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Home > Lifestyle News > Culture News > Article > Womens safety How to extend support to victims of sexual harassment

Women’s safety: How to extend support to victims of sexual harassment

Updated on: 07 July,2023 04:52 PM IST  |  Mumbai
Aakanksha Ahire |

The safety of women in India is in peril. Violence against women has grown more widespread. Recovering from an incident of sexual assault can take months or even years. The right kind of support from family and friends, however, goes a long way

Women’s safety: How to extend support to victims of sexual harassment

Sexual assault victims often hold themselves responsible for the entire ordeal. Representative image: iStock

On a daily basis we come across flashing headlines about sexual harassment inflicted upon women. No matter how small the incident may be, it is disturbing enough to scar a woman forever. The writer herself has been a victim of sexual assault. She was taken by shock when a man started masturbating in broad daylight in one of the busy lanes of Mumbai. With a numbing mind too panicked to react, all she could manage to do was look in some other direction and pace up to quickly pass by the perpetrator. It has been over 6 months since the incident and the writer still avoids taking that lane. There is a constant fear that the man might turn up again. This is the reality of every other woman today. 

Coping with an incident of sexual harassment or assault is a long process that can take months and even years. Sadly, women are often expected to ‘get over it,’ or ‘move on,’ by their immediate circle of family and friends. 

“There is no such thing as a sexual assault that one can ‘shrug off’ or ‘forget’. The brain records sexual assault as a trauma, which has both short and long-term effects on parts of the brain that are responsible for thinking and controlling emotions,” says Dr Suprakash Chaudhury, professor & HOD, psychiatry department, DPU Private Super Specialty Hospital, Pimpri, Pune.

Also Read: Dalit woman says kept as bonded labourer, raped by 11 and left for dead

It is extremely important for family and friends to support women who have been a victim of sexual assault or even eve-teasing by adopting the right approach. Making statements like – ‘You need to move on, that incident happened long back,’ ‘Worse could have happened,’ ‘You shouldn’t have worn that,’ ‘If I were you, I would have...,’ ‘I can understand how you feel’ or worse, ‘it's not that big of a deal’ – can trigger the victim and cause great distress. 

Victims of sexual harassment and sexual assault stand a risk of developing certain mental health concerns like anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder, among others. Chaudhury says, “People who have experienced sexual assault go through a variety of feelings. No two persons will have the same thoughts or emotions as another.” 

Some common signs of poor mental health among victims include: 

-Moodiness or depression 
-A decline in enthusiasm for most activities 
-Alterations in sleep habits (excessive or problematic sleep) 
-Changes in weight or appetite 
-Fatigue and low energy 
-Anxiety over personal safety 
-Withdrawal from engaging or spending time with dear ones 
-Excessive self-blame & shame 
-Feeling of unworthiness 
-Lack of attentiveness 
-Being hyper-alert 
-Difficulty in trusting others 
-In the worst cases, having suicidal thoughts 

Women often try to avoid addressing the incident or speaking about it to anyone due to varied reasons like inability to establish the incident’s validity, concern that the police won't take cognisance or even understand the severity of the incident, feeling ashamed, fear they might get blamed, not wanting to re-live the traumatic experience, fear of getting stigmatised, or fear that the perpetrator might stalk them. In such cases, the onus to ensure the victim’s safety and well-being is on their family and friends. Chaudhury suggests some crucial and helpful ways to support the victim. 

Be there 
The greatest kind of support that you can provide is by just making yourself available at all times. If they want to chat, it's critical to pay attention to what they tell and speak about. Remind them that they are not alone and that you are available for them whenever they need you. 

Be encouraging and non-judgmental 
Listen to them without forming any judgements. Make sure they know that you believe them. Ensure you provide them with a safe space to express themselves openly and make them feel secure. Reminding your loved one that what occurred was not their fault and that they did not deserve what happened to them is also crucial. Sexual assault victims often hold themselves responsible for the entire ordeal. 

Recheck from time to time 
Even if the incident may have occurred a long time ago, the anguish may still be present. Remind your loved one that you still value their well-being by following up with them every once in a while. 

Study about resources 
Although you are an immediate ally, you are not qualified to oversee another person's health. Learn about the resources like the National Sexual Assault Centre, that you can suggest to your loved one. 

Give them the authority to make a choice 
When someone gets assaulted, they lose power over the circumstances. You ought to give them the authority to choose what actions to take after the occurrence of the assault. Avoid trying to solve the problem or offering excessive advice on what they should do. Offer to go with them instead if they wish to obtain a medical checkup or report the incident to the right authorities. 

Promise to keep everything they share with you confidential 
Don’t reveal their sexual assault incident to anyone or reveal the specifics without their consent. 

Recommend professional counselling 
Direct them to the proper resource for help. Keep in mind that while you can help your loved ones heal, you cannot heal them. 

Supporting someone who has experienced sexual assault is a continuous process requiring immense patience. Just make sure you be there throughout, without giving up on them. Lastly, Chaudhury reiterates, “Never blame them even partially. Nothing justifies a sexual assault.” 

Also Read: Women’s safety: Keep these ‘essential items’ in your bag to protect yourself

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