The average bystander will speak of it as the most stunning purge they’ve ever witnessed, glued to their phone, pulling down the refresh button to see which predators had tumbled out of their cushioned environs. The movement - revolutionary, extraordinary - holding the nation by its collar as hands were joined to facilitate a bloodletting of anguish, of trauma, a clarion call to be heard for once. Where did it all begin?
Behind Raya Sarkar’s LoSHA and the multiple accounts gathered of women in comedy, journalism, advertising and more, there is the anonymous victim. The backbone and the weakest unit of #MeToo are the accounts of victims who cannot show themselves. They, who have too much to lose and nothing to gain from unmasking the predators who once violated them.
A common misconception of #MeToo remains that there is little to no trauma associated with putting up a social media post to out an abuser. Trauma, according to the public imagination, is reserved for women who put up with due process for years – the perfect victim, tired and yet full of energy to take on years of court visits, years of recounting abuse again and again, resolve unbroken. What in the world does a woman with a social media post and her name cropped out have to complain about?
You’d be surprised.
“He called from a friend’s phone the night he was outed. My roommate picked up and told him not to contact me again. He then sent me a lengthy apologetic email stating that he was outing himself to his mother, with an attached call recording of him and his mother exchanging pleasantries,” said R, who survived a three-year long abusive relationship. A few days after she spoke about the manipulative nature of the above email, a mutual friend conveyed her abuser’s intent to take legal action against her and asked for her address to do the same. She had blocked her abuser everywhere, except for email, which she didn’t foresee.
Abusers who aren’t held accountable by a larger public gaze still have the freedom to misbehave with their victims. They can put two and two together to identify the survivor, threaten defamation suits, leak private information, circumvent blocks on multiple platforms to contact them, rendering survivors even more emotionally volatile in the aftermath of a movement created to empower them.
J, who put up with consistent demands for nudes and sexting via another manipulative predator, received SMS messages from him that apologised for his behaviour. “Him having the audacity to send a message with a smiley face at the end made me squirm. He was visibly unfazed and used vague statements to apologise.” The man in question later went on to slut-shame and attempt spreading rumours to mutual friends about her having consented to the acts above even when faced with comprehensive evidence of her lack of interest.
When social stigma places barriers over the idea of seeking parental support and high cost/bad experiences push victims to avoid therapy, a strong friend circle is the only respite during mental duress caused by contact with an abuser.
Ruchita Chandrashekar, a trauma therapist who created multiple explainer threads on Twitter to help victims cope with anxiety and panic, said, “When survivors come out with their stories, dormant memories start becoming active and can also cause mental distress by transforming into triggers. Thus, an affirming offline community is a compulsion. The feeling of safety is one of the first things that is snatched when someone who becomes a prey to sexual trauma. An affirming community can reinstate some amount of safety when a survivor becomes vulnerable at the hands of the same abuser again.”
She added, “If their community feels like a safe space, they can disclose what is happening and further steps can be taken to ensure their physical safety as well. An affirming community also believes the survivor, validates their trauma, offers emotional support and can be instrumental in reducing feelings of isolation and anxiety that can come from a situation like this.”
R admitted that she was trying her best to cope with the dip in her mental health. She said “I have been emotionally volatile, a tad bit inconsistent with feeding myself but I’ve been braving it. Whenever the anxiety hit, it was bad. But I think my emotional threshold is beyond all of this. If I’ve been at the receiving end of his abuse, braved that, outed him; I can deal with anything that comes and will do so. I mostly swing between short lived anxiety and swap to laughter and hysterics. However, I have a very strong support system in my friends. They have been there.”
W, another victim, said, “I already suffer from severe anxiety and depression. Even for people who do not, it (outing an abuser) can be a harrowing experience. I lost some sleep over it for three days.” She added, “It's a bit of a roller coaster, every day - wondering if I ruined someone's career and derailed their therapy and then going back to remembering my harasser has a pattern so this is probably for the best. I also have a strong group of very supportive friends to help me cope.”
For victims who do not have access to therapy, Chandrashekar recommends other avenues of self-care that mindfully integrate the mind and body. “Yoga, a workout, meditation, a sport, etc. One can always get creative with how they do this; something like meditation need not be boring and a workout does not need a gym membership. These can work as coping strategies for recognising and managing emotional distress because they are actively engaging one's physical and mental health.” For processing emotions post a traumatic event, Chandrashekar reiterates the importance of an affirming community. “It is a big strength because they can be instrumental in the safe and brave spaces for a survivor. Additionally, strategies like journaling, integrating art can also help in emotional processing.”
The anonymous survivors may be easy to dismiss as false, but the distress that binds victims on either side of the veil is hard to brush off. What makes one woman’s trauma worthy of sympathy and another false? Is it the lack of a public, pained face to be passed judgement upon or the curious need to safeguard an abuser’s reputation? Women like R, W and J tore open old wounds and faced their demons again, all so that no other woman would suffer what they did. And that should be reason enough to believe them.