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To File A Complaint Or Not…Let Sexual Assault Survivors Decide What Justice Means For Them!

Sexual assault survivors are pressurized to file complaints while suffering through trauma. Shouldn't survivors choose what justice means for them?

Sexual assault survivors are pressurized to file complaints while suffering through trauma. Shouldn’t survivors choose what justice means for them?

She was drained due to a heavy workday at the office. Little did she know of the exhaustion that she would be subjected to from that day onward. At 7’o clock she finally invited the journalist who had been insisting time and again to meet her.

He came over and kept making her uncomfortable with his words and actions. But then something that she could not have thought of, even in the worst of nightmares, happened. Later that night, he sexually assaulted her. Intimidated, numb and helpless she happened to survive this violence on her body and most importantly on her mind. 

Sexual assault survivors often deal with disassociation with self & mental health issues

An act of sexual assault is not just one incidence of violence nor is it’s impact just in one form. It’s implication comes in the form of dissociation with one’s mind and body, long-lasting trauma, depression and and  disorders like anxiety or PTSD.

Coping with it comes at a heavy cost which the survivor bears alone. The trauma includes various emotional and psychological reactions to the violence. This includes flashbacks which seem real and triggering.

In this particular case, the survivor felt dissociated from her own self. She was diagnosed with severe anxiety issues and trauma. Nonetheless, she had the firm determination to speak up and share the incident with people whom she presumed to be understanding.

She was traumatized but people pressurized her to file a complaint…

But, to her disappointment, people, rather hearing her and helping her alleviate some of the trauma,  pressurized her to file a complaint right away.

She had to bear with people who would mansplain to her and try pressurizing her by saying, “Madam, you must complain right away. You are a feminist, suppose if something like this happens to your sister or any other woman? What higher ground will you take if you are not ready to make a complaint yourself?”

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 While all these remarks were being passed she kept telling that she was in no condition to think about anything but her deteriorating mental health which had been in shambles even before the incident. This was known to these people but they conveniently chose to ignore it.

The survivor was shamed and blamed for not being able to make a complaint. She was told how she was less of a feminist, less of a strong woman – something that the survivor in question held cardinal to her identity. 

Questioning the victim why she didn’t slap him?!

Society started castigating her with questions like- ‘There are so many things you could have done, why didn’t you?’ and ‘you should have slapped him’ and so on. This induced enormous regret and guilt in the survivor making her that maybe it was all her fault.

Apart from victim blaming, the other thing that the survivors often go through is slut-shaming. She went through the same. Her sexual freedom was questioned and judged by the men in her life.

She was patronized by urban patriarchs who would casually gaslight the survivor with questions like – ‘Maybe your words encouraged the guy’ or ‘Maybe he was under some other impression’.

Such responses by people around affected the survivor to an unimaginable extent. She would get sleepless, restless nights where she would repent and try to revive the whole incident in her head to find if she was really guilty.

Survivors are not weak or selfish when they don’t file a complaint!

On other occasions, the survivor was labelled as “abla” and “bechari” (weak and vulnerable). Ironically, at the same time, she was also called “selfish” for not taking enough pain to lodge a complaint.

She was told that she must do this to fight on behalf and for the sake of the whole women fraternity. This created tremendous pressure on the victim who was now in a serious health condition and in a highly vulnerable state.

Then there were people with reservations about her rationality, her ability to comprehend things.   These people claimed that they were standing with her in the fight for justice, but in reality, they had taken a stand against her.  

Let the survivor choose what justice means for them!

What is the meaning of justice? Shouldn’t justice to one’s state of being, body and mind be the primary step?

A  retributive form of justice focuses on just one thing- punishment to the offender. It not only ignores the trauma of the survivor but more often than not adds to the misery and trauma in forms of delay in the legal process and constant victimization. The financial burden that the survivor has to bear makes it all the more arduous for her.

What good is this system of justice if it doesn’t take into consideration the immense trauma of the survivor and adds to the misery she is going through?

Shouldn’t it be the prerogative of the victim that should matter the most?

We need a transformative justice that supports the survivor towards healing…

She wondered if  punishing the perpetrator would help end this structural violence in our society? Or can it give her normalcy and a feeling of self-worth, which she would need if she decides on a  legal process…The answer that came from within her was – No.

Why should the onus of seeking justice for the whole society be put on the victim? The wrong was perpetrated against her and rather than calling her selfish, the society should ensure a judgement-free space. This is possible only by minimizing the harm done to the individual. It’s high time we understand that justice could mean different things to different people. 

We need to support the choice the survivor makes. This system, based on the will of the survivor, would help her regain the lost sense of agency over herself, both physically and mentally.

The core idea of justice in such cases should be move towards a trauma-informed model, a transformative one, which is focused towards reducing the harm done to survivors. 

Justice would be to offer support. It can be in the form of a victim support-system provided by a government/ semi-government organisation with trained volunteers. This can play a vital role in helping the survivors transcend beyond mere survival.

There should be no pressure on a sexual assault survivor to be a fighter/warrior

The survivor in this case too, like any other victim, wanted that nobody else should go through what she had to. All she really wanted at that point was some form of support so she could find some comfort with herself and time to heal from the traumatic event. 

It is time we understand that there is no need for anyone to rush through victimhood into survivorship under the pressure to be a fighter/ warrior.  Every victim is a survivor. It is just that one needs to take their own time, however short or long, it may be.

There is no need for the survivor to succumb to the pressure created by societies like ours. They have the right to make their own decision, however correct or incorrect it sounds to someone else.

Image source: Still from Pink 

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About the Author

Vertika Mani

Lawyer, Human Rights Activist, Intersectional Feminist. read more...

6 Posts

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