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