What to Say to Someone Who Has Come Out as An Assault Survivor?
A sexual abuse survivor himself, Harish Iyer answers queries on how to handle questions around sexual abuse.
(Harish Iyer or RainbowMan is a survivor of child sexual abuse and has listened to lakhs of survivors for more than two decades.)
Every day, our newspapers and online portals are filled with devastating stories of sexual assault. We should definitely take responsibility and launch ourselves in proactive mode by getting educated with the tools we need for ourselves and others who get affected. I should add that the most ideal thing would be to visit a mental health professional, a lawyer or a police official to register a complaint.
I often get asked questions by survivors and by their loved ones on how to handle sexual abuse. I will try and answer some of these very complex questions below.
Question 1: I was sexually assaulted. I want to share my story publicly. Should I ? Will people think I am publicity crazy? And am I publicity crazy for just thinking like this?
Some of us feel the need for validation of our pains and suffering very strongly. And for some others, there is a mountain of emotions developing inside them and the only way they would find relief is sharing it.
Just be aware, that when you put things publicly, either on social media or share with friends, there will be a few who would offer unsolicited advice, and another dirty dozen who would judge you and call you all sorts of names. There would be many who would also judge the authenticity of your story. There would be also a big bunch of admirers who would appreciate and champion you.
Remember that none of this is permanent – the criticism or the adulation. And days after your disclosure there would be some sort of a lull. At that moment, you would be left to your thoughts and your own mind engineering to propel you further in life.
Question 2: I couldn’t beat him up. I am such a sissy.
Men are often burdened with the task of protecting. The truth is that all genders could be vulnerable. All humans can get attacked. And all of us could be attackers too.
Set yourself free from the burden of masculinity.
Question 3: I don’t remember things very clearly.
You shouldn’t be expected to remember everything so clearly.
Sometimes these traumatic experiences appear as parts of a jigsaw puzzle. It takes time for all the parts to put itself together and appear as a complete picture. Sometimes the formation of the complete picture takes time. Sometimes, a lifetime.
Question 4: My friend just confessed she/he was raped a while ago… What should I do?
First, don’t offer any advice. Acknowledge your friend, do not establish physical contact with them if they don’t like it. Sit with them patiently till they open up. Do not try to hurry them up. Let them know you are around and are willing to listen. Do not speak on your phone loudly and do not create a scene. Just stay put besides your friend, patiently.
Ask if they would want to go to a government hospital for examination. In the case of penile penetrative sexual assault, it would be better if they don’t wash themselves or their clothes rigorously for it can wipe out semen stains that could serve as evidence if they decide to file a complaint. Ask your friend if they wish to register a first information report with the police.
Question 5: My friend is angry, she was sexually assaulted. I want to beat up the perpetrators. I want to register a complaint.
What does your friend who was sexually assaulted want to do? Does she wants to pursue it with the police? Ask the survivor. Do not take decisions for them when they are in a position to take decisions for themselves.
Question 6: My friend got sexually abused. Can I share her story.
No. if they want, they will share their story. Don’t take their life decisions for them.
Question 7: Should I retweet the story of my friend and tag the police, she tweeted herself.
Ask the survivor. Some may share just to get it off their chest. Sometimes, sharing on social media is akin to shouting over the valley. The fact that she has spoken may make her feel better, I know one should be aware that anything they put publicly is viral material. But still ask.
Question 8: My younger brothers friend got sexually assaulted. He is 17.
If anyone is under the age of 18, irrespective of gender, the case should be mandatorily reported to the police under the protection of children from sexual offences act.
There are cases though where the abuser is the primary caregiver of the minor. It is indisputable that the assault needs to be stopped. This would need a rescue strategy and the minor needs to be a part of the strategy.
Do not dismiss the young’s wisdom by belittling them for their age. Choose to involve them in the decision regarding their life.
Determine if the minor is capable of looking after themselves after the disclosure to the police. If for any reason the accused and the minor end up in the same house after the disclosure, the abuser may get agitated and behave violently with the child.
Abstain from discussing the life of the minor on social media, even if the minor does so. Legally speaking, the onus of conduct comes on the adult and not the minor.
Question 9: Will I contract diseases because of the penile penetrative sexual assault on me?
Within 72 hours of the attack, one needs to take Anti Retroviral medication to ensure that we keep HIV off limits. This is called Post Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP) medication.
Please visit the doctor within 72 hours and on the prescription and only and only on advice of the doctor take the necessary tablets. If it is beyond 72 hours do check with the doctor on the tests you need to do and the window period by which you need to do the tests.
A rape survivor is also provided an emergency contraceptive pill.
Question 10: My son is not coming out of trauma.
What I shared is just emotional first aid. This doesn’t replace the need of visiting a mental health professional. Trauma takes time to heal and could leave emotional scars that need attention. Do visit a mental health professional.
Question 11: What is the one thing all survivors need. And what is that they don’t need.
Every survivor is different. Some want to file a complaint and some are hesitant. Some want to scream and shout till they feel better, some just want to do more things and keep themselves occupied.
Each one of us deals with life in their own ways. Let’s respect that and not forcefully define the life of survivors with our moral compass and our sense of justice.
Do not offer advice to appear cool or to get more re-shares, likes and retweets. Do not offer advice when not asked. Don’t force people and don’t coax people to take action.
There are professional NGOs or individuals that have the record. That deal with child rights. Please call the NGO and seek their advice if you think you do not have the expertise of experience. You cannot replace a counsellor, the doctor or police officer… you can help them by listening to them and guiding them to the above mentioned professionals.
Listen, listen, listen. Listen without judgement. Listen without disruption. Listen. To have someone to listen to us when we are hurt without prejudice, is usually a great feeling. Sometimes, as survivors tell their tales, they find their own path and define their own course of action. Listen to empower them.
Their silence is their loudest cry. When they speak, they heal. Listening heals, so listen!
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