I am a social activist by profession and my job is to help uplift the lives of acid attack survivors. Through our Facebook community “Make Love Not Scars” we have been able to raise much awareness around the issue. However, it was our campaign #SkillsNotScars, which proved to be a game changer of sorts.
Our aim was to help find employment for acid attack survivors based on their skills and interests, rather than their scars. So, we posted a series of video CVs on Facebook, featuring nine young acid attack survivors speaking about their interests and skills, and their hopes for a bright future. This online beauty tutorial by survivor Reshma was viewed over 16,000 times!
So compelling were the videos that for each survivor we received not less than 1,500 employers showing an interest in hiring the young women. Needless to say, the campaign was hit, and I rest assured that each of these young women shall have a bright future.
You would have thought that such good work would only have brought on praise and support. But no. My bubble of positivity was recently shattered so violently that I’m still picking up the pieces.
In the past, I have received both marriage proposals and sexually explicit and abusive messages, online. I have even received death threats, and for the last few years have been bullied by this guy whose messages are abusive, threatening (largely sexual threats) and question everything from my work and integrity to my character. I thought I had seen everything and could not be shaken up, considering that I deal with trauma on a daily basis. But when I was in New York for a fashion show with one of the survivors I work with, my bully thought it was important to point out that the purpose of my visit was to be “with other men”, and his message addressed me as “the girl who deserved to be raped”. Through this single message of typically chauvinistic character assassination, he reduced my hard work to nothing. The experience shouldn’t have got to me, but unfortunately, it did. How could someone sitting on the outside make me feel so low about myself?
I realise that this was something I should not have taken sitting down. But the truth is, I haven’t done anything about being bullied online. Until now, that is. Now, I’m choosing to use this platform to address my bully, and write an open letter to the man who thinks it is his birthright to be able to harass me, day in and day out. So, here goes…
I do not know you, I have never met you and you do not intimidate me. I deal with the repercussions of people with the same mindset as you – who believe they will only “respect women if they respect us” – every single day. I see firsthand, what men like you do to women like me, if we dare to ignore you even though we don’t know you. I mean how dare I have the audacity to ignore you? You are a man, I must obey and I must reply even though I don’t know otherwise I am automatically branded as a man hating feminist because I chose to exercise my right to say no. I am sorry it couldn’t work between us, I have been with someone for the past six years and leaving him for someone that abuses me would be pretty silly but here’s the thing; even if I wasn’t with him I wouldn’t be with you. There’s nothing you can do to force me to reply to you; that is my choice and what you choose to call me after that is completely your own problem.
I am not an object. I am not someone who’s profile picture becomes your new obsession, and the end of my life. I have a life, a life that you have nothing to do with and the fact that you think that you can belittle me in this manner makes me only feel bad for the women around you. Is this the mindset your mother brought you up with? That if a woman does not wish to respond to you, you should abuse her? That you should force yourself into her world, force yourself down all her friends, and send her threatening messages to prove your manhood? Damn, the woman that ends up with you is going to be a lucky one (look up “sarcasm” on Google).
Sir, I feel bad for you and that’s the honest truth. You find an obsession online, and I become the sole object of all your affection and aggression? You must indeed have the lack of a life to be so obsessed. Your profile pictures shows photos of you at school, it shows what school you go to as well and where you live and that’s not a smart move now is it since you choose to send me such messages? I chose to write this article to tell you that I have reported you to the cyber crime branch. It was a daunting process but I’m sure I’ll see you soon. I hope you didn’t take my silence for weakness and even if you did I hope you now can finally tell me in person all the things that you wanted to do to me and don’t worry, I’ll call the media this time and you can tell them all about my “loose” character. I could have just inboxed you and told you this but it didn’t seem right. Since you only respect girls that respect you, I thought you would appreciate the fact that I respect you so much that I want the whole world to know what a strong and assertive man you truly are.
The girl “that deserves to be raped”
Bullies don’t think twice about the consequences of their messages. However, not speaking up about it is not helping either. I urge all those who have been bullied to speak out against this act, and do your bit to fight the hate. I have taken the first step. Maybe you can, too.
Ria Sharma is the Founder of Make Love Not Scars, an organisation dedicated to providing acid attack survivors opportunity to regain life on their own terms through recovery, rehabilitation and reintegration.