Campus sexual assault is very very real. I am a student in NALSAR University of Law, Hyderabad. Recently, we faced an incident of sexual harassment on our campus. After quite a lot of turmoil, the survivor has chosen to come out with an open letter to her attacker. The reason for this anonymity is because the attacker is a person who is very highly regarded on our campus.
It is shocking to realise that these incidents happen in our own backyard, so to say. They happen to our friends and our colleagues and not just some random person who is only a name on a news article. And these incidents come with their own baggage – the person could be your best friend, your lover, your confidante; you could have said yes to the kiss but it went on further without your consent; you could have said okay even after the attack because it’s your friend and you do not want to lose them.
We need to make our campuses a safer place. A place where speaking out against your attacker, no matter what their position in life, is NOT an exercise in overcoming your fear of backlash.
We do not want to ignore this issue on our campus. And moreover, this is not a story just on our campus, this could be the story on any campus. And this is a National Law School, where we are supposed to be liberal, feminist and progressive in our mindset. And yet we cannot ensure that there is a space for people to speak out without fearing any backlash and judgement.
This is an open letter, written by an anonymous undergraduate student at Nalsar University of Law about her sexual assault on campus. This is her story:
[su_box title=” ” box_color=”#151515″]I was sexually assaulted by my best friend.
Coming out and saying this is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I mean, I’m a strong person who never ever thought this could happen to me. This only happens to other people; how could I be the victim? I occasionally drink alcohol, yes. I love spending my free time chilling at the local dhaba with my friends and watching movies. I wear dresses and have male friends. I’m like any other regular girl you would meet. I could never be a victim. Right? Right? Wrong.
I ought to start from the beginning. I went through a break up after a very long and very serious relationship last October and naturally, I was a mess. That was when “He” happened. I can no longer think of him as anything but “Him”, someone I thought I knew, someone I trusted, but someone who is now nameless to me because I genuinely can’t comprehend his identity. At a time when I thought I couldn’t trust anyone, I found him always there. I began to trust him, to depend on him and to feel so safe with him that at times I lay my head on his chest just to hear his heart and calm down in my worst moments. I had a connection that I couldn’t define but was just so thankful to have. I would and did do anything for him. He was my closest friend and confidante. As our friendship grew, so did my closeness to him.
One day, during the winter break in December last year, he kissed me. It was so sudden and unexpected and it left us both confused and apprehensive about what this meant for us. We both were clear that we weren’t romantically interested in one another, but sooner or later, a physical relationship took off, continuing right into the next semester beginning in January.
I truly wasn’t romantically interested but also did not consider it a hook-up. I believed I had far too deep an emotional connection with him for that. He wanted to take it further physically and I truly did consider it over time. The funny thing is, he was always the guy who never seemed interested in girls, never drank, never smoked and has an impeccable image to all those who know him or of him. And yet, here we were.
The only problem was, he never seemed to be able to make up his mind. One day, I was his closest friend, the next day, I was someone he wanted to be intimate with and the third, I was someone he didn’t even want to accidentally brush his finger or shoulder against. I was confused but he was my best friend so I did my best to understand and fix it. We had several fights and several long talks. Things improved. Then one night he called me out of the blue and told me that he didn’t care about me. I was shattered. I remember sobbing uncontrollably and begging for a reason. I didn’t even know what I did. I went to him the next day and begged for us to put whatever happened behind us, and he casually agreed that we could “try”. I never realised how trapped I was.
He was perfect. He was that guy who always seemed “too good”. He was, and still is perceived as that proper boy with the classic traditional Indian morals of being a good boy, and never dating girls. He never touched a drop of alcohol. Never smoked a cigarette. He was the poster boy for “decency” and never did an immoral thing in life…or so everyone thought.
Then one day, several weeks later around mid-March, I happened to have too much to drink and revealed that I was confused and upset about his hot-and-cold attitude towards me, especially regarding our physical relationship and apparently the impression conveyed was that I felt he had ‘used me’. “Him”, the boy with the perfect image and the apparent undying respect for women. The next day, I met him early in the morning once I had sobered up and we both cried and I apologised for ages, trying to get him to believe I didn’t mean it that way. It was the first time I saw him cry and I was disgusted with what I had done. We ended up kissing. That is when it happened.
Writing it out makes it sound so dramatic. The thing is, it was so real when it happened and yet, so unreal. He began to kiss me fiercely and grabbed my wrists. I remember being terrified at this sudden use of force and being pushed up against a wall. At this point I began to feel frightened and fight back. I attempted to push him off and tried to speak. I remember thinking he was strong and being genuinely scared. I kept repeating no, I don’t want this, I really don’t, this is wrong. I told him to let go of me because he was hurting me and he did but then said he wanted me to make him ejaculate. I must’ve looked horrified but he said if I didn’t help him, he would do it on his own. I remember just sinking to the floor and curling up, begging him to stop. He refused.
After a point, I just sat there and kept chanting to myself that it would be over soon. He demanded to know if he could ‘come on me’ and I just sat there shaking. He turned away and I continued to stay blank. Eventually he finished, but that strong girl that existed somewhere inside of me wouldn’t let me accept defeat. I wanted to talk to him about what just happened, but he told me that he didn’t want to talk because he felt like he would “faint from the hunger”. That was it. That was the end of it. It was over.
I locked myself up in the room that day and couldn’t even get myself to cry. My mind didn’t want to accept it. He refused to talk to me all day. All he said is that he needed time to deal with “what I had said”. Later that afternoon, I was fortunate enough to have a friend come and find out what had happened. She spoke to me and helped me realise what had happened was wrong; I had refused to accept it up to that point. I messaged him and told him, which is when he asked me to talk to him. I met him and he seemed sorry and told me that if I truly felt there had been force involved, he could not be friends with me. He also said that he hadn’t actually touched me after I told him not to and that I was “doing what he expected me to do, blame everyone else when all he had asked for was time”.
At that point, I perhaps ought to have stuck by the fact that I knew force had been used. But I couldn’t. I just couldn’t fathom another emotional ordeal. I couldn’t handle the fact that not only had this happened, I might have to deal with losing him. As perverse as this sounds, I just couldn’t. I hadn’t yet sorted it out in my mind, heck I hadn’t even stopped being shocked. I retreated into a shell. Blanked out. I actually comforted him. It sickened me, but I did. I refused to use the word sexual assault, even to myself. I denied it. I buried it.
All I knew is that every time I thought of what happened with him, I felt dirty. After that, I wouldn’t let anyone be intimate with me, physically or emotionally, even as a friend. I never let anyone touch me again. I shut myself off from the world. Weeks and weeks full of self-contemplation, blaming and doubting myself, and feeling alone and trapped.
Months later, after rounds of counselling and the support of some wonderful friends, I slowly came to realise that what had happened was not my fault. For a long time, I told myself that it wasn’t a big deal. I didn’t want to accept that my best friend, my safe place was actually where I’d been harmed. That my trust had been played like this. That I actually kissed him on the cheek that very night after it had happened because he asked me to and I couldn’t think straight. I blamed myself for saying it was okay. I hated myself because I couldn’t stop feeling dirty. I couldn’t get the sounds of my head no matter how hard I tried. I hated myself for being in denial.
Till one day, I was lucky enough to have a group of some wonderful people help me deal with it, to face it, to know no matter what, this was not my fault. They were people who saw it through, right from helping me realise that it really was sexual assault, to encouraging me and supporting me through this coming out.
This open letter took a lot of thought and a lot of building up of courage. I feared backlash, I feared people speculating, stories being twisted, blame being transferred. To so many people, this might be gossip. But to me, it is the nightmare I have to live with every single day. Things I know I cannot deal with on top of dealing with what has happened. But I also know that I was lucky enough to get support and I want there to be openness, for people to know that there is always a space to talk about it. As one of my friends quoted from Harry Potter (yes, it was one of my coping mechanisms to re-read the entire series), ‘help is always given to those who ask for it’.
I have written from the heart because this was one the most unexpected and traumatising things to happen to me. It may not have been rape, but it was sexual assault and I accept that now. This was a person whom I had a completely different perception of, someone everyone has a completely different perception of. He is a vociferous speaker for women’s rights and respecting them, a huge advocate of consent. He doesn’t drink. Doesn’t smoke. Doesn’t date girls. He is so very perfect. And he is the person I have to see every day in the classroom, knowing what he did, scared of speaking out for all the self-doubt and fear and just denial.
I was scared because I know it can be twisted to where I am the one to blame, the one who is bringing this up after time has lapsed now just to cause trouble because we aren’t friends anymore; that I want to ruin his life. Whatever. What about my life? I know it can be construed and misconstrued in a million different ways. I will never say that through our entire dynamic, I haven’t made mistakes. I have, plenty of them. But I have now come to have the confidence in myself to know that none of it warranted what he did to me and I certainly did not deserve to feel that my mistakes overshadow this to the extent where I asked for it, because I didn’t ask for it.
This is no movie where I end by saying I’m not scared anymore and I walk off strong and happy into the sunset. I’m still scared, I’m still coping. His last message to me ended with ‘I am out’. I may not be walking off as a new person into the sunset, but I do know that while a major part of my life, this is not my whole life.
He cannot and will not be the center of all my thoughts. I speak out now because though I am scared, I’m also proud of myself. I’m going to take it one day at a time. I want people to know that this can happen to anyone. Sexual assault happens in ways that you would not even imagine, it could have happened to you. It can happen with your boyfriend or girlfriend, your professor, or even your best friend.
It can happen when you least expect it to. It can happen, and you don’t even realise that it happened. I want people to know that there will always be the fear of those who will be against you. There will always be a fear of people not believing you, and people spreading rumors about you and limiting your story to worthless gossip.
But know that there will always be people who will stand up for you, and those are the people who matter. Maybe this coming out of sorts will generate talk for a while and then soon be forgotten. But if it reaches out to even one person, helps them realise that you can believe that you will always have support, I will have succeeded in reaching one step closer to my peace. I for one will continue to have faith in people and my journey to that sunset. And I hope that I will be able to continue holding my head up high.[/su_box]
While, just a couple of days ago, the perpetrator was apologising for what he had done, he has now completely changed his stance. He claims that whatever happened was consensual and it was actually she who came onto him.
It is saddening that in our supposedly progressive and feminist campus, one of our own colleagues has to hide behind a veil of anonymity to speak out about such a haranguing experience. And rightly so, because if any names are taken, this issue would simply turn into a juicy piece of gossip about which side we are on.
The reason for sharing this letter is to start a conversation. To make our campuses safer. This is one instance of one strong person speaking out. But this is not an isolated incident. Perhaps this is what will give courage to some other person to share their story.