#MeToo: Lawyers offer pro bono services to survivors

#MeToo: Lawyers offer pro bono services to survivors

Even as sexual assault survivors are coming out by the day to call out their attackers, mostly on social media, the fight has not been restricted to online platforms alone.

Many are considering moving court, while some are seeking legal aid before speaking out about their experiences on social media, for fear of defamation cases from their alleged attackers.

Rutuja Shinde, a lawyer who practices in Mumbai, was one of the earliest members of her profession to offer services to victims of abuse on a pro bono basis, setting an example for many others.

Talking to DH about the number of women who have reached out to her, she said, "I have lost count. There have been so many women who came asking for advice. They wanted to know how to file a complaint, how to go about it."

She said the accusers keep possible defamation cases in mind. "I tell them that if the people whom they accuse feel that the allegations are not true, it is always within their right to shoot for defamation."

However, she said it is within the right of the accuser to approach the court. "Even if you think that your case is frivolous or baseless, that does not deny someone the right to say what they want to. You can always file a complaint. The court of law will look into it and dismiss it if baseless."

"She should not be deprived of her right to say it because someone else feels it is wrong," Rutuja said.

Talking about how not all survivors believe in taking things to court and some believe in just naming and shaming their alleged attacker, Rutuja said, "I think it is very personal to the victim what they want to do. The attackers are innocent till proven guilty. As these allegations are serious in nature, the other side should be given an equal opportunity to defend themselves. That right is enshrined in our Constitution."

In most allegations that have come up as part of the #MeToo movement, many accused men are in more powerful places, and therefore in a much better place to defend themselves, than the women.

When asked whether there are more lawyers like her to help the victims out, she said, "I thought I was the only one when I started out, and maybe it was so. But now we have received an overwhelming response from lawyers across India ready to help the victims."

"It may be that the perpetrator is in a position of power or that the victim is unaware of her legal rights, but more and more people are willing to pick up the cases pro bono, and I feel this is giving women confidence and they don’t feel helpless anymore," Rutuja said.