Strategies To Address Sexual Violence On College Campuses
The recent Thomson Reuters Foundation 2018 survey states that India is the most dangerous country for sexual violence against women. Many have been upset by this report but the truth is we continue to read daily reports of atrocious cases of sexual violence against women and girls from all parts of India. Last month, 34 minor girls were raped in a shelter home in Bihar.
Sexual Violence is a global pandemic and not just an India issue. UN Women states that 1 in 3 women face some kind of sexual assault at least once in their lifetime. But in our experience, these statistics are grossly underreported especially in India where a rape occurs every 20 mins in India. Most of these incidents occur to girls before the age of sixteen.
Yet most women and girls do not talk about this abuse for a multiple of reasons - fear of society, culture, victim blaming, fear of police, tedious formal procedures etc. In fact, on a daily basis, they tend to ignore the various forms of sexual violence and harassment they are subjected to. They dismiss it as being too trivial or “normal” and believe they have to deal with it. Often, they are blamed for bringing it upon themselves. We have had several leaders insist that girls and women themselves are to be blamed for the way they behave or for being “too forward”.
As a result, women and girls keep silent and this data is not captured anywhere but the perpetrator gets bolder over time and we accept it as part of our daily routine. This leads to under communication and under-reporting of the issue. If there are poor official statistics, the problem is not visible and is not a true representation of the actual problem.
Therefore it is important to create safe spaces for reporting and addressing sexual violence in schools and colleges as this is absolutely necessary for girls to access the same opportunities as their male counterparts and be able to explore their potential. All too often, due to lack of safety, girls are restricted from venturing too far from home, are not allowed to continue with their education or take up a career thereby severely restricting their opportunities, mobility, and potential.
In order to create these safe spaces, some strategies school and college authorities can engage are:
- Ensuring all staff - teaching, non-teaching and managerial - are well versed with the legislation that are related to sexual violence and child sexual abuse prevention. India has no shortage of laws but it is the awareness of these laws that are poor and there is much to be said about their implementation. Some of the applicable laws would be The Prevention of Sexual Harassment of Women at the Workplace (POSH) Act, The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act and the various Indian Penal Codes.
- Instituting an internal policy that addresses sexual violence complaints and provides for a redressal mechanism in accordance with the law. This must be clearly detailed and publicised, easily accessible to all so there is no ambiguity as to the procedure to be followed in case of a complaint and the subsequent investigation.
- Conducting awareness workshops for all including students so that they are aware of the laws, policies and complaint mechanisms available to them.
- Setting rules of engagement so that staff and students understand and respect boundaries and consent. Sexual violence is a power game and staff/student relationships can very easily be misused and abused.
- Creating safe spaces for reporting. Students and staff should be encouraged to report their experiences and it should not be viewed negatively. This will create confidence to come forward and break the silence. It will also create a more open culture to talk about these taboo issues.
- Making sure that helplines exist and effectively work. They must be responded to within a stipulated period of time so that confidence in the system increases.
- Holding regular town halls or open door sessions for students and staff to walk in to discuss these issues. Also, staff managing these sessions must be trained in sensitivity whilst dealing with these issues.
It is necessary for all institutions especially educational ones, to be the front-runner in addressing sexual violence. This will enable not only a safe environment for girls to get an education but also go a long way in empowering them to take ownership of their own lives. The government’s focus on “Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao” should not be a mere slogan but a true empowerment tool.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house
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