The Kerala High Court on Monday issued a set of suggestions for the State to consider to assist survivors of child abuse or sexual violence, while particularly emphasising the need to take steps to publicize the Toll-Free Number '112' as an Emergency Response Support System.
Justice Devan Ramachandran reiterated that the growing number of cases of hapless victims being driven to stages of despondency bears testimony to the suspicion that the measures currently in place are not being implemented properly.
"To come back to the focal issue, it is only if a victim of sexual violence or child abuse is able to confidently call upon the system for redressal, with strict confidentiality and assurance of preservation of his/her dignity, will the first step in the process be ever satisfactorily commenced. For this purpose, surely, the presence of a Toll Free Number would go a long way and if an information received by the said response system triggers certain specified consequential actions, without the victim having to run behind it, certainly the endeavour of this Court will bear some fruit."
Justice Ramachandran remarked so after noting that although three circulars were issued by the State Police Chief in pursuance of its endeavour to provide immediate police response to cases involving crimes against women, most of these measures were yet to be actualised.
The Court added that it expects the media to advertise the toll-free number effectively along with the State machinery.
"I hope that the Press will publicise the Toll Free Number '112' effectively since they are one of the pillars of democracy and because such information requires to be mandatorily made known to all citizen. For this purpose, I direct the Registry to release a copy of this order to the Press/Media."
The directions were issued on the plea for police protection moved by a sexual abuse survivor who alleged harassment from the accused as well as certain police officers.
However, over the course of time, the scope of the petition widened, fortified by various inputs chronicled during the proceedings of the case. The Court proceeded to broaden its scope to ensure an effective systemic response to a victim who is already severely traumatized.
The Court had earlier sought the response of the State on its recommendation to set up a toll-free number while considering suggestions offered by the Bar for implementing an effective victim protection protocol for sexual assault survivors that would enable them to get assistance without having to repeatedly visit police stations.
To this, Advocate Parvathy Menon submitted that the State had established a victim 'Emergency Response Support System' (ERSS) exclusively for victims of sexual abuse and child abuse as '112' and therefore, that the suggestion of this Court for such a number has already been taken care of.
She, however, expressed doubt as to whether the processes within this number are effective and therefore, left it to this Court to make further provisions.
"The imperative requirement for the victim of child abuse or sexual abuse being secured and protected at every stage can never be overstated and unless the systems that we have put in place act proactively and sensitively, everything on paper will remain as such – on paper."
The Court recorded its appreciation for Senior Advocate V.P.Seemanthini and Advocate Parvathy Menon for voluntarily appearing and making submissions in the case. Advocates Sandhya Raju and Dheeraj Rajan also provided incisive inputs, which impelled a meaningful debate and discussion at the Bar every time this matter was taken up.
As such, the Government was directed to consider whether the following steps can be effectively implemented before the Court delivers the final judgment.
- The Government must take steps to publicize the Toll-Free Number '112' as an Emergency Response Support System, to be known to every citizen, so that a victim of child abuse or sexual violence can access it as and when required.
- On any information reaching the Toll-Free Number, or the Number '100' - which is the Police Control Room number, it must be fed into a digital system, or Register which will then be relayed as fast as possible to the jurisdictional Police Station or the nearest Control Room.
- The call made to the aforementioned Toll-Free Number of '112' will be attended by well sensitised and trained personnel, who will also make sure that the victim is given sufficient support, as is required, from the time when the call is made.
- On the information of sexual violence or child abuse being received by the Police Control Room or the jurisdictional Police Station as afore, immediate steps will be taken, if possible, within an hour or so, to contact the victim either personally or through phone, without, however, summoning him/her to the Police Station in any manner whatsoever.
- The competent officer will thereupon record the statement of the victim appositely, thus leading to registration of FIR under Section 154(1) of the CrPC.
- While taking the statement of the victim, the mandatory proviso to Section 157(1) of the Cr.PC, namely that the same be recorded at his/her residence or in the place of his/her choice and as far as practical by a Police Officer in the presence of his/her parents/guardian/near relatives or social worker, shall be scrupulously complied with.
- On the FIR being so registered and not later than 24 hours thereafter, the Investigating Officer must assign a Victim Liaison Officer in terms of the aforementioned circulars, who shall then contact the victim immediately thereafter, so that he/she will feel safe and protected, knowing of such support.
- This Court also suggests that simultaneous to the registration of the FIR, or at the time when the Victim Liaison Officer is assigned, the Investigating Officer will disclose to the victim the numbers of the 'One Stop Crisis Centre' and that of the 'VRC', so that they can then step in and ensure that the victim goes through no further traumatization and is offered the psychological support and succour which is sine qua non for the reparatory process of the victims' psychological trauma.
- The victim shall have constant access to the Victim Liaison Officer and/or to the 'One Stop Crisis Centre/VRC', as the case may be and the Government shall ensure that such access is available 24 hours a day and at any time the victim requires such during his/her difficult times.
- The 'One Stop Crisis Centre/VRC' will offer not merely psychological assistance, but also legal support as may be required to the victim and will work in promoting his/her return to normal life, through every facilitation as may be necessary. This shall continue as long as the victim requires or at least until such time as the Trial is completed.
However, it has been clarified that these are only preliminary suggestions which are to be considered and fine-tuned by the Government so that their response can aid the Court in the delivery of the final judgment.
Special Government Pleader Ambika Devi was in full support of these suggestions but sought time to obtain specific responses to various queries made at the Bar.
The matter will be taken up again on June 8 at 1:45 pm.
Case Title: X v. State of Kerala & Ors.
Citation: 2022 LiveLaw (Ker) 239