Sexual abusers list is problematic – but gives victims a sense of regaining control

Support systems for abuse victims are almost non-existent. A name and shame list gives survivors the satisfaction of having taken action against perpetrators.

All too often, to make an allegation of sexual abuse is to run a fool’s errand. Even if one is ultimately believed, the process of establishing one’s credibility can be torturous, the costs – both intangible and material – can be extraordinarily high, and the returns far too low for an abused person to choose to formally invoke the legal system.

This sense of injustice is perhaps what launched the online campaign to name and shame academics at Indian universities accused of sexually harassing or assaulting students. The campaign has sparked a furious debate, with some feminists calling for it to be withdrawn because “anybody can be named anonymously, with lack of answerability”.

Support mechanisms for victims of abuse are all but non-existent. There is, these days, rarely a dearth of people to post a quick message of encouragement online signalling the wonders of their own politics, if not anything else. But despite the deluge of social media supporters, finding people who make, and honour, concrete commitments to support a victim through the process of formally addressing abuse is usually difficult. The difficulty tends to increase exponentially if the abuser in question is a well-placed man.

For women who have been abused, particularly by men not on the lower rungs of the socio-economic ladder, this has often meant that they report nothing formally but rely on informal networks to share what ultimately become “open secrets” about men they have found abusive. The trouble with open secrets, of course, is that there are always people outside the informed group who would benefit from knowledge of the secret but who don’t know of it. Sometimes, they learn of it the hard way.

In such circumstances, creating an open, crowdsourced list of alleged abusers can seem to make sense. If it is accurate, such a list can potentially act as a warning to those who have not been abused by the men named. It can provide actual victims the satisfaction of having done something to retaliate against their abusers and help them regain some of the control the abusers likely stripped them of. And if the list does not name the accusers, it accords the victims these benefits without endangering their safety or jeopardising their career paths.

Question of credibility

The problem with such a list is that, at first glance, there is no way at all to determine its accuracy. It is ultimately the public collation of unverified gossip and, where the list contains only the names and professional affiliations of alleged abusers, it taints everyone named with the same brush. A casual reader of the list cannot know whether the people named have been legally defamed.

For that matter, it is unclear if a person compiling such a list based on purported victim testimonies can be certain of the veracity of the testimonies. Presumably, an individual would not have the resources to investigate each allegation for accuracy, so she would have to simply take the accusers at their word. In effect, the list would lack substantiation and, consequently, its credibility would be assailable.

Truth is a defence against claims of civil defamation and, coupled with a demonstration of public interest being served by the disclosure of information, it is a defence against complaints of criminal defamation. Other exceptions to defamation too could conceivably come into play. For example, the Ninth Exception in Section 499 of the Indian Penal Code states:

“It is not defamation to make an imputation on the character of another provided that the imputation be made in good faith for the protection of the interests of the person making it, or of any other person, or for the public good.”  

That said, without the possibility of establishing the list’s accuracy, it remains deeply problematic. On one hand, there is no chance of actual abusers being brought to account on the basis of the list alone. On the other, there is no chance of people who may be wrongly named being able to definitively clear their names. In both cases, the problem is that the identities of accusers and the specific conduct they have complained of are not clear.

It would appear that the solution to all these concerns is to create mechanisms through which allegations of abuse can be fairly and impartially investigated. But our reality is that social structures are deeply inequitable, the legal system is difficult to navigate, and speaking out against well-placed men can be more formidable a challenge than many victims are able to face. Understandably then, vague assurances of support may not be enough to convince the victims to identify themselves. What is required are concrete commitments to see the victims through the process of formally addressing complaints of abuse. Thus far, such commitments do not appear to have been made.

Nandita Saikia is a media and technology lawyer in Delhi.

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Behind the garb of wealth and success, white collar criminals are hiding in plain sight

Understanding the forces that motivate leaders to become fraudsters.

Most con artists are very easy to like; the ones that belong to the corporate society, even more so. The Jordan Belforts of the world are confident, sharp and can smooth-talk their way into convincing people to bend at their will. For years, Harshad Mehta, a practiced con-artist, employed all-of-the-above to earn the sobriquet “big bull” on Dalaal Street. In 1992, the stockbroker used the pump and dump technique, explained later, to falsely inflate the Sensex from 1,194 points to 4,467. It was only after the scam that journalist Sucheta Dalal, acting on a tip-off, broke the story exposing how he fraudulently dipped into the banking system to finance a boom that manipulated the stock market.


In her book ‘The confidence game’, Maria Konnikova observes that con artists are expert storytellers - “When a story is plausible, we often assume it’s true.” Harshad Mehta’s story was an endearing rags-to-riches tale in which an insurance agent turned stockbroker flourished based on his skill and knowledge of the market. For years, he gave hope to marketmen that they too could one day live in a 15,000 sq.ft. posh apartment with a swimming pool in upmarket Worli.

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Call it greed, addiction or smarts, the 1992 and 2001 Securities Scams, for the first time, revealed the magnitude of white collar crimes in India. To fill the gaps exposed through these scams, the Securities Laws Act 1995 widened SEBI’s jurisdiction and allowed it to regulate depositories, FIIs, venture capital funds and credit-rating agencies. SEBI further received greater autonomy to penalise capital market violations with a fine of Rs 10 lakhs.

Despite an empowered regulatory body, the next white-collar crime struck India’s capital market with a massive blow. In a confession letter, Ramalinga Raju, ex-chairman of Satyam Computers convicted of criminal conspiracy and financial fraud, disclosed that Satyam’s balance sheets were cooked up to show an excess of revenues amounting to Rs. 7,000 crore. This accounting fraud allowed the chairman to keep the share prices of the company high. The deception, once revealed to unsuspecting board members and shareholders, made the company’s stock prices crash, with the investors losing as much as Rs. 14,000 crores. The crash of India’s fourth largest software services company is often likened to the bankruptcy of Enron - both companies achieved dizzying heights but collapsed to the ground taking their shareholders with them. Ramalinga Raju wrote in his letter “it was like riding a tiger, not knowing how to get off without being eaten”, implying that even after the realisation of consequences of the crime, it was impossible for him to rectify it.

It is theorised that white-collar crimes like these are highly rationalised. The motivation for the crime can be linked to the strain theory developed by Robert K Merton who stated that society puts pressure on individuals to achieve socially accepted goals (the importance of money, social status etc.). Not having the means to achieve those goals leads individuals to commit crimes.

Take the case of the executive who spent nine years in McKinsey as managing director and thereafter on the corporate and non-profit boards of Goldman Sachs, Procter & Gamble, American Airlines, and Harvard Business School. Rajat Gupta was a figure of success. Furthermore, his commitment to philanthropy added an additional layer of credibility to his image. He created the American India Foundation which brought in millions of dollars in philanthropic contributions from NRIs to development programs across the country. Rajat Gupta’s descent started during the investigation on Raj Rajaratnam, a Sri-Lankan hedge fund manager accused of insider trading. Convicted for leaking confidential information about Warren Buffet’s sizeable investment plans for Goldman Sachs to Raj Rajaratnam, Rajat Gupta was found guilty of conspiracy and three counts of securities fraud. Safe to say, Mr. Gupta’s philanthropic work did not sway the jury.


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