How many times have you travelled by public transport and had a hand brush against you? Forcefully? Or had a lingering eye following the collarbone area of your top, slowly dropping lower. Wrapping your arms around yourself and your bag to protect your body and keeping your gaze down to avoid unwanted contact. Because it’s better to avoid than to fight, right? This is exactly what every girl, every woman has been told from a young age. Along with another set of rules to follow to avoid the possibility of being sexually assaulted.
Sexual harassment is a pervasive problem throughout India. Whether it’s catcalling, lewd staring, inappropriate comments, unwanted touching or harassment in the workplace, there are few parts of the world where sexual harassment is not a serious problem. India is no exception to this. Throughout the country, sexual harassment remains a threat to women’s physical safety and personal well-being. In an attempt to learn more about the problem, watch this video by Lawyer Tanya Appachu, where she explains what sexual harassment is, what are its types, who can be responsible for it and what laws have been in action to protect women.
What Should You Do If You’ve Been Sexually Assaulted?
Coming to terms with when you have been abused is hard. You are in shock and angry. The trauma of sexual assault can leave survivors with physical, emotional and psychological wounds. Each survivor has different experiences and needs and may process and recover from trauma in their own way. But if you are looking for some tools and guidance on what is the right step later, these are the ways you can report the assault, pursue legal action and seek treatment.
These steps are not only for the victim but can also be followed by the victim’s friend or acquaintance to help guide them.
1. Ensure Your Own Safety
After experiencing sexual trauma, ensuring you are safe and in a space that you trust, is the first and most crucial step. In the aftermath of the assault, victims experience shock, overwhelmedness, and a feeling of guilt. But you need to ensure your safety and well-being before you take any further steps. This can be calling your family or friend, staying at a close one place, tucking yourself under the blankets. Basically, anything to make your body feel safe.
2. Consider Medical Attention
Many survivors may avoid this step but when they have experienced sexual abuse, you should look into the option of medical attention. Choosing to go to the hospital after an assault can be beneficial for a number of reasons. Not only can the doctors treat bodily injury and help ensure your sexual and physical health, but they can also provide you with a rape kit—a sexual assault forensic exam that can be used to collect DNA, blood samples, and other evidence. If you are not ready to file a police report immediately, that’s fine. But you can use the results of the rape kit as evidence for the future.
It is ultimately up to you to decide what to do in accordance with your own physical, psychological and emotional needs.
3. Reach Out For Support
Once you feel physically safe, it’s important to connect with a person you trust for support. After the shock, sexual trauma survivors often experience depression, anxiety and dissociation. In a culture rampant with victim-blaming and doubt surrounding accounts of sexual assault—which may exacerbate trauma—it is crucial to confide in someone you fully trust.
4. Know Your Legal Rights
Some survivors are adamant about wanting to file a police report, some might also be confused as to what to do. For most of the women in India, we are taught to stay quiet to avoid shame. There are many reasons survivors may not want to report their assault to the authorities or pursue legal action. But it is up to the victim to decide the next step. And if you are looking to know your legal rights, the video above can help.
5. Process Your Experience
This is probably the most important step to deal with the aftermath of the assault, but in order to move on and live your life fearlessly, you need to address the issue. No healing has ever come from avoiding and burying the trauma. You can’t go around it, over it or under it. You have to go through it. Learning healthy coping habits—which may be as simple as journaling, walking or meditating—can help survivors effectively process their trauma. Reconnect and talk to your family and friends. And you might also want to consider therapy. Taking professional help is more helpful than talking to friends and family. It helps you deal with trauma in a positive and healing manner.
It’s not new that victims are hushed from voicing their opinions or fighting for their rights. But with the times changing, women are holding the abusers accountable for their actions. And demanding justice. Know your rights and don’t stay quiet. We have to start calling sexual harassment out because only then can we start to make progress on it!