A closed door

  • The process of seeking legal remedy for cases of sexual abuse should be clear

Jan 28, 2019-

In order to take legal action against Bodha Raj Tripathee, the maths teacher accused of sexual abuse by a number of former students as reported by the Post, a group of students, parents, and concerned staff attempted to register a First Information Report (FIR) at the Metropolitan Police Range, Jawalakhel on Sunday.

But they were met with a closed door. According to a student representative, an official at the station told them that he could not assign them a petition chit to enter the station to file an FIR, citing the ‘statute of limitations regarding past abuse cases.’ According to Article 74(2) of the ‘Act Relating to Children’, the statute of limitations for childhood abuse is one year after a person turns 18. The most recent Criminal Code also stipulates that the statute of limitation for rape and abuse is one year following the incident.

But according to Amrit Kharel of Juris Nepal, “In court practice, generally the date of knowledge in which the incident occurred (or was realised) is also taken into consideration”. In an email to the Post, he wrote, “Of course the police need to register an FIR”.

The initial response by officials—comparable to a meagre shrug and a turnaway—captures the many hurdles that sexual assault survivors, especially children, must overcome in their efforts to access legal remedy. Instead of pointing towards legal loopholes and verifying whether or not the statute of limitations apply—the officials simply turned the party away, giving them the impression that they were barred from taking legislative action.  

This points to an alarming concern: the law itself is opaque. Legislation, especially concerning cases of abuse, rape, and harassment should be clear, accessible and self-explanatory. Ultimately, the law should make the process of reporting and seeking legal remedy a straightforward and approachable task for survivors. The presence of the statute of limitations for childhood abuse is discouraging to survivors who are attempting to seek legal action for cases that may have occurred beyond the stipulated time frame.

The impacts of experiencing sexual abuse from a young age are long-lasting—and all pieces of legislation needs to reflect that. A 2014 study based on a sample of 1,050 informants by German researchers found that, survivors were, on average, 52 years old when they first reported cases of sexual abuse that they experienced as children. In Nepal, the prevailing culture of silence and the unquestioning attitude that adults, especially teachers, instill in young children further limit survivors from speaking out within the imposed timeframe. Concerned legislative bodies must reconsider the statute of limitations applied for rape and abuse cases. Even if there are loopholes, why should additional legal hurdles be created for what should be an encouraging and empowering process?

The ‘right time’ for survivors of sexual abuse to share their stories and seek legal remedy should be any time they choose. The courageous women who spoke out against their former teacher, who had to recall years of lasting trauma, all pointed to the various hurdles that prevented them from seeking help—despite the fact that many were aware of the teacher’s inappropriate actions. The system that encouraged their silence failed them. But now that their stories have inspired action against the perpetrator, the legal process shouldn’t fail them.

Published: 28-01-2019 07:26

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