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Bombay HC: Even Indirect Media Disclosure Of Identity Of Sexual Abuse Survivors Is Punishable 

Posted: February 3, 2021

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The Bombay High Court put additional restraints on print and electronic media and barred them from publishing the identity of rape victims. 

Upon taking into cognizance a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed by the mother of a rape survivor from Ahmednagar, the Bombay High Court issued additional guildelines to ensure that the identity of rape or child abuse survivors is not disclosed in any way.

The petitioner had brought newspaper cuttings of a local newspaper before the Division Bench. The newspaper cutting not only revealed her name and detailed address but also full particulars of the accused.

She also brought a recent newspaper cutting of an offence committed by an assistant police officer who had been accused of raping his sister-in-law.In this case, the identity of the victim as well as the local and residential address of the accused were revealed in the newspaper.

The HC laid down additional guidelines

After considering the PIL, a division bench headed by Justice TV Nalawade and MG Sewlikar issued additional restrictions upon the print and electronic media, restricting them from revealing the identity of rape or child abuse survivors.

The ruling even barred newspaper outlets and other forms of media from publishing details indirectly by revealing the names of parents, address, school or the survivor’s relationship with the accused if they are related.

The bench also stated that the survivors should be referred to as ‘X’ while recording statements or framing charges. It added, “The name, place of residence, occupation shall be kept in a sealed cover and in the name column, they can be referred in the same manner described while framing charge, keeping the address column, occupation column bank.”

Similar guidelines were laid by the Supreme Court in 2018

In 2018, the Supreme Court had issued guidelines to protect the identity of rape victims. However, the restrictions were not only exempted on the media but also on social media posts, police and forensic authorities.

“Revealing the details of FIRs on rape in the public domain stays prohibited,” added the Supreme Court in its ruling.

Necessary to protect survivors from prejudice

The bench headed by Justice MB Lokur and Deepak Gupta who issued the guidelines in 2018 rightly observed the prejudice formed against rape victims.

They had said, “Unfortunately, in our society, the victim of a sexual offence, especially a victim of rape, is treated worse than the perpetrator of the crime…society, instead of empathising with the victim, starts treating her as an untouchable… and is ostracised from society.”

The bench added, “The victim’s first brush with justice is an unpleasant one where she is made to feel that she is at fault; she is the cause of the crime…

Victims are subjected to harsh cross-examination during which a lot of questions are raised about her morals and character and the judges sometimes sit like mute spectators and normally do not prevent the defence from asking such defamatory and unnecessary questions.”

Hopefully, these guidelines as well as the new restrictions and guidelines issued by the Bombay High Court succeed in protecting the right to privacy of a rape survivor and protect the survivor from facing prejudice and mistreatment by society.

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