I jumped a bit late onto the “MeToo” bandwagon, but now that I have, I’m still on it 🙂 🙂
It’s great that finally everyone is raising their voice and speaking up on the issue of sexual harassment and we’re becoming more and more aware of it. However, I feel that we must progress beyond merely stating facts, and share more explicit details (to educate people), or also suggest solutions. Going to try and do that in this third write up.
When I was around 19-20, there was a “MeToo” incident that entirely changed the course of my life, my career plans and my location. It was a very traumatic one that tormented me for many years, but I’ve finally recovered from it, and have decided to talk about it now because it might educate others.
One of the biggest myths about molestation is that it’s generally perpetrated by vile strangers, and most of the victims are generally “skimpily dressed (or wearing jeans)”, “in the wrong place at the wrong time” or of “questionable character – therefore inviting trouble”. However, statistics world over, including India show that most perpetrators are known to the victim – often they’re family members, friends, colleagues, bosses or neighbors. Especially in the case of children below 18 – in more than 90% of the cases, the perpetrators are known to the children. (You can google for exact statistics in each country).
Luckily nowadays, there’s more awareness in India, and many parents are aware and warn their kids. But even this is happening only in the more emancipated and educated circles, and I wonder how many less educated and poorer families are looking out for their children. Children are even more vulnerable than women, and these kind of traumatic experiences can damage them for life.
I wasn’t a child when I went through it – around 19 – but my mental age was much lower because in those days, we didn’t have Internet, parents didn’t speak about these issues to kids, we did learn the theory in our text books, but were totally ignorant otherwise. I survived it once, but if I had to go through it all over again, I probably wouldn’t.
From my experience, what I’ve heard from counselors and gathered from reading, is that not getting proper support after these incidents is what permanently damages a person, rather than the incident itself. We had a distant relative who was an alcoholic and a regular visitor to our house. I knew this person from childhood and totally thought of him as a benevolent father-figure. So there was no question of suspecting anything, or being careful or being aware etc.
There were many small incidents that should have been immediately considered as warning signals – but I totally glossed over them – because I was not at all educated in these matters. This person visited regularly on office work, and sometimes stayed in a hotel, at other times in our place. And very often, he would invite me to come to his hotel room, to have lunch/dinner there with him (he knew I’m a foodie, totally oblivious of anything else when it comes to food). But luckily, I never took up the invitations somehow. In hindsight, I wonder why my family members who heard him giving these invitations, did not warn me?! This is something so obviously fishy.
One day, I actually took up the invitation and ended up in his hotel room at lunch time, with my best friend. He probably didn’t expect me to go with someone, but nevertheless treated us both to lunch (room service). While we were eating, he kept on drinking and drinking, and lost control and misbehaved. I don’t want to delve into details, but I have no words to describe what it felt like. First of all my naïve trust was shattered, suddenly a father figure turned into something else, plus I was embarrassed in front of my best friend and didn’t know how to face her – it was horribly and extremely traumatic. I was shocked beyond belief, and even though nothing much happened physically because there were two to one, it was a psychological shock.
So, I couldn’t speak about it to anyone for about a week. I couldn’t sleep properly or concentrate on anything during this time. Also, my friend was very mad at me, and not talking to me, so that was an added trauma. Finally I mustered enough courage and spoke to a family member about it. But the response to my confession – was the biggest trauma of all.
Instead of being shown some “understanding”, I was scolded! “Why didn’t I speak up when it happened? Why did I wait for so long? Obviously, there might have been some small misdemeanor, but to expect the family to sever relations was asking for too much. Even asking that the person should not be allowed in our house was too much. Finally, even asking that the person should not be allowed to consume alcohol in our house was also too much”!!
That was the day when I realized that I really didn’t “belong” anywhere. My own house was no longer a place where I felt safe, because this person continued to visit and have the freedom to drink in our place. I was treated like the criminal because I complained, whereas he was the “good guy”. For a few days, I was so shattered that I bunked college totally and spent entire days sitting in a temple, thinking of how to survive this, because the mere sight of him would make me angry and agitated.
The purpose behind writing this is not to find fault with family members, but to educate people that they need to take their children’s complaints on sexual harassment seriously. Because not doing so can be really damaging. My family members probably behaved that way because they didn’t learn any better from their own parents, and were not treated any better.
But luckily, I had other friends who supported me through this. And I lived in a medical college campus, so I had access to psychologists and doctors. So, one friend who was a doctor and knew our family very well and often visited, gave me some really sound advice. (I realized only much later how sound it was). She told me not to expect to change attitudes at home, because sometimes it’s impossible, not everyone has “understanding” families. She told me instead to move to a hostel asap, so that I could escape from this stressful situation at home.
However, I was not able to concentrate properly on my studies due to all this and didn’t have much hopes of clearing entrance exams, so I drastically changed the subject I was going to study. Was planning to study Theoretical Physics – do a PhD, but instead switched to French and foreign languages, because the entrance would be much easier to crack. I managed to get into a program in a far off city, and enroll in a hostel.
What my friend told me turned out to be 100% right. I felt so much happier, lighter, safer, less stressed out and accepted in the hostel, rather than in my own home. However, whenever I would think of what happened and the reaction to my complaint, it would get me very depressed and agitated. Being blamed for something that someone else has perpetrated on you, is shattering. As a result of this, despite being a good student and all that, I had very low self-esteem and didn’t plan my career properly for a very long time.
This is the reason that I feel so strongly about this “MeToo” issue, and feel its imperative to provide solutions, and not just share sob-stories. While we spread awareness on this issue, we must encourage victims to meet counselors to help them recover. I could recover only after spending a few sessions with a counselor and going over things with her. (Even seeking this counselling was looked upon derogatively by my family).
We must educate families and parents on the damaging consequences of not being “understanding” to their children’s complaints. Why would any child cook up a story on such issues, when they could use that time happily in other pleasurable activities. At least I was quite old – 19 – so I could handle it. What if these things happen to much younger children? I once came across a victim, who had been abused by her own father for many years, while her mom watched silently. Listening to and observing this lady was such a trauma in itself. Male children are also very often victims and traumatized for life. These are issues that we need to urgently pay attention to.