Seven years ago, when I was studying in a small university town, I was raped by a boy who I had a crush on. On what turned out to be our final date, he went on to rape me even after I withdrew my consent to proceed to sexual intercourse. I will not go into too much detail of the act but to say that it left me with bite-marks across my stomach, tearing in my vagina and immense pain in my thighs. I was slapped across the face more than once. A lot of the details of that night are missing from my memory.
The day after I got raped I told him that I would take the issue to the police, to which he told me his family was influential and that he would brazen it out. I confided in two of my friends about it, both of them said I deserved it because I kissed him. For a long time after that, I genuinely believed that I did ask for it and didn't talk about it with anyone else, until one evening when I saw him and spiralled into a nervous breakdown.
Today, I have become normalised to the fact that I was raped. I speak about it openly. Often, I find myself sitting and talking to people about the rape, with a normal expression on my face. You might even catch me smiling in between. After all these years, the incident has only left me with anger. Months after the incident, I came out with the story to my closest friends and my sister. When I told my sister about this, she was worried about my safety in the town and more importantly, assured me it was not my fault.
It took years for me to finally believe this but I started the journey to recovery.
At first, it involved trying to beat up the perpetrator whenever I saw him. Then, the promiscuity followed. I could never understand the promiscuity because most portrayals of rape victims showed them to have an aversion to touch. This led to me questioning just how I felt about the incident. My therapist who was treating me for my anxiety disorder assured me that there was no one way to react to traumatic experiences.
So over the years, I have constantly struggled with the consequences of this incident. The physical wounds? They recovered quickly. But mentally, I struggled with the guilt of reacting with silence for a very long time. I could not fathom the fact that someone as vocal about so many other issues could have chosen to be silent and not fight. After the gang-rape on the bus in Delhi, sexual violence came under the spotlight. This involved reading about political leaders and bureaucrats justifying rape and engaging in victim blaming. It also became the topic of discussion wherever I went. I discussed sexual assault with my late mother even though she had no idea I was assaulted too.
Listening to people talk about sexual violence has not necessarily been a bad thing except that it started to leave me with an itch to talk about my own experience. So, I started to talk about it. I wrote about it on my blog and began confiding in the outer circle of my close friends. I was yet to vocalize it and verbally say "I was raped." And one day, I did that too, only to have my friend lawyer up on me and tell me that under those circumstances, I wouldn't have received any justice. It was disheartening to hear that the first time I said those words. But I did not stop. If somebody talks about sexual violence and I feel my experience could add value to the discussion, I talk about it.
There are certain misconceptions when it comes to sexual violence. The conversation always steers itself to identify just where rapes occur - rural India or the darker cul-de-sacs of elite Delhi. Then there's trying to identify where the perpetrators come from and who they are - the uneducated, the sexually repressed or those who want to prove their dominance with sexuality. Lastly, why does one rape someone? Is it lust or is it used as a tool for moral policing or is it just a physically stronger individual taking advantage of someone who is defenseless?
I don't know the definitive answers to any of these questions. I only know that any and all of these can contribute to sexual violence. When I started talking about my experience, others began to confide in me. So I know plenty of people who have been subjected to sexual violence like me - one molested on a bus, one raped by a policeman, one raped as a child, one groped in a bus stand, one molested by a homosexual friend, one gang-raped on the way back home, one raped by a partner and one raped by a spouse. I am not going to mention their gender because although I am a woman who was raped by a man, the above stories are from men, women and transgender people.
The point I'm trying to make here and do so during discussions is that sexual violence affects us all. Sexual violence is a human rights issue. It isn't something that happens in rural India or in a â€˜rape capitalâ€™, because it can and probably is happening in your backyard. The people who told me these stories aren't people I sought out in support groups, they are friends I met in school, college and at work who just happened to tell me their stories when I told them mine.
Those times when I read disrespecting comments from a politician about how jeans or divorce or chowmein can contribute to rape, I could almost feel physical pain in the lower half of my body because those people are justifying the pain and trauma that I went through that I did not deserve. However, having the opportunity to come out to people I know during the discussions about rape over a pitcher of beer and French fries has been liberating, especially because it sparks conversation and educates those around me on just how common and deep rooted the issue of sexual violence is in India.
I initially chose to write this under my real identity, to come out to the world as a rape victim (or survivor; the semantics don't matter to me), but I realised I don't want my experience in the spotlight. I want the frequency and common nature of sexual violence to be in the spotlight. That night, I became a statistic, an unreported statistic joining the crowd of so many who have been subjected to some degree of sexual violence. We are everywhere. So when you think about sexual violence, don't stereotype it. It doesn't happen only in dark and lonely alleys. It does not happen to the rural, fragile or illiterate. It is not just lust or sexual repression. And most importantly, it probably has happened to someone you know.
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