The adequacy of a defence against an allegation of sexual harassment would largely rely on the particular circumstances and facts of the case. Nevertheless, from a general perspective, one might contend that the foundation of such an accusation is implausible, given the complainant, the dynamics of their relationship, the context and setting in which the incident occurred, and the history of their communication, which suggests a lack of reasonable justification for the claim.
As for the Indian Criminal System, it works on the Latin maxim “ei incumbit probatio qui dicit, non qui negat” meaning “innocent unless proven guilty”, however, the process of being declared innocent could be time taking considering the history of Indian Courts and backlog of the cases. In cases as severe as that of sexual harassment, it is best to not let things move at their own pace and take the responsibility on your hands. Especially when you know that you have been falsely accused, slow proceedings could immensely harm your reputation in society along with other personal and professional life losses. There are many ways wherein one can defend themselves depending upon the suitability of the stated facts. In cases of sexual harassment, there are several defences that a respondent (the accused party) may assert. It is important to note that these defenses are not guaranteed to succeed, and the availability of each defense depends on the specific circumstances of the case.
- Lack of evidence: A respondent may argue that there is insufficient evidence to prove that the alleged conduct occurred or that it did not meet the legal definition of sexual harassment. In such cases, the respondent may argue that there is no witness or documentation that can support the allegations, and therefore, the charges should be dismissed.
- Consent: The respondent may assert that the alleged conduct was consensual and that the complainant (the accuser) consented to the conduct. However, it is essential to note that consent cannot be given if the complainant is not in a position to give it, such as in cases where the complainant is under the influence of drugs or alcohol or is otherwise incapable of giving consent.
- Joking or misinterpretation: In some cases, the respondent may argue that the alleged conduct was a joke or that the complainant misinterpreted the conduct as harassment. This defense is unlikely to succeed if the conduct was objectively offensive or if it created a hostile work environment.
- Timeliness: A respondent may argue that the complaint was not filed within the statute of limitations or that the complainant waited too long to file the complaint, which can undermine the credibility of the allegations.
- If a woman is a habitual accuser/ liar: Proving that the woman has a track record of falsely or incorrectly accusing innocent individuals could bolster the case against her. This can be achieved by utilizing evidence from prior incidents, support from witnesses and acquaintances, and other sources to demonstrate that she is a habitual liar.
- Witnesses presented: One effective defense strategy against sexual harassment accusations is to gather strong witnesses who can testify to the accused’s character and innocence. The courts often give considerable weight to such testimonies, which can provide stable statements throughout the trial and help establish the innocence of the accused. It’s important to choose witnesses who can be relied upon to remain loyal and not turn hostile later on, weakening the case. Potential witnesses could include trusted family members, friends, professional colleagues, peers, or individuals with similar past experiences with the complainant.
- Alibi: Proving that they were not present at the location and time of the alleged incident but instead at a different location with the help of evidence or witnesses could help an individual prove their innocence.
- Juvenile: At the time of the commission of the offence, if the accused was juvenile, certain leniency might be granted while dealing with the proceedings.
- Bona fide occupational qualification (BFOQ): In some limited circumstances, the law allows for a BFOQ defense, which means that certain qualifications may be necessary for a particular job. For instance, an employer may argue that only male or female employees can perform a particular job because of the nature of the work. However, this defense is rarely accepted in cases of sexual harassment.
Cross-examination may help in dealing with the false evidence and defining the nature of the relationship between the accused and the complainant, whether it is for revenge or for blackmailing and extortion of money which in this case can be proved through bank statements, cell phone history, call tapings and social media expert assistance. Relevance of the previous relationship of the accused and complainant can also be used to establish certain factors. This stage is essentially significant as it would help in outlining the major events on the basis of facts stated both by the prosecution and the accused. It helps in understanding the strategy of the prosecution and making the accused aware of any surprises that they might face in the court. It is an influential and effective tool in eliciting the truth.
Other things that can help in the acquittal of the accused are certain inconsistencies that can appear in the story paved by the prosecution, grounds based on the location, date, time, and nature of the act. The previous situation leading to the act, any prior history with the accused, and details about the events which occurred prior to and post the alleged act.
It is important to note that the availability of these defenses may vary depending on the specific circumstances of the case. Moreover, the mere assertion of these defenses does not automatically relieve the respondent of liability for sexual harassment. The complainant can still present evidence and argument to refute the respondent’s defenses and prove that the respondent engaged in sexual harassment.