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5 Consequences Of Rape That Survivors Have To Live With

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I learned about the Kathua rape case first from my Facebook feed, which was filled with articles having the 8-year-old girl’s innocent face and nerve-wracking headlines. And of course, one could also see Facebook profile photo filters/frames in matching purple put up in her memory, demanding justice.

It is reassuring to see so many people coming forward and expressing disgust and shock over the way government officials and politicians dealt with this case. The fight for justice at the moment seems more like a contest between the culprits backed by the politicians versus the rest of India. People’s outrage has reached a boiling point but here’s what I am wondering – why now? And for how long is it going to last? How many days until the Facebook profile pictures change back to new shiny selfies?

Not many, I think. Because the truth is that we have become desensitised to rape and sexual abuse. While we were still expressing shock over the child sexual abuse in the Kathua incident, several other stories of children getting raped were coming in, including one from Surat where the doctor’s post-mortem revealed 86 injuries on the child’s body. These rape cases, their brutality, and gruesomeness have killed many children.

But not everyone who is raped dies. In fact, the majority continue to live life after rape. If so much of our sympathies are with the dead victims of rape, surely we must be happy about the ones who survive. At least they have a chance to heal and maybe someday live life as normal, right? Wrong.

Life After Rape

After experiencing sexual assault, life can be different for every individual depending on their age and support system.

1. Pregnancy

For adult women who understand birth control and the delay in menstruation, one of their first concerns is to ensure they don’t get pregnant after rape. Children, however, are at a disadvantage since they do not understand this part of the human reproductive system yet. In Hyderabad last year, a 10-year-old girl gave birth after two of her uncles repeatedly raped her. Her pregnancy was discovered at 32 weeks when she complained of pain in her stomach.

This is not an anomaly. This too is business as usual in India. Another 13-year-old girl gave birth in Mumbai and the baby died two days later. In both these cases, the pregnancies had gone far ahead and abortions were too risky. In another case, where the child was under 20 weeks, she was allowed to get an abortion.

2. Social stigma and abandonment

Though people are rightly outraged now, I can’t help but feel agitated when I think of these very same people’s reaction to Suzette Jordan’s life. In case you were unaware of her, she was gang-raped in Kolkata in 2013 and faced all sorts of distrustful accusations when she complained about the assault. The highlight was when she was thrown out of a restaurant by the manager because he identified her as the rape survivor he had seen on TV and he didn’t want her to be on the premises.

You may think that the kind of stigma and abandonment Suzette must have faced never happens to children but you’d be wrong. A  five-year-old girl was abandoned by her family after rape.

The same happened with another tribal girl, Sita who was not only a survivor of rape but also a person with disability. Her own mother left her in the hospital, never to return.

Another mother abandoned her HIV-positive daughter of 5 years.

Hence, whether rich or poor, educated or illiterate, minor or a grown woman, the world treats you differently after rape. The worst being abandonment by your own family.

3. PTSD or post-traumatic stress disorder

The mental scars of rape, last a lifetime longer than the physical scars for many. Up to 70% of rape survivors suffer from PTSD. I have a complete video on the topic of PTSD among survivors of rape in which you can learn about the mental health impacts of sexual assault.

But to give you a brief here, living with PTSD is like circling around your trauma. No matter how fast you feel you run, you always end up being in the same proximity to it.

Nightmares and flashbacks are part of your daily routine and you barely ever sleep in peace. You may suffer from long-term clinical depression up to the point of getting suicidal. Many people also seek escape with drugs and later get addicted to them or use alcohol and become alcoholics. Others may start engaging in risky sexual behaviour with strangers to get some sort of closure or wipe off that particular memory.

There is no one size fits all story when it comes PTSD because everyone’s circumstances are unique. Many people also suffer from C-PTSD (complex trauma disorder).

Complex post-traumatic stress disorder is a psychological disorder thought to occur as a result of repetitive, prolonged trauma involving sustained abuse or abandonment by a caregiver or other interpersonal relationships with an uneven power dynamic.

PTSD changes people. And our victim blaming and slut shaming culture makes life worse for them. No matter how hard they try, they keep getting pushed back to their moment of trauma only because our society does not allow them to grow.

4. Problems with intimacy and trust issues

In Indian society, it seems highly unlikely that a rape survivor would ever be able to have a romantic partner in her life. In the culture that lays so much premium on the virginity of girls, a rape survivor is equated to a discarded piece of rotten fruit. If through some miracle she does manage to find a partner who is ready to accept her just as she is, things for the rape survivor barely get easy.

The moment their partner gets intimate with them, they may get triggered. This triggering reaction may lead them to freeze, get agitated, seek flight, have emotional outbursts – you name it. Their darkest memories come to life and they snap. The intimate experience that is supposed to be shared and enjoyed by the two is a far-off dream for a rape survivor. At some point, after spending a lot of time together and bonding, they may get comfortable with their partner but people usually lack that much patience and things go wrong before they can go right.

And let’s not forget trust issues. Survivors of rape, in general, lose trust in people or relationships. Even if the person has done nothing wrong, a survivor will be wary of them and be suspicious of their intentions. It sometimes takes ages before they can learn to trust someone again.

5. Fear of public spaces

It isn’t just the indoors that become hell for a rape survivor. Public spaces scare them too. They may avoid going to certain places and at certain times altogether. In their mind, that freedom to go anywhere, do anything at any time is no longer right. They restrict their world just to be cautious or to not be reminded of their trauma. Some streets, parking spots, alleys or clubs, etc also get a reputation for being the perfect rape spots. Women, in general, remain wary of such places and either avoid such places completely or only go in company.

I am yet to hear a man ever say that he isn’t going someplace because he fears sexual assault. Maybe prison but that does not count as a public space.

Are These Rapists Standing On Your Shoulders?

The problem with our society is that all our emotional outrage is restricted to a few and when it comes to cleaning up our own act, we look away. We are still judging women for what they wear and the time of the day they choose to be out. We still boldly discriminate between girls and boys and then wonder why boys do not fight for equality. We beat our wives at home and proudly call it a right. Marital rape is not even on the list of criminalised activities.  

The dead rape victims aren’t coming back no matter how much we protest, even when we hang their rapists. The ones alive need us more than ever because their lives can be changed by our actions. Please look at your surroundings and ask how safe are these places for women and children. Think about how you can make sure that women are not degraded or mocked or judged for their choices.

The 11th Principle Consent shows us the path from us to those heart-wrenching gang rapes.

Looking at the bottom of the pyramid, can you say for sure you have not indulged in such activities ever? You may think that they have no consequence but they normalise rape culture and become the very foundations on which the killers of Kathua stand. Are you sure they aren’t standing on your shoulders?

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

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.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

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.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

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.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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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.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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