Childhood victim hopes to help others in similar situations

Ms Devika Satheesh Panicker was seven when she was sexually abused by a family friend. Now 24, the bubbly young woman has taken it upon herself to educate others about consent.
Ms Devika Satheesh Panicker was seven when she was sexually abused by a family friend. Now 24, the bubbly young woman has taken it upon herself to educate others about consent.ST PHOTO: TIMOTHY TEO

She was seven when she was sexually abused by a family friend in her own home.

Events planner Devika Satheesh Panicker, 24, recalled being confused by the man she had regarded as a "very gentle" uncle who lived with her family, as he did progressively painful sexual acts on her for more than a year - sometimes when her parents were in another room.

He was eventually found out by her parents, who made a police report. He was sentenced to six years in prison and 14 strokes of the cane.

But for Ms Devika, she had to face the emotional ordeal a few years later.

She came to realise the seriousness of what had happened when she took sex education lessons in primary school and learnt about "bad touch" and "good touch".

Though confused and scared, she could not seek help from her parents, who had advised her to forget the incident.

"I felt like it would be very selfish of me to go to them. They wanted to move on and I felt like it would bring them more grief," said Ms Devika.

 
 
 

She confided in her teacher, who accused her of lying and threatened to call her parents.

"I felt very lonely, because I felt like if my teacher didn't even believe me, who will ever believe me?"

For the next few years, she became withdrawn, lost her friends and started doing badly in school. Suicide even crossed her mind.

It was only after she read a book by Oprah Winfrey that she started to regain hope. The American media mogul had been sexually abused as a child too, but managed to overcome all her adversities to become one of the most influential people in the world, said Ms Devika.

She hopes that by sharing her experiences, she can help others in similar situations. The bubbly young woman also takes it upon herself to educate others about consent, having faced many issues with it in her past relationships.

"Speaking up about it helps me understand the processes I went through," said Ms Devika.

"By enlightening others, I enlighten myself and I can heal; I'm able to think of it as something that has brought more purpose to my life and use that to bring real positive change."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 30, 2018, with the headline 'Childhood victim hopes to help others in similar situations'. Print Edition | Subscribe