“Shame is a natural reaction to being violated or abused. In fact, abuse, by its very nature, is humiliating and dehumanizing.” -Gershen Kaufman
“It was a busy evening, the roads were bustling with vehicles, vendors and people. I was walking down the street to bid farewell to my friend. Was it my pyjamas that appealed to them or the fact that I was 12? I still don’t know.
My friend went ahead, it was a safe neighbourhood I should not have to run at full speed towards my home, but I did, I just had to run and I didn’t know why.
It was clear when I put one step forward and two men too close to me made excessively lewd comments and kept calling after me (not in a nice way), until I was out of their sight.”
We incorrectly equate sexual abuse only with violent rape or harassment, and don’t recognize that very serious harm can be caused by many kinds of sexualized interactions with children, including unwelcome touching, exposure to pornography, witnessing sexual acts, or even sexually demeaning and/or threatening comments.
“It was early morning and I was waiting for my school bus when it happened. In broad daylight he approached me, with a smug smile on his face he began circling me like a hungry vulture and soon I saw something that confused me at the tender age of 11, today we call it Indecent Exposure.
But what confused me even more was that it was a busy road, everyone saw what happened, maybe even understood it was wrong and emotionally disturbing for me but they just went about their businesses. The man was clearly not someone I knew; then why did they not interfere?
I struggle to find an answer even today. Did they not see what I saw?”
All of these experiences are unwanted and have a lasting negative effect on a child’s mind, brain, body, relationships, and abilities to succeed at school and work.
“I was 12 and it was a hot summer day in a residential colony, I was walking towards my home when it happened. He was coming towards me from the opposite direction. I distinctly remember the white shirt and grey trousers with a spotless handkerchief over his mouth, he was repeatedly saying something.
I couldn’t hear but it scared me out of my wits but something told me not to let him know where I lived so I ran to some other houses in the same colony, he was still there looking at me so, I screamed. I was clueless as to what was happening or what to do.
I screamed for help but no one heard me, it was a hot summer day and everyone was sleeping in their air-conditioned rooms oblivious of the dangers outside.
And I didn’t see him after that.”
Little did they know that, these men were liable under Section 11(i) of the POCSO Act, 2012 and could have been punished with an imprisonment up to three years and a fine. (POCSO Section 12)
These are not just stories but memories that bring pain. Just a few out of innumerable cases that happen each day and go unnoticed.
What saddens me the most about it, is that such women consider themselves EXTREMELY LUCKY in a world full of violent sexual harassment cases. These experiences alone can emotionally scar the child for life, but still they are the lucky ones.
Another very deeply disturbing detail is that, these encounters have never seen the light of the day. When I ask why, these women are speechless, the child in them says – “It did not feel important enough, nothing of significance happened, I would’ve just worried my parents for nothing.”
So, was it the parents’ fault or the child’s? you ask
Neither. It was THAT man’s fault and no one else is to blame.
Today they realize that it was in fact significant but they still don’t want to speak up. Why? “It’s been so many years, it doesn’t matter” they say. What surprises me the most is that, these women belong to very warm and welcoming families with loving fathers and understanding mothers, still they are not comfortable enough to raise their voices.
The reason many survivors remain silent are not black and white. They are many shades of grey and it differs with each incident.
These women and others I talked to, they don’t experience self-blame, guilt or fear, they are not paranoid or wrong but they are burdened with a deep sense of shame. The thought of revealing what they have endured can be over-whelming. It means that they must relive the experience. It means they must say the one thing they do not want to even remember.
Also, realizing that they’ve tolerated inappropriate or harmful behaviour over and over tends to make it much harder to confront the behaviour in the present.
Moreover, they understand that speaking the truth will inflict pain on their parents, and they may choose to protect their families from the emotional upheaval. For these survivors, the shame, blame and fear of what happened is their burden to carry…and theirs alone.
Shame is at the core of the intense emotional wounding women and men experience when they are sexually violated. They feel invaded and defiled, while simultaneously experiencing the indignity of being helpless and at the mercy of another person.
While we may feel that these ‘harmless’ encounters don’t mean anything where even smaller children are raped, maybe they don’t but a crime of any magnitude can shatter a child’s perception of the world as a safe place.
Maybe these people don’t need help, but a lot of other children out there do, and what we need to understand is that unless you speak up, spread awareness, normalize the idea that such horrendous crime do happen even within families, unless you advocate a safe environment for children they will continue to suffer each passing day.