Molesting children through their clothing does not count as sexual assault, a judge in India has ruled, as she overturned the conviction of an alleged paedophile.
The man, a 39-year-old named in court documents only as Satish, had been sentenced to three years in jail in 2016 for groping a 12-year-old girl’s breast and trying to remove her dress in the city of Nagpur.
But Satish appealed and in a judgement at Bombay’s High Court last week, judge Pushpa Ganediwala ruled that there must be ‘skin on skin’ contact to prove a sexual assault has taken place.
The decision sparked outrage among campaigners and a backlash online, who attacked the judge over her logic.
‘This ruling was given by a female judge. That’s all we need to know about India and the plight of its female victims,’ one wrote.
‘They say it’s not under sexual assault but… it is a minor act. I have been a victim of this “minor act” when I was 13, it feels horrible,’ another added.
‘Disgusting to hear what a female judge said about an adult male groping a minor girl in India. No doubt India is one of the worst countries for women,’ a third added.
The case dates back to 2016, when the victim said she was lured to Satish’s house in the city of Nagpur with the promise of fruit to eat.
But when the girl arrived, Satish touched her chest through her clothing and attempted to remove her dress, court documents said.
The girl’s mother arrived a short time later and found her daughter crying. The girl explained what had happened and informed police.
Satish was charged and convicted in Nagpur district court in December 2016, but appealed his case to the Bombay High Court, where a hearing was held last week.
A copy of the judgement, which was published for the first time this week, said: ‘It is not the prosecution case that the accused removed her top and pressed her breast.
‘As such, there is no direct physical contact i.e. skin-to-skin with sexual intent without penetration.
‘The act of pressing breast of a child aged 12 years, in the absence of any specific detail as to whether the top was removed or whether he inserted his hand inside her top and pressed her breast, would not fall under the definition of sexual assault.’
Instead, the judge ruled that the case falls under the lesser charge of ‘offending a woman’s modesty’ which carries a one-year penalty.
India’s Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, passed in 2012, defines sexual assault as touching the genitals of a child or making the child touch the genitals of an adult.
The act further defines sexual assault as ‘any other act with sexual intent which involves physical contact without penetration’.
While the act does not state that ‘skin on skin’ contact must take place, Judge Ganediwala’s ruling sets a precedent that may now be used in other cases.