About a week ago, a man named Kushal posted a revolting message in a WhatsApp group.
He said that he had just had “fun” with a 14-year-old boy, and it was the latter’s “first time”. The teenager had apparently come down for summer holidays. “He slept beside me, and finish (sic),” Kushal said.
Kushal, a Hyderabad resident, was boasting about sexually assaulting a minor.
He immediately received support for his actions from two other members of the group. One person for instance, even said, “You rock.” Others expressed shock and condemned Kushal.
Kushal was arrested by the Cyberabad Police on Wednesday, after the screenshots of this chat were submitted in a complaint by a city-based NGO. The Balala Hakkula Sangham (BHS) had filed a complaint on April 19 with the Commissioner's office, stating that strict action must be taken against the accused.
Speaking to TNM, Achyuta Rao from BHS said, “We got the screenshots and information from one source, who is a member of the group and also a child sexual abuse survivor.” After BHS received the tip-off on April 18, they collected the evidence and submitted it to the police.
Investigating officer Sub-Inspector J Narayan Singh from the Kukatpally police told TNM, "Based on our investigation, we ascertained that his real name is S Pawar and he was a native of Nizamabad. The group had around 45 to 50 members, but he is the main person who raised this topic."
What is even more worrying, according to the police, is that the accused was a teacher. He was working as a junior lecturer in a college in Nizampet.
"We will now investigate the claims that he made on the group. Based on the available evidence, he has been sent to judicial remand," Sub-Inspector Singh added.
"It is good that the police have acted quickly. A detailed investigation should be carried out to find out more about the group without troubling the individuals, as it seems to have both, perpetrators, as well as victims and innocent people,” Achyuta said.
A case has been registered under relevant sections of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act.
Why it’s important to call out abusers you know
Kushal’s crime came to light because one of the members of the WhatsApp group decided to reach out to BHS.
Thankfully, he was not the only one who spoke up.
One person for instance, responded to Kushal’s message saying he was 'ashamed' that to be part of such a group. He added that the accused's actions were nothing to be proud of. Another member suggested that Kushal seek counselling.
While it’s alarming that some members celebrated Kushal’s crime, it is not uncommon for actions that may qualify as sexual violence to be actually laughed about and taken ‘sportingly’ in men-only WhatsApp groups.
Ramanathan S had written for TNM about the misogyny which is normalised when only ‘bros’ hang out: “By allowing every rape joke to go on unaddressed, by laughing and hitting high-fives for every ‘conquest’, we have enabled one person to get one stop closer to being an abusive, entitled male.”
This is true for this instance as well. It is common for people to play down the actions of abusers who are known to them in order to maintain their own relationships with them. However, had the people in the group not told on Kushal, his assault of a minor boy would not have come to light. And he would probably have continued to normalise the child abuse.
How survivors respond to abuse
Despite people countering Kushal, his response was rather dismissive. He said, “Just cool down… All get habituated in that age only by cousins.”
What he said next however, added another dimension to the story: how victims are conditioned to believe their experiences are normal. Kushal indicated that something similar happened to him when he was younger, at the hands of a cousin.
When one of the members questioned his actions, Kushal wrote, "Even I got into this because of one of my cousins.”
Research has indicated time and again that one of the ways survivors react to abuse is by perpetuating it. This piece from NYT for instance, says victims can respond to trauma “by denying that any abuse occurred or by blaming themselves for the abuse, which they often view as justified discipline from adults.” This in turn, makes them believe what happened to them was nothing out of the ordinary.
"Of course, there is a psychological aspect to this as well,” Achyuta tells TNM. “Sometimes it does happen that victims who have been sexually abused as children, go through mental trauma, and may seek to perpetuate the same."
Achyuta asserts however, that this is by no means justification for what Kushal allegedly did to the 14-year-old relative. He added that while such cases are not common, they are not rare either. “While the accused may need counselling, what he allegedly did was still against the law," Achyuta maintained.
It also does not mean that every survivor of abuse will become a perpetrator. And this should not be confused with peer touching among minors and children which is normal and not equivalent to child sexual abuse.
Editor's Note: TNM has not used the picture of the accused to protect the identity of the minor victim.