City Events

What we learn from the Coimbatore Assault Case?

How gaslighting has become an unwanted trend in assault cases? 

The recent assault of a 17-year-old girl belonging to Chinmaya Vidyalaya, Coimbatore has set the sparks ablaze yet again on matters of sexual assault and child safety.

Though that incident got the necessary ending of booking the assaulter under the POCSO act, the story still doesn’t have the victim alive.

What caused her to kill herself is a series of events that somehow, the society has a role to play in!

The phenomenon of gaslighting comes into the picture here.

Coimbatore school sexual abuse case shows how survivors are gaslighted into silence.

Gas lighting is a form of emotional manipulation where the abuser tries to twist the narrative, makes the victim doubt and distrust their reality or version of events, and attempts to posture themselves as victims over the actual victim.

Leaked screenshots of WhatsApp chats and a call recording of the girl and the assaulter in the Coimbatore case reveal how the accused attempted to manipulate her into not reporting the sexual abuse.

This is a quoted statement of their chat.

“The choice of your words is very hurting (sic),” he tells her when she calls his actions “abuse”. “The only place where I slipped is in your case. […] It won’t happen [again]. It was completely accidental. It was not my intention to poke you, and not your intention to poke me (sic).” These words were spoken by Mithun Chakravarthy, the victim’s teacher. Her parents and a friend alleged that apart from the sexual assault, she was also harassed by the teacher over a period of six months.

On November 13, screenshots of WhatsApp chats alleged to be between her and “Mithun sir” and a call recording – included by the police as a part of the evidence in the case – were leaked. In the call, a man’s voice, believed to be that of Mithun, seemed to be nudging the girl to believe that what happened between them was consensual; and that she should keep mum about 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 ruin everything.” A sign that he may have wanted more, explaining the subsequent months of continuous assault.

Screenshots of Whatsapp chats, allegedly between Mithun and the victim, show a similar pattern of conversation. “Virginity is not just for girls but boys too,” Mithun responds in one of the screenshots. At one point, the girl even says that it is because of him feeling “hurt” that the situation has reached this point, apparently referring to the alleged cover up.

With the above messages, it is clear that the teacher tried to get his way by dismissing her pleas and faking concern. He addresses her with “don’t talk like a loosu,” when she questions his conduct with other students. By calling the assault a “slip up”, he’s trying to shift blame and make it seem natural that such mistakes happen and mustn’t be taken seriously.

By saying he is hurt by her calling it abuse, and is “facing hardships”, the teacher is trying to make himself the victim, thereby not wanting to see the situation from the victim’s perspective.

The story doesn’t end here. Glimpses of gaslighting arise again when the victim’s principal and the counsellor ask her to brush it off like a stranger’s nudge in a crowded bus. To a girl in her teens who is going through a 31 year old’s assault, this is quite the wrong analogy to give.

As a society, patriarchal clutches don’t allow a woman to say “no” or be dismissive. We are taught to save ourselves for the right one and are shamed “impure” if not and the lack of sex education in schools only adds more oil to this fire.

When you tell a girl to shove such unpleasant experiences aside and move on like nothing happened, you are only filling an already full jar. It is evident that it shall soon break.

Another thorn in the rosy bush is how women are taught to be polite and “soft.” Their nature is fixed to being “pleasing” and thus, young girls who are bossy or rebels aren’t entertained. In this very case, the victim did try to save herself by avoiding eye contact with him, coming late to tuitions etc. However, she felt powerless as she did not know how to stop the teacher “without coming across as rude.” See the ingrained fear?

Hopeless, the victim turned to her parents and yet again, faced a thicker veil. Her parents shifted her school but the trauma didn’t end. Her counselor and the principal found ways to ask her to cover up the incident and neither was the teacher dismissed (thus risking the safety of other such students as well for the sake of their “school name”).

In light of these, alongwith the assaulter, the principal was booked under the POCSO Act on November 13.

It has become cliché: this scene of sexual assault in an institution and subsequently the institution running to save its name by covering up. We aren’t deplete of examples as the #MeToo Movement brought so many such cases to the light.

There’s another layer of understanding that one needs to have when it comes to such cases. Sexual abuse doesn’t always result in hatred for the assaulter. Most times, it is plain fear of the assaulter, of what the world would say if it knew and of being slut shamed or victim blamed. Another major factor for such forced silence is the fear of disbelief. “What if others thought I was making this up? What if he/she only meant it as a friend? Is this bad?”

This further prevents them from disclosing their story. A jarring misconception in most abuse cases is that abuse happens only by a stranger. It is false as most times, an assaulter plays alongside the victim and develops a bond of confidence before making the move. A majority of cases of sexual abuse world over are documented to be perpetrated by persons known to the survivors.

A venue often not spoken about in such cases is where such abuse occurs. Movies and novels paint a dark scene: a secluded street, a lonely bus, a broken down car or a powercut.

But real life has it much more different than that. People need to understand that sexual abuse does not always happen in a secluded spot — it could even happen at the last bench of a classroom, while a lecture is happening, in a park with so many people, in a friend’s house, in a tuition center etc.

When incidents of sexual assault happen, it creates a buzz for quite some time where the public gets to blame the victim, the assaulter, the institute, the families etc. When the buzz dies down, no one remembers the lessons they learn.

The naivety they possess to their hushed thoughts of abuse still linger each time they look at a short skirt, at a curfew, at a girl with makeup, at a boy and girl being friends, at a secluded street and a girl walking.

They fail to realise that such sexual abuse are reminders of the failure that our society is when it comes to accepting that abuse exists and needs to be talked about. If you don’t teach boys and girls about consent and the probability of being abused and the need to voice their discomfort out, incidents like these shall always happen and remain yet another hashtag on social media, with no young boy or girl being alive to tell her story in her own words.

 

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