Actor abduction case: It’s not enough to outrage, we need gender sensitisation for the police

Insensitive behaviour by the police is a massive deterrent for anyone who wants to file a case of assault or harassment.
Actor abduction case: It’s not enough to outrage, we need gender sensitisation for the police
Actor abduction case: It’s not enough to outrage, we need gender sensitisation for the police

A prominent Malayalam actor was abducted and allegedly raped last week, and the reports that emerged immediately after named her - completely going against the law which insists that the identity of rape survivors should be protected. It is the responsibility of journalists to ensure that they don’t give away the identity of survivors - but in this case, we must also question the police.

At the first instance, the police did not reveal that the actor was allegedly raped. Nor did they hold back on the biggest detail - her name. They were very happy to give out detailed information about the survivor except for the one piece of info that they should have - that publishing her name is illegal.

In a society where women are constantly facing gender based violence, and are scared to report it, such behaviour by the police is yet another deterrent.

We live in a world where, finally, there is some conversation about gender based violence. We talk and write about stranger rape and street sexual harassment, we (sometimes) question the mentality that blames victims of sexual abuse for their fate, we (mostly) don’t talk about child sexual abuse as some imaginary thing that happens to other people…

But even as we address the elephant in the room, and exhort those who face violence to speak out, not many will because of one big fear - will the police, who have to file these complaints and investigate them, take such cases seriously? Will they snigger or be sensitive? Will they file an FIR, or convince the victim to ‘let him go with a warning’?

Will they stick to asking about facts relevant to the case, or will they venture into the territory of shaming the survivor for what she was doing, who she was with, where she was at, and how she was dressed?

It’s easy to blame the police for being insensitive, it’s easy to push this off as ‘their problem’. It’s easy to cry hoarse about how awful our police force is, or demand the instalment of CCTV cameras everywhere. It’s easy to outrage, and not think about the consequences of our demands.

What is infinitely more difficult - but much more useful - is to ensure that our law enforcement agencies are trained to be gender sensitive.

While the fear of the police is not the only reason why people don’t file complaints, it is one of the big ones. And unless we address this fear - unless the police departments across India become approachable - we cannot move forward.

There are many parts to this. Firstly, the state must invest in such training - not just money, but also time. For this, they must first believe that gender sensitivity is important for the police force, that it is important for them to understand what gender is, and how gender based violence affects different sections of society.

Secondly, we must acknowledge that this cannot be a one-time measure. We cannot expect miracles out of a training that lasts a few hours, or a couple of days at most. Any gender sensitisation programme is successful only when there is reassessment, over a period of time.

Thirdly, and most importantly, we must realise that every police person is part of society. While formal training is necessary, it’s also essential that as a society, we dismantle patriarchy and ensure that we are sensitive in the way we look at everyday situations.

Because violent sexual crimes are not born in a vacuum.

But as we, the media, speak about gender sensitisation of others - police, judiciary, politicians - it’s also important for us to turn the mirror and take an honest look at ourselves. As journalists, it’s important that we ensure that our coverage of all forms of gender based violence is sensitive and sensible. It’s important that we don’t give out unnecessary details, and it’s important that this impressed on the young people who enter newsrooms.

Note: Views expressed are personal opinions of the author.

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