I was walking to the bus stop from office at 9 in the night. The street was deserted except for a rare car passing. It was an 8 minute walk. When I covered around half of it, a boy in a bicycle came from behind, stopped next to me and asked for the time. I answered him and kept walking…….
Headlines of employed women coming out with their experiences of sexual harassment at the workplace have been making the rounds for a while especially in the past few months. These revelations make us ponder about harassment in spaces other than the workplace for women, men and those who don’t conform to the gender binary identities. Are all comfortable talking about the harassment that they have faced or are facing? Are there avenues for them to express their experiences, anguish and views?
“You can’t really advocate for a blanket position of talking about it. There are safety issues. You can’t just ask everyone to talk about it or that they need to speak up. It is also each person’s personal issue,” says Urmila, lawyer and Founder of How Revealing, a platform for survivors of sexual harassment and sexual violence to share their stories.
Started in January 2017, How Revealing aims to be a repository.
“There isn’t a single place wherein people can post or share or reveal their experiences, anguish and views of sexual harassment as against spaces which are available in plenty wherein people just report about such incidents like people sharing it on Twitter and Facebook. How Revealing has been created as a safe space wherein anyone can write and reveal their experiences, anguish and views on such matters without fear of being judged,” adds Urmila
- Anyone can share their experience on this platform by accessing the ‘Share your experience’ page on the website.
- The only requirement is to share and reveal the details of sexual harassment-either as a victim of such experience or as an observer of such incidents.
- ‘Anonymous’ revelations and sharing is permitted.
- The platform also collects details of WHERE AND WHEN of such incidents though it is optional to name the city or the place wherein the incident took place.
- Clothing of the victim is an important arm in the discussion on sexual harassment. Taking this into consideration How Revealing lays emphasis on the clothing of the victim when the sexual harassment took place. Hence, the person –victim or the observer of a victim –are called upon to share what the victim was wearing, though this is optional.
With about 95 experiences shared on the platform in the first 3 months, How Revealing is open to people of all genders- men, women and the third gender.
“We want to open it out to all gender identities. Usually transgender and non-binary people don’t come out and talk about it as much. It is known that women are usually affected but not much is said about others like transgenders. Men too can be recipients of sexual violence. Hence we also want men to post their experiences either as a victim or when they have seen it happening with someone close to them. What goes through the mind of victims and what do they feel? We want to record it. There are some posts by men talking about how they grew up with a closed mindset about women or dressing and how that had bred a wrong approach in them.”
How Revealing intends to run specific campaigns under specific topics like street harassment, sexual harassment at home or even casual everyday sexism.
“When there is a case and the media is all up about it, the challenge is how do we get public at large to have a sustained conversation about the issue? Most of the time the hue and cry seems momentary and it is passed over.”
“We presently have an online campaign running with Quint. They had wanted to run a campaign called ‘Why Women Don’t Report’. We are running this campaign with them to ask ‘why women don’t report’ not only workplace harassment but also harassment in other spaces.”
So far, the stories shared on the platform include experiences from Bangalore, Chennai, Nagpur, Delhi, Himachal and Hyderabad apart from experiences and revelations of people in transit between cities -on the bus or other modes of transport.
“People bottle it up and don’t talk about it. There is guilt and shame associated with it. The platform is a space that is cathartic for them to let go of emotions without judgement. The stories have a function of encouraging people to share and let others know that they are not alone. The website is speaking to a certain kind of victim- both people who have trauma and some who don’t have trauma. Majority of the cases are very serious and very long term with lots of issues and sometimes they also turn out to be suicidal.“
Urmila notes that more than 60% of the stories are child sexual abuse stories with most of them talking about it for the first time. The website also provides information about suicide prevention helplines, helplines for child-sex abuse survivors, othersupport lines for sexual violence survivors and other support that may be required. Over time, the platform will include information of organisations working around different aspects of sexual violence including legal, social and psychological aid.
“People can get in touch with these organizations to get help through us. Ours is a forum to share stories and revelations but we can’t provide help. So we want to connect them with organizations that offer help but which are difficult to access.There are websites that have pages with survivor stories. But there is no one place where you can share your stories and also get support.”- and that is where How Revealing fills the void.
What does How Revealing intend to do over time to address the issue of sexual harassment?
“There is severe under reportage. With time, with enough stories, we want to contribute to policy change in India. As a repository, it will fill the information gap giving details about what needs to be done. “
As said before, clothing of the victim is an important arm in the discussion on sexual harassment. ‘How Revealing were the clothes of the victims’ is a often asked question to muffle the agony and violence perpetrated on the victim to extend the narrative of the ‘victim inviting the violence on her due to her wrong choice of clothes’. The website collects details about the place and clothing of the survivor to collate data to lay stress on the fact that this could happen to anyone irrespective of the place or the dress worn.
“Hopefully this will contribute to the larger narrative of victim blaming. How can we turn this common notion of why didn’t she try to avoid it by a ‘correct choice of clothes’ blaming the victim to question the culture surrounding rape? That is the conversation that we need to be having instead of putting all the responsibility on the victims. It is internalized from the time we are very young. Boys are told that they should be looking at girls a certain way if they are wearing short skirts. There is constant sexualizing, objectification and policing from the time we are in school. It is school, and the perpetration of this narrative continues with parents, partners and in-laws. For some, it is a constant struggle and then that gets passed on to their kids.”