Sexual violence: Breaking the silence

Sexual violence: Breaking the silence

A few days ago, I read a piece that broke my heart. It wasn’t just a piece, this story, it was a living nightmare; a written record that we must work harder than ever before to bring an end to sexual violence. A young man called Ajay Sathyan, a LGBTQ activist who has learning disabilities, wrote the piece about the harassment that he faced at the hands of the Chennai Police to tell the world his story, and get it off his chest. In the piece, which was published by Gaysi, an online space for the LGBTQ community in South Asia, he recounted the physical harassment he faced. He wrote:

“I was able to defend myself from those men now that I’m grown, but I couldn’t do that when I was 13. When my face was smashed in a urinal and when eight men raped me. I couldn’t defend myself, I couldn’t but try to scream even though I was muffled and took the pain. The scar on my right eyebrow reminds me of that horrid day till now and it doesn’t stop there, it’s been 15 years and I still ache with phantom pain in my nightmares waking up screaming in horror reliving them again and again. I still do. I don’t know when they will stop.

 I’ve now shut myself away from all human contact, except my family. I’m now too scared and damaged to even meet my acquaintances.  Unable to deal with all of this hurt I tried to stop it all last Saturday. I tried to take my life but I was saved yet again. Now that the moment has passed – I’m too afraid to take my life. I will have to relive my horrifying past again and again and again; hoping for an even horrifying future ahead of me.” 

When I read these words, the first thing I did was to reach out to him through a friend. In the small exchange that we had, I couldn’t help noticing how sexual violence can break you. I wanted to urge him to seek legal advice, connect him to a support group or help him find a counsellor. But his words were simple. He said that he didn’t want to be around people.

It’s as simple as that. He didn’t want to expose himself for the fear that he might invite such assault upon himself again. He didn’t want to seek help because he has been robbed of respect, trust and dignity.  But how do we work towards breaking the silent code? For most victims of harassment, this is the hardest thing to do.

In India, 90% of the women who face sexual harassment do not file a police complaint. Worse, 98% of women surveyed between 2007 and 2012 knew their rapists. For communities such as the LGBTQ, the numbers are worse as they are unable to access or enjoy their rights openly after the Supreme Court struck down the Delhi High Court’s ruling on Article 377, making it legal for the police to arrest people on “sodomy” charges. Both activists and the public openly expressed outrage at the fact that homosexuality can be considered a criminal act British rule. The truth is, while this issue is being discussed by the mainstream media, the silence of the real victims is deafening. We need to work harder than ever before to support victims to find spaces where they can talk about their experiences and fight the shame. A law that perpetuates discrimination is like a cancer in a growing democracy, and in a complex society that is trying to cope with change, it could threaten the lives of many.

Meera Vijayann is a writer and blogger who focuses on gender rights and social issues in India. Her writing has been published by The Guardian, CNN, Open Democracy and Forbes among other publications. Follow her on @meeravijayann

Photo: First Post – LGBT activists protest against Supreme Courts judgement on Section 377 at Jantar Mantar, Delhi.

Also by Meera Vijayann:

How can we bring an end to sexual violence in areas of conflict?

Women in top positions – what can we learn from them?

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