19, Nov 2017 | Harish Iyer | Take Action
On the occasion of Child Sexual Abuse Awareness Day, activist and survivor Harish Iyer pens this exclusive piece about his journey from a tormented little boy to a young man who helps fellow survivors today.
Everyday, I wake up to the news of children getting sexually abused. The enormity of the challenge is visible when we focus on the age of the victims/survivors – some are in their cradles, some are just out of their cradle. I have spoken to over a lakh adult survivors of child sexual abuse in my lifetime. Children who get sexually abused grow up as adults with guilt and shame for their entire lifetime. Some have a deep sense of distrust and seething anger that would be vented out on things in everyday life, some voice nothing externally but feel an unvoiced scream when their memory is triggered. Some, simply don’t remember their abuse and spend their lives trying to decipher why they feel how they feel. The fortunate few are able to understand what happened to them and are able to put their past in their past. However, even for those people the term “fully recovered” doesn’t hold true.
In fact, I don’t know what constitutes full recovery. I mean, does that mean that you don’t get affected by the pain and suffering you have undergone? Does that mean some sort of a nihilistic feeling. I feel that could be terrible. Our past does not define us or confine us to time, it could however liberate us when we fly off the troubled nest with new wings of confidence.
How I know? I have always been empowered by my past. Ever since I started speaking, I have never shied from screaming about childhood that was marred by regular sexual violence. It all started when I was seven. It continued for eleven more years. It was a routine. He used to take me on his scooter for a hair cut. Then we used to go to his place. After the first time that he scared me, he scarred my defences forever. He never had to apply force. Every time I knew that he and I were together and alone, I would remove all my clothes and lie down on my chest with my back facing him. He would lift my legs and twirl them around as he would wish to get inside me. All this while, my brain was numbed and transformed to another world. I felt nothing at that moment about the abuse. In my head, I used to get images of falling trees and young goats suckling to their mothers being taken away for slaughter. I was scared out of wits and helpless but oblivious to what was happening around me. It is a state of emotional coma, when you are physically aware of the happenings but your reflexes give up.
When I grew a little older, in my teens, my awareness of my pain increased. But so did his brazenness. He got people home. There would be people, one after the other having sex with me. Sometimes, I would bleed. Sometimes, I would plead with no words but eyes that said a sordid tale of pain. I would hope that they would read the tremble in my lips but they only thrust their giant bodies on the feeble me.
Children who get sexually abused go through a plethora of emotions. Many of them go through severe repressed memory where they remember very little after the incident, but then at every trigger of thought they start remembering bits and pieces. They sometimes spend their entire lives trying to puts these pieces of the puzzle together and acknowledge that this is their life and their abused past. One needs to acknowledge that since this is about sexual abuse, any trigger in the form of sexual relations would also lead to anger in many cases. I think we should steer away from making generalisations hence I use words like “few” and “some”. The worst thing that could happen to people is to nullify the enormity of their challenges by reducing them to a statistic or by weighing their suffering.
Women being disgusted by penetrative sex and heterosexual men anxious about sexual intercourse is a common thing I get to hear. There are a few gay men who were abused as children. Some of them I know are extremely averse to sex and end up with several failed relationships. Some gay men think it is because of same-sex-abuse that they are gay. It is a life long process of affirmations and understanding of our lives. A struggle with ourselves and our past that is not our choice.
The victims come from all classes and all castes. Abuse doesn’t discriminate. However, if you belong to an economically challenged class, a Dalit or Muslim, a trans-person or a woman, or feminine or gay, and are in a space where you feel dis-empowered socially, economically and physically – the chances are more that you are easy prey. When it comes to perpetrators, it could be anyone. Man, woman, transgender or any gender. It could be your mother, father, sister, brother – anyone.
To stop this, we need education… and education is not just a sex-ed class, it is the dining table, the bedroom and at workplace as well. It is years and years of patriarchy in our homes and workplaces that has assumed the status of a “norm”. If we need to envision a world where not being abused is the “new normal”, we need to change the conversation about patriarchy, superiority complex and the inferiority complex, due to class, caste, religion in the little conversations we have with ourselves in the form of self-talk. We need less of “lists” but more research with perpetrators. We need punishments that are reformative and corrective and not just the one that bays for the blood of abusers. Most importantly, we need methods for preventing those who have the potential to abuse from offending.
This cannot be done by a moral science talk or guerilla tactics that call for ostracisation and strict punishment, some of these are merely emotive responses. If we need something to be done positively. I firmly believe it should be with psychological and psychiatric intervention. For attacks that have occurred, we need to focus on the certainty of punishment rather than the severity of it.
And if one in two children get sexually abused, there could be one in ten or twenty people who sexually abuse children too. We need to focus on reform methods. how many jails will we fill with perpetrators. Some are child molestors, some are clinically classified as pedophiles. There are many in the loose who are our fathers, brothers, even sisters and mothers. We need to work at identifying them and ensuring that they keep their hands to themselves.
As for me. I am not overwhelmed with any feeling of revenge. I can’t get my 11 precious years back. But when you are pushed in the black hole, you could absorb all energy and radiate it for the upliftment of yourself and others. That’s me, owning my past, but letting it rest there. The only purpose of it, is to radiate energy in my present. That’s the power of those who are oppressed. We radiate life, throughout life.
Feature Image: Thriver By Ranadeep Bhattacharyya and Judhajit Bagchi (Image use through exclusive special arrangement for one time use by cjp.org.in *** Please note, this image may not be downloaded, used or reproduced by any third party.)
Thriver is an award winning picture that was recognised for its powerful message at the Prix De La Photographie, Paris Image description: "There is no innocence that is lost forever. There is no 'now or never'- Sometimes childhood is forever" 'Thriver' of child sex abuse, Harish Iyer was raped from the age of 7 by a family member but he refused to be a victim even after years of abuse. Today, Harish is an equal rights activist who has taken upon himself to reach out to other survivors of child sex abuse and empower them; making them 'thrivers' in their own lives, just like him.
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