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Groping the breasts of a child over clothes is not sexual intent, hence not sexual assault !!!

Updated: Apr 3, 2022

Why is this judgement not a bigger issue for public debate as the great Indian kitchen ?

Here is the legal and mental Health connection.

There was recently a judgement from the Nagpur bench of the Bombay High court where a single bench lady judge proclaimed that mere groping/ pressing of breasts of a 12 year old did not amount to sexual assault , instead qualified to be “outraging the modesty of a woman/child”under section 354 of the IPC. She further said that stricter proof is required for laws with stringent punishments. Hence the lack of “ skin to skin “ contact did not amount to sexual assault even if the man attempted to disrobe her.

Having been a lawyer and now in the field of mental health , I would like to express my bewilderment at this very logic-defying , intent -crushing judgement. Not only is there a very wrong precedence set , it goes totally against the history of the painful fight for women and child rights which gave birth to the POCSO Act which was to bring into its ambit even a mere intent/ action as assault or abuse.

As a psychologist, why this twists my spirit is because of the pain I witness of scores of women (few men too) I meet at MINDPORT who get diagnosed with borderline personality disorder , dissociative disorder or PTSD ( Post traumatic stress disorder ) who mostly report a history of childhood sexual abuse (CSA).

The severity of abuse and number of episodes matter, but physical , sexual and psychological abuse during childhood can raise moderate to serious psychiatric issues that can later manifest during the stages of adolescence and adulthood. Even one shocking episode can have extended impact. The Shame, anger , helplessness and guilt associated with abuse create confusing internalising of emotions leading to depression, anxiety , panic attacks and stress related symptoms while behaviourally demonstrating aggression , hyperactivity , impulsiveness and self harming behaviours including substance abuse ( maladaptive ways to cope ). Studies show that CSA can cause effects on the brain including interference with perception of trauma , diminished higher executive functioning and memory.

Borderline personality disorder makes it difficult to control emotions and impulses and debilitates the person’s daily transactions. The trauma CSA creates in a child shapes how they view themselves ( self - image ), creates disturbances in identity formation, show dissociative symptoms and have self harming and suicidal behaviours( studies say , the chances of attempting suicide in adulthood with history of CSA is 10-17 times more compared to those without CSA). There is a defective pattern they develop about

  • interpersonal relationships

  • self image

  • how they navigate negative stress stimuli -lack of trust

And dissociative symptoms that come from disengaging from the aversive experience trying to escape and detach cognitively during the abuse . Helpless against escape that leave an imprint on the brain and become definitive traits of unhelpful ways of coping later in life.

There is an unmistakable lack of consent when a child is involved in sexual abuse . To merely take the technicality of language into consideration while interpreting a law that has far reaching social and mental impact seem like a huge let down of the very essence of the POCSO Act and an even bigger error in judgement and jurisprudential foresight. It is high time mental health professionals are considered during trial so that the loss of good mental health of the victim can be taken into account before pronouncement of judgement in cases of sexual assault and abuse. Happy to learn that the Honourable Supreme Court has stayed the judgement in question , as I write this piece !!

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