By Sharanya Gopinathan
Abhishek Gattani, the co-founder and CEO of Silicon Valley start-up called Cuberon, was involved in a horrifying case of domestic abuse against his wife, Neha Rastogi, a former engineer at Apple. Audio clippings made public to the court during the course of this case reveal that Gattani informed her several times how he would like to kill her, and how he empathises with people in the movies who stab their victims 45 times, and that he could imagine and relate to doing that to Rastogi. The audio clip, in which you can hear him beating her and telling her he would like to see her murdered, was recorded at a time when the couple’s 2-year-old daughter was present in the room. It also has a part where he says the beatings are her punishment for her inability to keep calm.
She has also revealed the other forms of abuse he engaged in, which involved beating and humiliating her, including hitting her soon after she had a baby for “not breastfeeding correctly”. This isn’t the first time he’s been arrested for domestic violence: in 2013, a postman saw him punching his wife in the head. Rastogi later bailed him out.
Shockingly, the lead prosecutor in this case, assistant district attorney Steve Fein, agreed to a plea bargain that would see Gattani spending 13 days in jail for what amounts to about 10 years of abuse. Gattani’s charges went from felony assault to felony accessory after the fact, with a charge of “offensive touching.” Can you believe it? Ten years of violent domestic abuse reduced to “offensive touching”. Rastogi was outraged at the deal and said that the agreement had been made without her consent.
Rastogi read out a victim impact statement on the day of the scheduled sentencing. This was scheduled for a day on which the presiding judge, Allison Marston Danner, was absent, but due to the horror contained in the remarks that she made, pro-tem judge Rodney Stafford deferred the sentencing to a day when the Danner would be present.
Her victim impact statement truly is horrifying. She details the facts that she believes were overlooked in the case: the fact Gattani abused and battered her for 10 years, that he was gaslighting her through the course of their marriage by brainwashing her into saying that she was a complete disgrace to him and their family and that she should commit suicide, threatening to kill her and their daughter if she ever left him, the fact that their 3 year old daughter has been exposed to his violent behaviour, and how she felt like a joke when she heard that he was being accused of “offensive touching”. She also rightly questioned why her victim impact statement was being read only so late in the case: on a day when the presiding judge was absent and the sentencing already decided upon, making her feel like no one believed her statement should affect the sentencing. She requested that his felony charge never be reduced to a misdemeanour.
This seems like one of those cases were a victim impact statement could really make a difference, considering that it caused the court to defer the final ruling until the presiding judge returned, which is clearly unexpected. It’s still so frustrating that the reading of the victim impact statement was scheduled for a day when the presiding judge was absent (the New York Times says it was because it was assumed the testimony wouldn’t greatly impact the ruling). It’s an assumption based on sad precedent, I suppose: there have been several instances where the reading of a truly horrifying victim impact statement has had no impact on the final ruling, like this victim impact statement in a case that made headlines recently, where a 20-year-old student of Stanford University named Brock Turner raped an unconscious woman on campus and received a sentence of six months.
Victim impact statements are a great tool in feminist jurisprudence, especially in cases of sexual assault and domestic abuse, as they let women tell their stories in a way that may not otherwise fit within the boundaries of traditional legal mechanisms. It’s time these statements were given the value they deserve, and not just shunted onto days when judges are on holiday as a formality.
By the way, this is hardly the first time we’ve seen a case like this: in fact, it’s eerily similar to the case of Gurbaksh Singh Chahal, an Indian American internet millionaire and start-up CEO who was videotaped kicking his then-girlfriend 117 times in half an hour (the video was ruled inadmissable as evidence, and he was finally sentenced to one year in prison). Michael Goguen, a longtime partner at Sequoia Capital, was also accused of sexually, emotionally and physically abusing his partner for 13 years.