One cannot address sexual violence through the prism of a ‘woman’s only’ issue. It is a public heath issue that adversely affects the societal climate with lasting psycho-social and economic ramifications. In the recent past, Sexual Harassment at the Workplace has been addressed through cases such as the Tehelka and the Pachauri case. However there is a severe lack of information when it comes to dealing with campus sexual assault; the laws applicable, one’s rights and how to seek remedies.
Knowing your rights and arming oneself with information on how to address sexual violence goes a long way in ensuring that we don’t condition ourselves to deal with the abuse. The more we know, the less scope for misdirection. Listed below are 10 points to keep in mind when fighting against campus sexual assault.
1 – The unique aspect of the Act applicable to cases of Campus Sexual Assault is that it is gender neutral i.e unlike the Sexual Harassment of Women at the Workplace Act and sexual offences listed under the Indian Penal Code (IPC) which does not recognize men as victims of sexual offences and applies to women and women only; this Act applies to men, women and the third gender alike with protection being extended to all students. This change in the Act came about on May 2, 2016 through the Ministry of Human Resource Development (UGC). This is a progressive and much needed step towards affording men and those of the third gender with rights to complain against sexual abuse that they may be subject to.
2 – Complaint mechanism
Who can complain under this Act? – This Act is applicable to all students, colleges, departments and faculties of the University of Mumbai. For the purpose of this Act, the person complaining is recognized as the aggrieved party”.
Whom can you file a sexual harassment complaint against? – The allegation can be filed against another student, college employee including professors/ personnel working in the cafeteria or peons, members of the management, third party i.e visiting faculty or ex-students and any outsiders that are accessing college premises.
One can complain under this Act regardless of whether the harassment has occurred within or outside college premises.
3 – The complaint body one must approach is the College Women Development Cell (CWDW) established under the direction of the Vice Chancellor under Section 14 (8) of the Maharashtra Universities Act, 1994 or the Internal Complaints Committee (ICC). This Cell/ ICC must constitute of a Faculty member, an expert on the matter of dealing with such sensitive cases and be affiliated with an NGO that serves as a neutral third party. The governing body of the Women Development Cell is the University Grants Commission entrusted with powers under the Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal of Sexual Harassment of Women Employees and Students in Higher Educational Institutions, Regulations, 2015
4 – Statute of Limitations – It is critical that one complains within 3 months from the date of last incident. For other offences listed under the IPC such as Rape (Sec 375), Outraging Modesty (Sec 354) or even the POCSO Act there is no statute of limitations. That by extension implies that one can complain even years post the date of assault. The victim is expected to substantiate sufficient cause for the delay in reporting. However in case of campus sexual assault, one must report the incident to the CWDC/ ICC within 3 months unless the aggrieved party i.e complainant is unable to comply due to illness or extreme circumstances.
5 – Incase the aggrieved party is unable to lodge the complaint by themselves, their relatives, friends, colleagues, or any other person who has knowledge about the crime may lodge the complaint on his/ her behalf.
6 – The WDC/ ICC must have a register that catalogues all complaints and maintain records of the enquiry initiated and outcome. The WDC has the powers to prescribe minor or major penalties against the perpetrator if the allegations are held true.
7 – The inquiry committee must finish the probe within 90 days, so as to avoid delay in exercising justice. The result of the probe must be listed in writing and be a part of the records maintained.
8 – If found guilty, the defendant may be rusticated (incase the defendant was a student), while disciplinary action listed under the Service Rules will apply to defendants who are employees of the college. The aggrieved party may also receive compensation in lieu of damages incurred due to the abuse.
9 – In case the aggrieved party has grounds to file a police complaint, it is the duty of the ICC to assist the student in going to the police station and filing the FIR.
10 – Penalty against false complaints – The Act also lists punishments against false complaints to address misuse of the law.