Can't Allow Victim Shaming as Legal Strategy in Sexual Assault Cases: Delhi High Court

The justice system has a paramount duty to protect the most vulnerable, particularly children, says Justice Sharma

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Staff Writer, TLR

Published on July 6, 2024, 13:48:51



Shaming a victim and her family must not be allowed as tools of legal strategy in cases of sexual offences against minors as it deters them from reporting such offences to the authorities, the Delhi High Court has said.

Upholding the three-year jail term awarded to a house help for secretly recording objectionable videos of the minor daughter of his employer on his mobile phone, Justice Swarana Kanta Sharma also discouraged taking a “lenient view” in such cases.
She asserted that judicial pronouncements that recognise the profound impact of voyeurism put a “healing balm” on the wounds of victims of such harassment and assault.

The accused challenged his conviction by the trial court in an appeal before the high court on several grounds including that the videos were prepared and planted by the father of the victim because he did not want to pay his salary.

Terming the contention “insensitive” and “unthinkable”, Justice Sharma said the court must uphold the dignity and rights of not only the child victims but also their families, and that the justice system has a paramount duty to protect the most vulnerable, particularly children, from any form of secondary trauma caused by unjust accusations or demeaning narratives.

“The Court must, therefore, take a firm stand against any attempts to malign the character of child victims or use victim shaming and victim family shaming as tools and pawns in legal strategies. Victim shaming and victim’s family shaming must not be allowed as it will be a deterrent and road block in the real victims reporting such offences to the authorities,” said the court in its judgement passed on July 1.

The court held that the material on record and the testimonies of the witnesses clearly established the case of the prosecution that the appellant had made three objectionable videos of the victim and the trial court rightly convicted him under Sections 354C (voyeurism) and 509 (word, gesture or act intended to insult the modesty) IPC, and under Section 12 (punishment for sexual harassment) of the POCSO Act.

The court also refused to reduce the punishment of three-year imprisonment, saying if the accused was a young man of 22 years of age at the time of incident, the victim was also 17 years old when she suffered a “life-long trauma” within the safety and privacy of her own home.

“The appellant had stealthily recorded videos, an act beyond imagination or expectation of the child victim or her family. This trauma severely impacted her ability to concentrate on her studies and career, ultimately leading her to leave the country for higher studies as she could not continue in the same place where she had been a victim of sexual harassment,” the court observed.

The court said it “shudders to think” if the videos were shared by the appellant or were misused by him in any other manner.
“Taking a lenient view in such cases will also discourage the real victims of such offences. The judiciary helps set societal norms and expectations regarding the protection of children by consistently condemning voyeuristic acts and emphasising the sanctity of a child’s privacy and dignity,” said the court as it dismissed the accused’s appeal.

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