This Documentary Showed Why Women, As Children, Stay Silent About Sexual Abuse

A recent documentary screening in Delhi featured women who have experienced child sexual abuse. Their healing journey contains lessons for all of us.

A recent documentary screening in Delhi featured women who have experienced child sexual abuse. Their healing journey contains lessons for all of us.

I recently attended a screening in Delhi by the RAHI Foundation and the Kriti Film Club titled – The Little Girls We Were…And The Women We Are. Five Indian women survivors of incest and child sexual abuse shared their journey from abuse to recovery. The film is an expressive blend of personal testimonies. It gives the message of hope and recovery to survivors and is meant to be used for awareness, education and intervention purposes.

In the documentary film, there were so many poignant things that these brave women spoke of, some we empathize with, some we understand, and some we ourselves might have gone through.

Fear of tearing the family apart by breaking their silence

As children, once the episode of sexual abuse occurs, we get shunned into silence. Either through threats, overt or covert, talks of this being a ‘special relationship’, or the more heinous statement “No one will believe you”. A child doesn’t stay quiet out of their own will, but the fear of how the family might respond makes them silent.

The women also spoke of the times when they did tell their mothers as young children, but nothing came of it. They were told not to speak about it again. “It felt like a betrayal,” one woman said. Which it truly is. Because it takes immense courage to talk about such a traumatic experience. But sadly, as another woman stated, it is the thought of “What will this do to my family?” that drives them deeper into silence.

Relationship with the abuser / their family

It is a widely known fact that in most cases, the abuser is known to the family. A woman mentioned that another reason young children stay quiet when abused is also because the abuser’s family and the victim’s family are close. They could be uncle and niece, or cousins, and thus the weight of the truth and how it might impact both the families forces the child to remain silent.

The language of communication

Not many children are taught about how they should communicate if they are abused. Yes, we do have the ‘good touch / bad touch‘ sessions in some schools but that too is not there in all schools. There is a need for parents to teach children how to talk about such incidents and to inculcate in them the confidence that when they do speak up, they will be heard by the family.

We cannot disregard what they say merely because they are children and because we feel that they might have misunderstood that ‘touch’ or ‘caress’. A child at any age knows when a touch feels wrong. The fact that they know this through the body and the mind is reason enough to allow them a safe space to put these into words.

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Not all scars are physical

One of the younger survivors brought to light a basic fact. “Why is it that when we are children and we hurt ourselves by falling down or scraping our knees everyone comes to pick us up and help and wash the scar and fix it? Why does no one help when this occurs?” She further spoke of her anger towards her family that she experienced as a result of the abuse and how therapy has helped her come to terms with things.

But what she said, stayed with me. Are we only concerned about the hurt that is visible to us? 

Denial isn’t always bad

We are taught to face our fears. To accept and acknowledge our issues and weaknesses and deal with those. When one experiences trauma, denial is not generally considered to be the best way to deal with it. However, a survivor had an interesting take on this. She spoke of how she separated the incident from her mind and chose to block it. “I think the denial kept me sane. It made me not go crazy. Only when I was ready to confront the fact that it had taken place and yes, I had been abused, did I let go of the denial. So I don’t think denial is that bad.”

For some of us denial becomes a survival tool. It might not necessarily mean that we think we have never been abused when in reality we have been, but denial rather seems to help us distance ourselves from that time in our lives. It separates the memory reservoirs of our childhood from that particular episode(s). It is, in fact, a defense mechanism that we turn to, in order to reduce our anxiety that is brought on when we remember the traumatic incident. It can serve to help the individual in the healing process by allowing them to engage in daily functioning and come to terms with the trauma when they feel they are ready.

Self-Harm is not the same as suicide

Many times, self-harm is considered as the first step to suicidal ideation or tendency. A person harming themselves is mostly believed as someone who has lost the will to live. This is in fact not true!

What most of us do not know is that there is a term called Non Suicidal Self Injury (NSSI).

NSSI is carried out by those who have experienced trauma in their lives, as a means to regulate emotional and physical experiences, for example reducing the feelings of anger or sorrow. Even though we may think this would hurt and make them feel worse, it actually makes them feel better. This dichotomy was explained by Anuja Gupta, Founder of RAHI Foundation. “Self-harm is a way for victims of child sexual abuse to feel being alive as the sexual abuse and its aftermath leaves them feeling numb or dead inside…It does not relate immediately to wanting to kill themselves aka the want to commit suicide.”

But yes it is safe to say that NSSI is the sign of a larger problem.

Therapy sessions were also recorded as a part of the screening and one of the activities was talking to a doll that represented themselves.

A profound statement by one of the ladies was, “I know now that I couldn’t have done anything to prevent it. I look at a picture of myself as a 6 year old, the age when the abuse took place. How could that 6 year old have done anything? How could that child, who knew nothing about what sex or sexual abuse is, have stopped it?”

The screening ended with room being opened up for Q and A with some of the survivors (from the documentary) present there.

As one of these courageous ladies mentioned, “I don’t consider us as SURVIVORS. We are, in fact, THRIVERS. We have come face to face with what happened to us and are constantly aiming to lead happy and fulfilled lives. We are truly thriving.”

If you have been abused or know of someone who has experienced abuse, please reach out for help to RAHI foundation here. Or reach out to any other organization which is nearby to your location. The aim is to reach out and get help or if possible, to help others.

About The Organizations

Based in New Delhi and in Kolkata, RAHI Foundation helps women survivors of incest and child sexual abuse. It has been working in these areas since 1996 and along with an aim to end these evils, it also helps address its long-term impact on women survivors.

Kriti Film Club, an educational initiative of a not-for-profit organisation ‘Kriti team​’, screens and shares documentary films on development, environment, and socially relevant issues. It aims to influence the viewers in a positive manner with an aim towards building a more peaceful world.


*There is no mention of the  survivor names as I am writing this as per my experience of the screening.

*Mention of RAHI foundation is by personal choice, after having seen the work they do. I’ve not been asked to write this on their behalf.

Image Source: Unsplash

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About the Author

Sonali D.

Soul centric and free spirited all the while living life through travel and adrenaline junkie activities. Counselling Psychologist and Educator by vocation. And a life and laughter enthusiast by heart. Usually found daydreaming about her read more...

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