TW: This article talks about sexual assault, self-harm, and suicide.
There is a scene in the second season of the wildly popular Netflix show, Sex Education. A group of teenage girls, after having been wrongfully suspected of spreading rumours about one of their teachers is made to sit together in detention. All of these girls are from vastly different backgrounds, different cliques, socioeconomic classes, and most of them do not understand each other.
In this detention, they are told to write about that one thing that unites them as women.
When they start trying to do this activity, they all struggle. They find it almost impossible to find any common ground. But as the day progresses, they realise the one common thread running through their lives. All of them had to face sexual harassment at some point or the other, in the 16 years of their life. Towards the end of the episode, all of these girls who did not particularly care about each other, help the one who had recently been assaulted in a bus. They take her to a bus stop and get on the bus with her, which was something she had been struggling with since her assault happened. They help her reclaim this public space that she needs access to on a daily basis.
So, one limitation, that I wish women did not have to face, is sexual assault.
According to data compiled by Reuters, more than 32,500 cases of rape were registered with the police in 2017, which means, about 90 cases registered every day. And these are the cases that are actually being reported. According to data sourced from Actionaid in 2015, around 79% of women have faced sexual assault in public in India. According to UN Women, about 120 million girls have experienced forced sex or other forced sexual acts. And around 35% of women globally have experienced physical or sexual violence.
But what is the point of talking about all of this data that is available online for everyone in the world to see? It’s much more important to talk about the effect this has on the lives of half of the world population.
I am 21, and I am yet to have a friend who has not had to deal with sexual violence in some form. You can imagine how many friends you make in 21 years of your life, over the years and think about just how many women this must be.
I have seen women develop complex mental illnesses as a response to this trauma. PTSD, C-PTSD, depression, extreme anxiety, eating disorders, self-harming tendencies, and suicide Attempts. According to studies, survivors of childhood sexual abuse, unwanted sexual contact, rape, experience a higher risk for mental illnesses such as PTSD, dissociative disorders, disorders of sexual functioning, sleep disorder, substance abuse disorders, and more.
So, apart from just affecting our autonomy and safety, such incidents leave consequences for women that can last an entire lifetime, and if the women decide to have children, then these mental illnesses can impact the children as well. Sexual assault can, therefore, affect generations, indirectly.
I have had to go through sexual harassment more times than I’d like to count in my life. And not once have I been able to report it. Because, as if the trauma of being sexually assaulted isn’t enough, victims often get re-traumatised when faced with uncooperative, dismissive, and hostile police, doctors and lawyers.
The problem with this extremely widespread and normalised occurrence of sexual assault is that women are expected to shift and mould their lives around these occurrences.
We are expected to carry pepper spray and knives and tasers. We are expected to be black belts in martial arts or to learn self-defence. We are expected to not spend too much time loading our groceries in our cars and to not stay out too late in the night, or to send our cab information to several people or to text the name and picture of our date to our friends along with a picture of what we are wearing in case our date turns out to be a rapist or murderer.
Women, collectively suffer from the actions of a portion of men acting in antisocial, misogynist ways towards us.
I cannot imagine how many things I would have been able to do, that I have been dying to do, if this fear of sexual assault was not constantly weighing me down like an albatross hanging on my neck.
If you look at one of those twitter threads where women are asked what they would do if men simply disappeared from the earth for 24 hours, you’ll find that a lot of women would go out swimming, or wear skirts, or go jogging or walk around at night. And it breaks my heart that these simplest things women crave to do but cannot, because of men.