Two different women—two different cases—united by a court that showed more sympathy for the abuser than the victim.
Neha Rastogi, a former engineer at Apple in California, had worked on Siri and FaceTime, frequently interacting with Steve Jobs himself. Despite her work being ample evidence of a brilliant mind, she put up with 10 years of domestic violence and abuse at the hands of husband and Silicon Valley startup Cuberon CEO Abhishek Gattani. At the end of her tether and fearing for her life Neha turned to technology and used an iPhone to record multiple audios in which Abhishek can be heard abusing and hitting her even as she pleads for mercy.
Abhishek can be heard saying, “I used to always think, like in some murders (in movies) they show that the murderer stabbed the victim with a knife 45 times; how would someone do that? Stabbing someone even once is so difficult to accomplish. Then how can that person, man, stab the knife in the victim’s body so many times? I now can relate to doing that to you. And I am not kidding.”
The couple’s then two-year-old daughter (she is three now) was present in the room when Neha was getting beaten up by Abhishek. In another recording, Abhishek is heard forcing Neha to quit her job. Neha later told police that her husband would also humiliate her by forcing her to “stand at the foot of the bed for hours” and “hit her if she did not comply.” There was also evidence of his parents confirming (over a video recording) to his physical abuse against them as well as Abhishek's younger sister.
But despite her recordings, the Santa Clara District Attorney’s office let Abhishek plead no contest to offensive touching and felony accessory after the fact and agreed to a deal in which he would serve less than two full weeks in jail for inflicting 10 years of violence on his wife. Lead prosecutor Steve Fein agreed to the lesser charges so that Abhishek would not be at risk of deportation back to India.
Neha stated that the charges were reduced without her consent. In a four-page victim impact statement she read aloud in court last week, Neha said, “I feel fooled not just by a convicted criminal, aggressor, wife beater, batterer, that I, unfortunately, married—the worst mistake of my life—but by this court as well. With all due respect to the system … I stand FOOLED, disgraced, and ridiculed as a victim.”
The presiding judge in the case, Allison Marston Danner, was absent for the reading of the victim impact statement because she was on vacation since Neha’s testimony was not expected to greatly affect the ruling. However, after listening to Neha’s statement, stand-in judge Rodney Stafford decided to delay the sentencing until May 18, after judge Allison Danner returned.
I hoped that he could change his ways and that I could give a complete family to our child. Abhishek Gattani was arrested once before on 30 November 2013, as he was beating me punching me in the head and grabbing me from the neck, out in the open (on the street) when our mailman reported his abuse. I helped Abhishek escape a harsher punishment, because, being from India, I did not know better, I did not understand the American criminal justice system and above all I hoped like a fool that this might bring some change in him.
"When I look up the charge, ‘felony–accessory after the fact’ means someone who assisted another who has committed a felony. Please help me understand how is this a charge appropriate to the crimes Abhishek has himself admitted to in this very court. By taking the plea deal he has admitted to hitting me, he has admitted to threatening to kill me, he has admitted that he hit me and mentally tortured me throughout my pregnancy. Please advise me how does accessory after the fact apply to a criminal like him?"
“The second charge on him is ‘misdemeanor—offensive touching.’ I didn’t even need to look this one up, as it made me laugh. Then I realised that I was laughing at myself, I was the joke here. 'Offensive touching!!!' Please explain to me—is it offensive touching when an eight-month- pregnant women is beaten and then forced to stand for the entire night by her husband, is it offensive touching when a mother nursing her six-day-old child is slapped on her face by her husband because he thinks she is not latching properly with the child, is it offensive touching when a woman is flung to the floor and repetitively kicked in her belly, is it offensive touching when a woman is slapped nine times by her husband until she agrees to everything he is saying and then gets hit again for not agreeing with it sooner … is it offensive touching? I call it terrorism … That’s how I felt—terrorised and controlled, held hostage by the fear of pain, humiliation, and assault on my being and my daughter’s.”
Last year, the same court had been embroiled in a similar controversy when Brock Turner, the American college athlete who sexually assaulted an unconscious girl, was given a light six-month sentence, prompting protests by women’s rights groups.
The 21-year-old former university swimmer had attracted international notoriety after he was convicted for sexually assaulting a girl who had passed out after a party at a fraternity house on the elite Stanford campus in California.
Brock’s father requested the judge not to let his son’s career suffer for “20 minutes of action.” Brock faced a maximum of 14 years in prison, and two years’ jail time was expected by most. But the judge, Aaron Persky, a former Stanford athlete himself, expressed sympathy for Brock, telling the courtroom that he had already suffered from the media attention and that there was “less moral culpability” because he was drunk at the time. He was sent to jail for six months, which was then reduced to three months for good behaviour.
The victim in that case too released a powerful 7,000-word statement, albeit anonymously, offering a graphic and disturbing account of the assault and the aftermath of the lengthy trial. She said, “The fact that Brock was a star athlete at a prestigious university should not be seen as an entitlement to leniency but as an opportunity to send a strong cultural message that sexual assault is against the law regardless of social class.”
She explained in detail the trauma she went through, saying, “The night the news came out I sat my parents down and told them that I had been assaulted, to not look at the news because it’s upsetting, just know that I’m okay, I’m right here, and I’m okay. But halfway through telling them, my mom had to hold me because I could no longer stand up. I was not okay.”
“I became closed off, angry, self-deprecating, tired, irritable, empty. The isolation at times was unbearable. You cannot give me back the life I had before that night either. While you worry about your shattered reputation, I refrigerated spoons every night so when I woke up, and my eyes were puffy from crying, I would hold the spoons to my eyes to lessen the swelling so that I could see. I showed up an hour late to work every morning, excused myself to cry in the stairwells. I can’t sleep alone at night without having a light on, like a five-year-old, because I have nightmares.”
Perpetrators of domestic violence and sexual assaults can be deterred if sure and just punishment is pronounced by the judicial system. However, it is admirable that women are not keeping quiet. By speaking out, one woman can inspire 10 others to come forward and seek justice.