Going by the latest government figures, a girl/woman/child is facing sexual assault in our nation every twenty minutes. It is high time we hold open discussions and started talking more about the after effects of Rape. A society which still likes to talk about sex and sexual violence behind closed doors, the trauma a woman passes through is rarely a subject of discussion. Acts of sexual violence across the globe has increased in leaps and bounds; there are many reasons that have led to the steep increase. But the question now is how many of us actually know about the trauma and stress; survivors of forced sexual act go through?
“Rape is a violation of not only one’s body, but also one’s soul. It tears a woman apart and post-rape trauma may not let her lead a normal, healthy life free of guilt induced in her, that she invited this terrible violation of her body. Unfortunately, we reside in a society that refuses even a minimum acknowledgement of what women go through post rape. For them the only ‘problem’ is that she was raped and somehow the blame game cycle needs to pin her down in terms of what she was wearing, how late in the night she was moving, who she was moving with and how her character is. When the focus is on such meaningless aspects, how can we expect to heal women who have undergone this trauma?”, questions Nidhi Shendurnikar, peace activist and independent researcher on peace and gender.
Many a times, the rising cases of sexual assault and abuse in India have led to big question marks and pointing of fingers at functionality of the legal system of our country. But violence against women in various forms is also prevalent in almost every part of the world. The study conducted by Cloitre in the year 2004, made things even more crystal clear. The results of the study stated that “Rape is the most frequent cause of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) in women”, which in other words mean that many a times stress in females is caused by sexual violence.
The way a female responds to the act/crime of forceful sex goes a long way in affecting the stipulated recovery time. The survivor’s response to the act of forceful intercourse is different in cases where the rapist is known and when he is a stranger. Studies have shown the survivors fear physical harm and death when they are abused by a stranger. Whereas, in cases where the rapist is known to the survivor, emotions of betrayal and distrust is felt by the target/ female (Frazier and Burnett, 1994).
Another crucial problem which is somewhere related to the difference in the responses of survivors of sexual abuse is the steep increase in the number of non-reported cases. When the abuser or rapist is known to the female, the chances of not reporting the case is high, as survivors somewhere feel partially responsible for the act. The sense of guilt in women, who are raped by acquaintances, family members, colleagues or other known males, is much higher.
Another aspect which affects the kind of response the survivor gives is the age and life circumstance. Children who have no knowledge of sexual behavior often end up having scars and confusions about the incident. Young females who experience sexual assault, go through various emotional problems such as low self-esteem, depression, mood swings and anxiety. Post rape, psychologists also reported cognitive dysfunction in women, which includes problems in concentration, vulnerability, intrusive thoughts and negative beliefs. Cases of substance abuse, excessive aggression and anti-social actions were also reported. Often women who have been targets of rape also experience problems in building up intimacy and relationships with other males.
The coping behavior of women who face sexual violence in any form depends upon the target’s perception of the crime. If a woman holds herself responsible for the act, the process of recovery becomes even longer and tougher (Frazier and Schauben, 1994). Counselling of rape survivors is a necessary part of the recovery process. Later manifestations of post-traumatic stress disorder involved withdrawal symptoms and difficulty in heterosexual relationships.
In the context of the Indian society, women who have been targets of rape and other forms of sexual abuse rarely seek help with emotional recovery. Stringent social norms and labelling of women in a negative context is mainly responsible for this behavior of women. Apart from counselling session, medical services for targets of rape are also not properly meted out.
“I believe that from the media to the security sector, one of the biggest challenges that a target of sexual violence faces is criminalisation, and repetitive re-traumatisation. To face sexual violence is in itself is a tremendous trauma. Now, to augment that trauma, most of the criminal justice procedure and media attempts in addressing and handling a case generally wind up affecting the target of sexual violence adversely. It is, in all actuality, a reiteration of sexual violence. I am also very antagonistic to the use of certain words – victim / she asked for it / she dressed a certain way – and these are all tremendously disparaging to the traumatized mind. Moreover, there is also a ridiculous tendency to give a nickname to women who have faced sexual violence. Calling a girl Nirbhaya or Amanat is really, really wrong to her memory and to her dignity” comments, Kirthi Jaykumar, founder of the Red Elephant Foundation.
Emotional recovery is an important aspect of recuperating from any kind of sexual violence. According to studies conducted, (Wasco, Compbell, et al, 2004), women who held discussions and participated in disclosure of the crime, showed quicker positive changes and lesser negative outcomes. On a positive note, feminist movements, community service groups, NGOs’ and other women’s groups have helped survivors across the globe by establishing help lines and support groups for the purpose of rehabilitation and recovery. Services of trained professionals and counselors have proved to be effective in treating rape survivors.
“The role of the civil society, independent healers and support systems outside of state structure becomes significant, especially when society and family disconnects with the survivor. Social disconnect and strained family relationships leads to a prolonged recovery. We do not need to empower such women, because when they come out in the open, telling society what they underwent, they are already empowered. They also do not need our sympathy. All they need is support, encouragement, love and a little bit of help”, stated Nidhi Shendurnikar, peace activist and independent researcher on peace and gender.
It is time that the society in which we live in and are part of, open doors to discussion on various forms of sexual violence and their after effects. Families, friends and colleagues of women who go through any form of abuse should encourage them to take up sessions and therapies that will help them recover and lead a normal life.
“Society certainly needs to change its mindset towards rape survivors. It is strange that when a rape victim dies, protests happen or takes place in the country. But, when she survives, people ill-treat her. I believe psychological sufferings are more menacing than the physical ones as society isolates the survivors and their social connectivity just vanishes. Such a social disconnect with society may lead into identity destruction/crisis. What becomes important is to accept the survivors wholeheartedly without adding to their traumas. Media should also understand that highlighting the rape case in a more sensational way will ultimately make the survivor depressed for what all happened with her. Therefore, it is not only the duty of society, but also of the media in particular to make the survivor feel like a normal citizen and not like a victim”, suggests Nalanda Tambe, a freelance journalist and writer.
I would like to end my blog with a few lines I wrote after the brutal rape of Jyoti Singh in the national capital:
The blows were brutal,
The screams were horrific,
The wounds are deeper than imagination
When I woke up this morning, there are whispers in my mind:
“With her body, has he raped my mind too”
But to lead a normal life, post experiencing any form of sexual violence or abuse, a woman should always straighten up her back and walk straight into a doctor’s chamber first and then into a therapist’s.