Yet another instance that has angered me, though not really surprised me, is the recent ‘Bois Locker Room’ scandal. It has been receiving well deserved attention on Instagram, Twitter and other social media platforms. I read about how on Delhi Women’s Commission’s orders, a complaint is registered and is being investigated by the Cyber Cell of Delhi police. Additionally, on how some lawyers have approached the Supreme Court and latter is likely to hear this matter soon as it ‘shocks the conscience of the nation’.
The fact that some legal action is finally being taken in case of matter concerning sexual harassment, was a pleasant surprise after all. I cannot help but wonder, firstly, how has this particular case been problematic ‘enough’ (and not numerous other social media #MeToo movements) to draw the attention of authorities and secondly, why do we often see social media as a better platform as opposed to institutional or legal platforms to be heard in cases of sexual harassment?
We live in a society where women need to satisfy many unwritten legal or social standards to be in a place to be even heard. As we often see, the cases of sexual harassment fail to reach anywhere beyond mere voicing out, primarily because of the lack of belief in women’s narrative regarding sexual harassment. Here, I am not just taking about the cases that reach legal authorities, but even numerous instances of sexual harassment voiced over on social media often meet with various challenges.
Such challenges range from dealing with accusations from the society regarding how the woman in question is lying for seeking attention or revenge from the accused to even being shamed on irrelevant grounds such as appearance or other lifestyle traits of the woman in question. That is why we often see people trying to poke holes in a woman’s narrative by holding her to some extraordinary standard of truth (often regarding irrelevant details). Or in extremely unfortunate cases, we see random men commenting on women’s clothes, or inebriation state or just indicate anger (for speaking out against the harassment) by simply calling her names (Yes, so many times I have seen random men commenting ‘randi or prostitute’ on such posts)!!!
In the case of ‘bois locker room’, the narrative was not really presented by the harassed women themselves and rather it was a case of third person leaking the accusatory material, that is the screenshots of disgusting conversations among men regarding several women’s bodies. I wonder what would have been the outcome had one of the harassed women had tried to out this Instagram group by narrating the harassment faced by her. Sadly, in that case, I doubt that it would have been taken up and investigated by the authorities with the same zeal and enthusiasm.
The difference in treatment can be explained by how in this case there was ‘strong objective’ evidence which is often lacking in sexual harassment cases and victim’s testimony is the only evidence available. There is a clear patriarchal societal bias which discredits mere testimony of a victim. Thus, in cases of sexual harassment we need to reconceptualise the idea of evidence, eliminating any bias. Somewhere it also makes me feel that our main problem is with women having the guts to come up, speak up and not just give in to the systemic oppression; not so much with the requirement of objective evidence as well.
If it was always so much about women coming up with objective evidence (and not mere victim testimonies), some of the victims who have revealed their stories with the requisite screenshots as ‘objective evidence’, they have still faced the similar backlash and are accused of forging the screenshots. Sure, ‘objective’ evidence is likely to give some credence to victims but that does not always guarantee to be enough to destroy the patriarchal bias against women. This in a way answers my first question, the bois locker room scandal does not really involve a woman narrating her own story and that is why it is treated differently than other instances about women voicing harassment faced by themselves.
Coming to my second question regarding the highly important role that social media is playing in helping women out their harassers, again there could be many factors contributing to this. Maybe on social media you can craft your own receivers of the information and you are likely to be received by trustworthy people in your social circle, thus, eliminating unwarranted harassment by third parties by calling names etc. However, I wonder whether somewhere we are trying to replace institutional platforms like Internal Investigation Committee (ICC) or legal authorities like police or formal court proceedings with social media? If we are, why?
I do not want to get into any official statistics on the number of #MeToo complaints actually resulting in any institutional complaints. However, from my own experience I can say that I know at least 100 sexual harassment instances (ranging from verbal comments to physical sexual assaults like rape) faced by women I directly know. Most of them are voiced out on social media during #MeToo movement waves, however hardly 3 or 4 of them have gone through institutional platforms like ICC proceedings and no case has gone to the formal police/court proceedings.
I think we have heard enough about the pathetic attitude of police or judges in treating sexual harassment cases with lacking sensitivity, engaging standard victim blaming tactics or dismissing claims as mere ‘pop culture youngsters’ drama’ with standard ‘men will be men’ attitude. So, I do not intend to go in that direction. My primary focus is on the institutional platforms in colleges or workplaces. Without intending to generalize, I wish to focus on called ‘leftist, liberal, feminist’ institutions such as best law colleges in this country that always appear to be filled with the ‘woke environment’.
In my alma mater NLSIU Bangalore, the ICC that was in effect around half a decade ago included some of the most gender sensitive teachers; however the proceedings were dragged for years without any effective outcome. Recently, a new ICC was constituted which in a way gave hope to the students and there was a substantial increase in the number of complaints over a course of a few weeks. These cases were still much fewer in comparison to cases that came to light during #MeToo movement on the community Facebook page of NLS students.
My observation is not just limited to NLS but recent stories of college administrations across these ‘woke institutions’ tackling sexual harassment complaints have been very disheartening. Staying up to its ‘fame’ of being woke institutions, these colleges do not really engage in the typical techniques (such as victim blaming) used by traditional courts to discourage the victims. Their tactics most essentially involve ‘delay’ at every stage of the proceedings, so as to mentally and physically drain the victim and also discourage potential complaints from other victims. By every stage I mean from the stage of filing a complaint to actual implementation (if at all, because why ruin job perspectives of the accused and also ruin name of the institution?) of the punishment awarded on the accused.
As someone who has suffered sexual harassment and considered filing complaint to ICC in my college, I was discouraged not because I might have to face slut shaming (as might be the case in front of police or court), but because I will have to deal with this exhausting process involving delay tactics by the administration. This really makes me wonder, have we turned to social media instead of institutional mechanisms because these institutions have failed us? Yes, I think the answer is a resounding yes.
The reason behind increased social media movements against sexual harassment is fairly simple: the failure of institutional platforms has forced women to take up their causes elsewhere and in that social media comes as a relatively more accessible platform. Social media movements surely play significant role in the sexual harassment cases and that is indeed a welcome.
However, this often leads to ‘social media trials’ which even though gives faster results, might not always reflect a balanced verdict. Therefore, social media platforms with all its goodness, should not replace institutional platforms created for the purpose. Since the first year of law college, we are hearing ‘justice delayed is justice denied’ and such delay is considered a violation of ‘due process’. I am not positivist advocate of due process when it comes to sexual harassment cases. However, I certainly feel that, at least the bare minimum bar of due process must be satisfied in sexual harassment cases and that might be a step closer to the institutions fulfilling their duties towards the victims.
Siddhi graduated from National Law School of India University in 2019. You can find her on Instagram.
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