Sexual Assault Survivor Did Not Behave “Like a Victim,” Goa Court Says in Tarun Tejpal Case
The woman who filed a complaint against Tarun Tejpal, former editor-in-chief of Tehelka, did not exhibit behavior that a victim of sexual assault “might plausibly show,” the District and Sessions court in Goa said in a judgment that became public on Tuesday. The court acquitted Tejpal of sexual assault charges last week.
The ruling is in relation to the 2013 case, where the woman, who was Tejpal’s junior colleague at the time, complained that the senior journalist sexually assaulted her in a hotel elevator on two instances. Tejpal was tried for committing offenses linked to sexual assault, rape, and wrongful confinement. He wrote a personal apology letter to the survivor owning up to his actions in 2013, stepped down as the editor of Tehelka, and was in jail for seven months until the Supreme Court granted him bail.
On May 21st, the District and Sessions Court in Goa gave a clean chit to Tejpal, acquitting him of all charges on the grounds that there were loopholes during the investigation. “Upon considering evidence on record… benefit of doubt is given to the accused because there is no corroborative evidence supporting the allegations made by the complainant girl,” Additional Sessions Judge Kshama Joshi wrote in the judgment. “There are many facts which have come on record which create doubt on the truthfulness of the prosecutrix.”
The ruling perches itself on the stereotype of a “victim” to use the woman’s testimony against her. The fact the woman sent WhatsApp messages to Tejpal with her location (the woman was chaperoning a U.S. actor for work at the time) was observed as “unnatural” on her part. “If the prosecutrix had been recently again been [sic] sexually assaulted by the accused and was terrified of him and not in a proper state of mind, why would she report to the accused and disclose to him her location, when she could have reported to (three women)…” the court said. Moreover, the court objects to the fact she did not sound “traumatized nor terrified” and had plans to stay in Goa after the assault happened.
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The prosecution had built a case around the following points: that Tejpal had committed rape, he wrongfully restrained the woman from exiting the lift, and used criminal force against the survivor. The court’s verdict delegitimizes the woman’s claim entirely, saying the investigation wasn’t carried out thoroughly and it is easy to tamper evidence, including CCTV footage.
“The personal apology was not sent voluntarily by the accused but that it was sent due to the explicit pressure and intimidation” by the complainant “to act swiftly,” the judge noted, nullifying Tejpal’s personal apology for the incident. He added that “it cannot be lost site [sic] that rape causes the greatest distress and humiliation to the victim but at the same time a false allegation of rape can cause an equal distress and humiliation and damage to the accused as well.”
The verdict echoes a larger truth about the way cases of sexual violence at the workplace are dealt with and the inadequacies within the system to support women. In the larger context, rape myths, the language around assault and the role of masculinity and power all feed into the vicious cycle of not believing the woman’s narrative in sexual assault cases. Women struggle with these factors when it comes to speaking out; those who actually do face biased verdicts and aspersions on their character.
“Her struggle has been the struggle of every woman facing sexual harassment and sexual violence at the workplace and attempting to push back the asymmetric power of dominant men in the media,” the Network of Women in Media, India (NWMI) said in a statement.
The court has acquitted Tejpal of charges under IPC Sections 341 (wrongful restraint), 342 (wrongful confinement), 354 (sexual harassment), 354A(1)(I)(II) (demand for sexual favors), 354B (assault or use of criminal force to woman with intent to disrobe), 376 (2)(f) (person in a position of authority over women, committing rape) and 376(2)(k) (rape by a person in a position of control). The Goa government on Tuesday challenged the acquittal order in Bombay High Court.
Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated Tarun Tejpal’s jail time as seven years instead of seven months.