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Tarun Tejpal Walks Free Because Survivor ‘Did Not Behave Like A Sexual Assault Victim’?!

Posted: May 28, 2021

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The verdict in the Tarun Tejpal’s acquittal was all about victim blaming, unfortunately by a woman judge who focused on how an assault victim should have behaved!

This month of May has been particularly hard on me. Like many of you reading this, I too have lost people close to me. To be precise, 9 people over a span of 11 days. People I have known,people I have loved and people who mattered. All to the wretched virus.

But this is not about the virus that is killing people now. This, today is about the virus that has infected our society for as long as I can remember.

Amidst coping with the grief and loss, on May 22nd, I read the news that Tarun Tejpal was acquitted of all charges. My instant response was that of anger and sadness. Later that day, I started reading various news reports to understand why.

Tarun Tejpal had confessed, yet was acquitted

Why was he acquitted even after he tendered an apology for his “lapse of judgement”? And that’s when I realized that this was not just about him, this was a much larger picture, with nuanced intricacies that are at the least, thought provoking.

Even though I have a Law degree, I am refraining from making any legal comments here.

The first thing that refused to make sense was that TT’s apology was not considered as evidence saying it was not sent voluntarily, but due to “explicit pressure and intimidation” by the complainant on Shoma Chaudhary, who was then the managing director of Tehelka.

The second being, pointing out loopholes in the probe, the judge said it is the fundamental right of the accused to have a fair investigation but the IO has committed omission and commission while conducting the investigation.

And the third and most glaring observation was the comment that made headlines in multiple news reports- “It is extremely revealing that the prosecutrix’s (victim) account neither demonstrates any kind of normative behaviour on her own part – that a prosecutrix of sexual assault on consecutive two nights might plausibly show nor does it show any such behaviour on the part of the accused,” the court observed.

Who decides how a ‘victim’ should behave?

This observation about ‘normative behavior’ on the part of the victim is something I fail to understand.

I mean, who gets to form these sets of rules about how a survivor ought to behave? (I would like to use the word survivor in place of victim, personally, but  more about that later, maybe).

The trauma, the shock, the pain, the betrayal and the fear of this very society- the person has to process all of this and more.

And how is it your or my place to tell them how to process it, so they can “behave” a certain way?

How is there a gold standard, failing which, your account of the assault becomes questionable?

Who are these people who think that they can take away from another person’s lived experience of trauma, fear, humiliation, anger etc?

The personal account of a friend

(I have taken her consent before mentioning this here, even though I have skipped any obvious details).

A dear friend once confided in me about being raped by a colleague. The colleague’s father was a very influential person in the same organization.

She went back to work without a word to anyone and worked there for 6 more years.

Now my question here would be, because she did not complain about the man raping her, did it cease to be a fact?

Because she continued to work at the same place for reasons good enough for her, does it mean she was asking for more?

Or that she was not ‘terrified’ of the same colleague?

Her behavior definitely does not match the ‘normative behavior’ expected of a victim (survivor) so her whole lived experience becomes a lie??

Assumptions about survivor’s behaviour based in rape myths

See, the problem there is with the ‘observation’ of the court, where they tied a lived experience to a set of ‘hypothetical’, ‘assumptive’ and ‘misplaced’ expectations and definition of a victim (survivor)?

My question is and will remain- HOW?

In order to understand this better, I read some research articles. And here are some relevant findings, with references.

One article finds that barriers to seeking care include rape myths. Rape myths are those ideas or beliefs that ‘deny or minimize victim injury or blame the victims for their own victimization’.

Rape myths that are commonly accepted include,

  • the woman deserved to be raped;
  • she asked for it through her provocative behavior or dress;
  • there was not much physical damage so it was not rape;
  • stranger rape is more prevalent than acquaintance rape;
  • and, a woman cannot be raped by her husband.

There is a growing body of evidence showing that despite years of public education about sexual violence, rape myths and gender stereotypes are still accepted, believed and propagated by communities.

Another study says, “In societies with high prevalence of interpersonal violence, attitudes that tolerate violence against women are viewed as normative behavior”.

There’s a lot more that I have saved for reading later.

I will read them as soon as I have processed the fact that if sexually assaulted, I not only have to deal with my trauma, social stigma and legal proceedings but also remember how to behave so I can be a living proof of my narrative!

Now if nothing, that IS a lot to process and honestly, I can’t wrap my head around it yet, because I am now thinking about the internalized misogyny that propagates this kind of thinking process, including in people in positions of power. People who are capable of making a difference.

But this virus, I guess, is here to stay…

Image source: YouTube

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Antara is an Applied Behavior Analysis professional, a retired Indian Air Force Officer and an

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