Trigger Warning: Child Sexual Abuse
I was 5 years old when I was sexually abused by a male servant in the sanctity of my own home. Sporadic episodes continued into my teenage years. Today, it does not define me, but it sure has shaped me. It was difficult talking about my abuse until I realized that shame, guilt, and denial are the ingredients that allow for this silent epidemic to grow. So instead I decided to be part of the solution and have the courage to talk, to be the voice for many young people who are abused every day in India and around the world.
Here are some responses I have heard since I have opened up about my past!
As a child, I lacked the basic understanding that it was wrong and I did not have the emotional vocabulary to express myself and to tell somebody about what was happening. I was always warned about not accepting goodies or chocolates from strangers. But nobody warned me about the people who were in my circle of trust- the people who I loved, who were supposed to protect me.
By the time I realized that I had been abused, it seemed too late to tell. It’s not something that comes up when you have spent so long trying to forget about it. For years, I felt worthless and was paralyzed by fear of being labeled, of not being believed, not having any proof, and feeling complicit.
Child sexual abuse is insidious and has been plaguing our society for generations. I know of many friends and relatives (both boys and girls) who are an unfortunate statistic of child sexual abuse. I was expected to put my degree to good use, make money and raise a family. I just couldn’t accept this as a reality for our children.
In the words of Robin Roberts, “My mess is my message.” Change begins with an uncomfortable conversation. So let’s unruffle some feathers and unburden ourselves of this baggage that we never should have had to carry in the first place!
‘Ghar ka naam (the honor of the house)’ at all costs cannot be tainted. Even if it means leading a life with a facade and stifling your inner voice so that you can adjust to the acceptable ways as you dance to the popular monotone. As a society, the popular discourse is victim-blaming, hushed voices reeking of judgment, laden with stigma and absolute denial.
Children pick up the clues at a very early age and over time the brushing of awkward questions under the carpet, the changing of TV channels with a sanitary napkin ad, and pet names for private body parts make it abundantly clear that there is no room for discussion on matters of sex and sexuality (even in private). Telling is when my healing began. And now, I have finally found my voice. I never knew that my pain will be an inspiration for many and it will help them heal.
In an awareness training at a school, I recall a teacher saying if we included strangers passing sexual remarks and groping on streets, no girl would be left out. My cousin and I would take the local train in Mumbai whenever we visited a friend in Mulund. We found it odd when some boys across the platform would whistle and say “ay jhagmag”. I remember being groped at croft market and a stranger trying to shove a finger between my legs. I froze and tears came streaming down my face. I was in a crowded place, nobody seemed to have noticed. We are conditioned to accept and surrender to our fate and move on. But I refuse to do so.
If you have any more interesting responses to my apparently ‘shameful’ revelation, please feel free to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org
In the meantime, play your part in putting an end to child sexual abuse. Here’s how:
Remember, no topic is too cumbersome or awkward when the safety of the child is in question. So play your part!
If you are a survivor, parent or guardian who wants to seek help for child sexual abuse, or know someone who might, you can dial 1098 for CHILDLINE (a 24-hour national helpline) or email them at email@example.com. You can also call NGO Arpan on their helpline 091-98190-86444, for counselling support.