Reports on sexual harassment cases are increasing by the day. From primary school students to college students and corporate employees, our girls and women have reported molestation or being sexually harassed.
Records maintained by agencies and organisations working on behalf of women and children have showed an increase in cases of violence against women and children over the years. Studies indicate 40 to 60 percent of working women experienced sexual harassment in their workplace.
Even as we are writing this, it was learnt nine College of Science and Technology students filed complaints against a senior lecturer of sexual harassment. Trashigang police charged a senior lecturer at Sherubtse College in Kanglung with sexual harassment and harassment. Thimphu police are litigating two cases of sexual harassment in workplace: one at the Royal Tutorial Project and the other one at the Bhutan Power Corporation. Courts have not allowed the media to cover the cases.
But inconsistent and lenient judgments against sexual harassment cases, and state prosecutors dropping child molestation cases and sexual harassment cases against lecturers married to their students raise questions about how serious the legal system is about curbing the crimes.
The Trongsa dzongkhag court passed its judgement on the sexual harassment case at the College of Language and Cultural Studies in Taktse, where three lecturers were sentenced to three months and nine months imprisonment for sexual harassment. Many feel the sentencing is too light.
The High Court recently overturned a Tsirang dzongkhag court judgment that sentenced a senior teacher to 30 years in prison for molesting 10 children aged eight to 10 and reduced the sentencing to 10 years in prison.
There have been many cases in the past where the Office of Attorney General dropped child molestation cases for lack of evidence, and where courts gave minimum sentencing to sexual abusers.
In all cases, perpetrators were those in power and in a position of trust.
Such lenient and inconsistent judgment can only embolden others with a similar mindset to commit similar offences against children and women. Prosecution and sentencing of such crimes must not only satisfy the traumatised victims, but also serve as a security interest to the public.
Reporting such crimes are not easy for women and children who will have to depend on their supervisors for promotion, and students who will be assessed for their academic performances by the teachers and the lecturers, besides the social stigma and discrimination. While anyone is innocent until proven guilty, the legal system cannot afford to fail victims of those convicted.
If exemplary punishment is seen as a compelling deterrent, it is time to show it. We not only have to change the definition of sexual harassment in our penal code and enhance the sentencing, but also sensitise those in the legal system, including prosecutors and court officials.
To make it safe for our women and children, it is crucial everyone is fully committed. The judiciary plays an important role in preventing such crimes, and must not fail society.