As social media continues to become accessible to the general population as a means of expression, the question of social media trials continues to resurface whether it is the Sushant Singh Rajput case or the Manav Singh suicide case.
Many during the #BoisLockerRoom incident had spoken out about how social media is not the appropriate arena to tell one’s narrative especially when it comes to abuse as the realities of false allegations came to light. So why have so many victims, especially during the #MeToo Movement, taken to social media with their stories and should they be stopped from doing so?
The biggest concern is of false allegations and the defamation that follows such accusations. In 2014, the Delhi Commission of Women stated that almost 53.2% of total rape allegations were false, meaning that of the reported cases only 0.48% were real cases. However, when we look closely at the report, the basic understanding is that a lot of the cases which never made it to trial were dismissed as ‘false’ without any proof and thus were added to the statistic. This is keeping in mind that an estimated 99.1% of cases go unreported as per government data.
Many often target abuse victims who share their stories online with questions such as “why didn’t you file charges? Do you not believe in the legal system? Where is the proof? Why speak out now?”
Psychologically speaking, the trauma a victim of sexual assault or harassment undergoes cannot be quantified. Many victims take years to just accept the incident and confront it. Victims often suffer from depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, substance abuse, and anxiety. Often these victims do not have familial support either due to the common fear of “log kya kahenge”, fear of being ostracized, victim-blaming, or the assaulter being a family member. And at times, the voices are suppressed in an attempt to “protect the family honor.” Male victims are often disregarded and silenced entirely.
Talking about the realities, police and media attitudes towards victims act as another detrimental factor which is one of the most common reasons why victims don’t file charges. The constant victim-blaming, character assassination, harassment, and overall attitude discourages the victim and often just adds to the trauma the individual has to go through.
Further, the long drawn out judicial process in our country is yet another discouraging factor. Most rape and sexual assault cases occur in private spaces which leads to little or no evidence other than the victim’s words against the assaulter, or a ‘he said, she said’ scenario. “Why speak up now?” Though the anti-rape laws were reformed in 2013, the statutory limit of reporting a crime still depends on the severity of the punishment for the crime.
“As per Section 468(2) of the Code of Criminal Procedure, the limitation periods for taking cognizance of complaints under provisions of the Indian Penal Code are as follows:
(a) six months, if the offence is punishable with fine only
(b) one year, if the offence is punishable with imprisonment for a term not exceeding one year;
(c) three years, if the offence is punishable with imprisonment for a term exceeding one year but not exceeding three years.”
This implies that the time limit for reporting rape and sexual assault cases is three years. As per 473 of the CrPC, the court may consider an older case only if it is in the “interest of justice” or when the “delay” in seeking redressal “has been properly explained.”
According to the Sexual Harassment of Women at the Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition, and Redressal) Act, a woman facing harassment must file a complaint with the Internal Committee within 3 months of the incident occurring. This rule may only be relaxed in certain cases if the reason for the delay is accepted as ‘valid’.
The victims of such heinous crimes are still unable to step forward and narrate their experiences in an attempt to gain justice. They are in turn harassed even more, and it at times extends to threats to their families and loved ones.
Social media provides a safe bubble where the victim feels empowered and supported enough to step forward and hold the culprits accountable. Armchair activism in contemporary times has made an impact as we’ve seen in the case of BoisLockerRoom. With the patriarchal social forces working against them, social media acts as a shield from the toxic forces of the society and enables a victim to get empowered, inspired and motivated to come forward and hold the culprits accountable, and finally serve themselves and others justice.
One person’s story encourages several others to speak out. The mentality of silencing victims and dictating how they present their narrative needs to stop. The legal system has come a long way, but it still has a long way to go. Laws exist against defamation and false allegations and it is our responsibility as social media users to present the narrative and not pass judgments.