ‘mistake’ and not an ‘intentional’ act. He tries to shirk responsibility for the alleged incident by saying that he is hurt by the fact. that she calls it abuse and that he “faces hardships”, thus trying to position himself as a victim, when she asks him why he can’t see it from her point of view.

Illustration: The wire

While it is true that the POCSO law does not make room for consensual sex between adolescents, the Coimbatore case cannot be considered consensual given that the victim was 17 years old and the subsequent age difference between her and her alleged abuser. Therefore, it is very likely that sexual grooming was involved. In child sexual abuse cases, it is a process by which an adult establishes a relationship, gains the trust of a child, with the intention of sexually abusing her. The process is manipulative and often escalating, where the abuser slowly sexualizes the relationship. For example, starting with seemingly benign touches like brushing the child’s hair, then slowly and secretly pushing the child’s boundaries until they become sexual, over a period of time. Grooming is an important part of many cases of child sexual abuse by a known perpetrator, and this manipulation and breach of trust is often the reason survivors feel ashamed and confused – they are made to believe they are were complicit in the abuse – that they “allowed” it to happen.

Often times, the abuser also maintains control of the victim through threats, denying them affection, telling them that disclosing the abuse will get them and the abuser in trouble. In the Coimbatore case, we see the alleged victim being guilty of not reporting the case initially, with the accused teacher stating in the alleged communication between them that she intended to ‘mess it up’ and that he was “hurt”.

The Coimbatore sexual abuse case highlights many aspects of how survivors of sexual violence are forced into silence, especially when the perpetrator is known to the survivor. Gas lighting and victim blame add to the stigma and trauma of the abuse itself. It should be noted that gaslighting is also a social phenomenon, not just a phenomenon that plays on psychological dynamics, as a 2019 article points out, ‘The sociology of gas lighting‘. “Specifically, gaslighting is effective when rooted in social inequalities, particularly gender and sexuality, and performed in intimate, power-laden relationships. When abusers mobilize gender stereotypes, structural inequalities and institutional vulnerabilities against victims with whom they have an intimate relationship, gaslighting becomes not only effective, but devastating, ”he says.

Patriarchal social conditioning ensures that girls and women are not encouraged to say “no”, but rather to favor submission under the guise of politeness. This makes it more difficult for victims to draw lines during cases of abuse of power, and to denounce it as such. In this case, the victim would have said that he tried to “avoid” the assault by avoiding eye contact with him, arriving late for class, etc. However, she felt helpless as she didn’t know how to stop the teacher “without sounding rude.” . “

Additionally, the victim’s parents alleged that the school principal was aware of the incident but covered it up. She was also subjected to counseling, where she was allegedly told to rule out the abuse, further dismissing her trauma. In light of these, the principal was sentenced under the POCSO law when Mithun was arrested on November 13.

Institutional dismissal and cover-up of sexual violence is nothing new – we saw many examples during the Me Too movements of 2017 and 2018 in India and other parts of the world. Also in another Coimbatore case that emerged last month, an Air Force lieutenant accused authorities at the Air Force College where she was located of bullying and harassment to dissuade her from making a formal complaint for sexual assault committed by a colleague. She also alleged a larger culture of shame from sluts and moral policing in college.

Social stigma along with emotional blackmail and other forms of abuser manipulation make it incredibly difficult for survivors of sexual violence to report it, let alone when they know the abuser. It is important to understand that in many cases, sexual abuse does not necessarily result in immediate hatred for the abuser, but rather conflicting fear and emotions in the survivor, which further prevents her from coming forward. . The situation is made worse by the fear of disbelief – although the majority of cases of sexual abuse around the world are documented as being perpetrated by people known to survivors, we tend to believe that most cases of sexual violence are perpetrated by foreigners.

“People need to understand that sexual abuse doesn’t always happen in an isolated place – it can even happen on the back seat of a classroom, during a conference. Accepting the possibility of abuse is the first step, ”said Vidya Reddy from Tulir – Center for the Prevention and Cure of Child Sexual Abuse in Chennai. TNM the day after the Chennai #MeToo schools, in June this year. When such incidents do occur, there is often an overwhelming, but short-lived, outcry to hold the people – the man, the institution, the people involved in that particular case – to account without the prospect that these cases are. symptoms and victims of a much more insidious rot. It is a failure of society, the system and all of us to recognize and adequately address sexual violence that a 17 year old girl is no longer alive to tell her story in her own words.

This item was originally published on The minute of the news.


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