Fighting injustice

World News Day: After sexual assault, victims remain silent

Policing and courts alone cannot counter sexual harassment and abuse. The emotional complexity of such experiences and the family's reluctance to discuss abuse make it hard for survivors, male or female, to speak up.

Yet, more survivors now want to publicise their experiences - as long as their identities are not disclosed. This is their way of owning their experiences which, they say, helps them heal.

When Times of India's Ambika Pandit started the series of first-person accounts, she was flooded with responses from readers and motivated survivors to come forward to share their experiences buried for years.

Her series of 10 survivor accounts shows that the trauma stays for years and often affects other relationships. Some of the survivors have not even been able to open up to their families.

In the first part of the series, a successful career woman in her early 40s explains that her confident facade hides scars of being harassed by an uncle, victimised by an alcoholic husband and raped by a stranger.

She tried to numb the pain with alcohol and drugs, but then chose to fight back. Now sober for nearly eight years, she says she still struggles for a life that is "normal".

This is her account.

"Years ago, a man raped me as his friends stood guard. I was terrified. I was sure I would be killed.

"As I waited in fear, another man threw my clothes at me, and said: 'The man who raped you is the son of a politician from another state and he has a gun. He will kill you, and I don't want to be embroiled in a murder case so I have decided to help you escape.'

"I dragged myself to the police station, where a policeman asked my name, address and father's name.

"The last piece of information made me back out. I realised that I could not tell my parents all this.

"I had a successful career as a communications professional. I was a divorcee, 28 years old, living alone in an upscale neighbourhood.

"I chose silence over legal recourse. My rape is still a secret.

 
 
 
 

"I have started to share my experience on various platforms, keeping my identity anonymous.

"I hope this coming out will help other women and girls. I want them to stand up for themselves and not suffer alone."

In the second account of the series, a 19-year-old Delhi University student speaks of repeated sexual assault by a cousin - an experience she still has not been able to tell her parents about.

Her rapist was in college, while she was not even 10 years old. Yet, he raped her each time she had to go to his house.

The abuse stopped when she and her family moved to the city.

Last year, she joined a voluntary organisation that encourages people to break their silence about sexual abuse and harassment.

Her parents are still unaware of what she faced.

• This story is a compilation of a series of articles published from July to August last year.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 28, 2019, with the headline 'The trauma of rape: After sexual assault, victims remain silent'. Print Edition | Subscribe