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My ‘Best Friend’ Was My Molester

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[TRIGGER WARNING]

It was one of those fights which had made me really upset. I was sobbing on the shoulders of my “best friend” who took my hand and led me to a place where “people won’t see you weeping like that”. Of course, unsuspecting and emotional that I was, I followed him to an isolated place where we sat down and he started touching me inappropriately.

“What are you doing?” I asked him, unable to understand what was happening and why. He didn’t answer. I got up to leave and asked him for my phone and keys.

“You sit,” he said.

“Please return my keys and phone. Let’s go back.” I requested him repeatedly. He pulled me by my hand and made me sit down. Then, he squeezed one of my breasts and said, “They are much bigger than I thought they would be.” Never in my life had I felt so dirty, and ashamed that I was a girl.

“Why are you doing this?” I asked him, tears streaming down my eyes.

“I was horny as fuck since the morning,” he replied. I stared at him. He wasn’t serious, was he? “Don’t worry. We need to get a room this weekend. We will go to a hotel. I will make you feel better.”

I didn’t say anything. I was too scared and shocked to say anything. That weekend, I ran off from the college to my local guardians. I had no wishes whatsoever to go to a room with him.

It was only afterwards that I realised that this was a proper sexual assault and I had done nothing about it. I had run back to my room crying, took a bath because I felt dirty, realised that even when I had come out, my eyes were teary. My exams were near, I put that thought aside and wrote whatever I could. That semester, my marks were the worst I’d ever scored since kindergarten.

I realised much much later, a year later, that this was not an isolated incident. In fact, it was recurring. We were a group of four friends. One day we had gone to a water park and I could see him get really hard inside the water. I kept running away from him, not wanting him to get near me. He touched me every chance he could get. I got upset and I asked the other girl in the group if she found his touch offensive.

“No, not at all,” she said. I hung my head. Maybe I was overreacting. Maybe I was being over-sensitive. I asked another male friend to talk to him about not touching me so much.

“You may talk to him. What can I say?” he kept repeating. I thought he was right. What was there that he could say anyway, I told myself. I kept talking to him, trying to find out why what had happened had happened. Finally, when I started dating someone in college, he tried to assault me in front of my boyfriend. In the initial months of our time together, we were enjoying a quiet moment in a quiet place in my college when I got a call from a female friend asking me where I was. I was extremely close to her and I told her that I was busy “making out”.

Little did I know that my “best friend” was listening to the conversation and in fact, he was the one who had told her to find me. He had become so angry that my female friend had started shaking. She called me up and told me in a very shaky voice to “leave the place” as he was coming to hit me and my new boyfriend. Despite my boyfriend’s assurances, I decided to go to a place where some people would be watching. However, he caught up with us from a different side of the road, and he asked to talk to me. While my boyfriend waited a few steps away, he pulled my hand and asked me to go with him. I looked at my boyfriend and finally got the courage to tell him to get lost from my life. Something that I should have done way before.

Since then, there are a few things I have realised. Firstly, not everyone will feel the same way in a group and if one is uncomfortable with something, they are not being oversensitive or over-reactive. Everyone has a different personal space and people around you need to respect that boundary. You need to discuss these things in a group and not be shy about it. Getting help from a counsellor should not be looked down upon.

Secondly, I realised that the second male friend could have talked about it to my “best friend”. I do not think it should be a big deal to tell your friend that some girl or guy is not liking the way they touch them. It should be an open conversation. I don’t think anyone should be ashamed to tell anyone else if they know something wrong is happening with them. After all, I am their friend too. By not having talked to my “best friend” despite repeated requests, he behaved like an “innocent” bystander who watched a girl being harassed but didn’t protest when the girl begged for help.

“We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” – Elie Wiesel

Thirdly, I was not a coward for not doing anything. It takes a lot of effort to bring yourself to realise that a person you cared about so much had done that with you. It takes a lot of effort to come out in the open and talk about it. A lot of courage to accept the fact that one has been sexually assaulted. If a girl is not able to complain or do anything about her assault because of extraneous circumstances, it doesn’t make her a coward. A lot of girls don’t report these incidents because their families would not support them and blame them for the assault.

This is a direct result of victim blaming and rape culture. One must help girls in voicing their grievances rather than shutting them up by asking questions like- “Oh, but why did you go there in the first place?”

Fourthly, it takes a lot of time to get over something like this. Truly! It has been more than a year and I shiver at the thought of it. I try and pretend to be cold about it, to ignore it, but sometimes, it still gives me nightmares. The only thing is, I know I am not being oversensitive and it will take me time to heal.

Photo by Rama Lakshmi/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Fifthly, I should not blame myself for whatever happened. I am a girl who wears short clothes, makes sexually inappropriate jokes with the same guy who assaulted me. Whatever I do, unless I give my explicit consent, nobody should presume that just because I am wearing short clothes or making sexual jokes, I am asking for it. Consent needs to be understood. There needs to be explicit consent for sexual action to be okay from both sides. Why can’t men just ask a simple question – “are you comfortable?” It hardly takes three seconds.

My body is my own and so is yours. Nobody has the right to violate your personal space. It took me a lot of courage to type all of this out today but, I am glad it is out of my system. I hope this helps someone else who has been through something similar. You’re not alone and it was not your fault.

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Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

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