‘It’s the Woman, She’s the Type’: How Sexual Assault Never Leaves You

What follows events of trauma and assault is the part of you that seeks to be heard, believed and given justice.

6 min read
‘It’s the Woman, She’s the Type’: How Sexual Assault Never Leaves You

One of the biggest reasons why I couldn’t write or talk about multiple incidents of sexual assault is that an ‘outsider's’ voice is internalised in me. The second reason is power. My assaulters had power, and I had none. My assaulter saw his name come up in #Metoo allegations, but is he talking about it in therapy four years later? Probably not. I have often fantasised about writing in great detail and calling out these “powerful” men, but every time, the other voice in me grows louder.

The voice tells me:

“But you know I saw her pictures, she isn’t even that pretty. I think she is lying.”

“She used to do acting and stuff, right? Maybe she is doing all this to grab attention. And that’s what all women do after when they are unsuccessful. ”

“I mean, come on. The same old #Metoo story. Why did she even meet these men? We all know how these powerful men are.”

“Going by the way she behaves, talks and dresses I always felt these sorts of incidents would happen to her.”

The saddest thing is that these words come to me in the voice of a woman. In some way, then, this is also the voice of patriarchy.


Who Deserves to Be Assaulted?

Culturally, I have been told, especially by men, that there are a few types of women who deserve to be raped or assaulted: lower-caste women, lower-class women, young professionals, migrant and stateless women, unmarried women or the ones abandoned by husbands, ‘unhinged’ women, struggling artists/actresses, desirous women, feminist women and ‘easy’ women, among many, many others.

This list will certainly not include the mother or the wife archetypes (except under special circumstances). I read Nivedita Menon’s Seeing like a Feminist years before any of the incidents of violence happened to me. It was difficult for me to grapple with the idea then that assault is about power and not particularly lust, love, fantasy or attraction. I check quite a few boxes in the aforementioned list. But of all the labels I have hated, the ‘lower-class’ identity disadvantages me the most. I wish that my father were a powerful man whose name would protect me in the workplace.


What Follows After the Assault

I have worked in both formal and informal sectors and I have faced harassment in both spaces. This article isn’t meant to provide chilling details to readers for shock value. My aim is to form a public narrative around the forms of trauma that follows years after the event and doesn’t quite leave your body, ever. These are events about which you can’t say several years later, “It’s been so long. I can barely remember.” These are events you take with you to your grave.

What follows events of trauma and assault is the part of you that seeks to be heard, believed and given justice. But the system of justice we provide to women is actually not for women.

In the formal workspace, there is a justice system, though partial and problematic, unlike in the informal sector. The Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) or the Prevention of Sexual Harassment Act (POSH) or the HR department, will at least give you a sense of hope, if not justice. A lucky few will get to hear assurances like: “Why don’t we change your cabin/team for now? Will that be good enough? We really don’t want you to leave. These things keep happening. Cheer up beta!”

Some day, the Vice-President (or any senior administrative member who is a woman) will call you to her cabin, offer you tea and gourmet cookies in the best cup and saucer reserved for VIP guests, all to condole the incident; she will distractedly listen to you as you tremble in trauma. In the end, when she hugs you, she might suggest that you change the way you dress for a while because “we want you to be safe”. She’ll say things like, “Stay under the radar for a bit. Don’t attract attention by the way you look.”

The HR team will call you two days later to check whether you are feeling better and suggest that you should get a different phone number for work and suggest not to respond to messages and calls from men after working hours. Of course, what she means by men is the less powerful men in the organisation. You can avoid their calls – for now. Two more days later, some person from the Board will call you into his cabin and keep their hand a few seconds longer on your bra hook at the back.


The Solution for Women Is, 'Just Don't Be'

Here’s another thing about men’s response to such incidents: once a man gets to know that you have been previously harassed, they are likely to do that again, because you are ‘damaged’ anyway, right? The ‘raped woman in police station raped again by policemen’ picture just takes on a more ‘sophisticated’ colour in boardrooms and sanitised marble corridors.

The ‘system’ shouts the solution into your face, but you won’t listen: “The only way we can protect you is if you hide, minimise and abject yourself … just don’t be.”

On the contrary, this faulty but somewhat functioning system of ‘justice’ doesn’t exist in most informal creative jobs. One of the biggest loopholes is that for most creative work, there is no fixed physical workplace. They say this apparent ‘hybridity’ of the industry is beneficial for ‘creative’ minds. “Structure” repels an artist. Meetings happen everywhere, from coffee shops to bedrooms, or even hotel rooms. Nobody is meeting anybody with a legal obligation or with scheduled appointments. Everyone is meeting everyone to collaborate, discuss ideas or hang out at the studio, which, sometimes, can also mean a man’s home.

I have tried empathising with the numerous narratives parroted by men who raise completely off-subject issues in “interviews” just to “gauge your personality”.

I trust these men when they promise a million women that they will make them something. After all, making and breaking a woman is in the hands of powerful men.

I don’t think they are lying to women when they promise with starry eyes, “I see something in you.” It just might be that the veracity of the statements needs to be contested, repeatedly. You see, these are ‘creative’ people. Ideas and truths keep changing for them. The truth is malleable.

For prominent artists, writers, poets or filmmakers who are assaulters, words are their power. This ‘creative’ soul might tell you that he is in love with you and that your charms have made him helpless. He may perhaps also tell you after the assault that he is not this person generally, but that “you” have something that made him carnal.


Assault Makes a Home In Your Body

Assault won’t leave you. It will come back to you when your new boss hushes in your ears how optimistic he is and that he likes to “get things done”. He will stand so close to you that you will be able to smell his sweat, his cologne and the cigarette he just smoked. Your therapist will ask you twice, “Did you say no?”, and you’ll say, “No, I couldn’t. No, I didn’t.”

Your therapist will teach you how to say ‘no’. “You need to keep communicating with men at each step. Yes, no, no yes, not that, no I don’t like it, okay, yes … Practice saying no. Say no more often.” It is like toddler training, you see! Keep instructing the man.

Assault will never leave you. It will come back when a man compliments your ‘physical appearance’ and you’ll feel like throwing up and hiding at once. In your mind, you will expect this man to ask you for a sexual favour and convince you that there doesn’t have to be morality involved in it. You’ll expect it not because you want it, but because that is what you have seen all your life.

Assault will make a home in your body. You will internalise the man who told you that ‘you’ wanted it. You will become the woman the men said you are.


When Truth Is Subject to Power

Of course, one could call out these powerful men publicly. But your truth will be contested. Some journalist will ask the man, “Sir, did you do this?” He will deny it. He will say, “This is ridiculous. You know me. I am a family man. I could never think of doing such a thing. And I don’t even remember this girl. Who is she?” His wife will support him publicly and reiterate that he is a good man. At that moment, your truth will become a public lie. You will become a ‘lying’ woman.

The opposing lawyers ask, “Why didn’t you come out earlier?” They don’t understand – or perhaps don’t want to – that we don’t come out sooner because we know that the system is rigged to protect the man and not the woman. We know that truth is subject to power. Your truth is more ‘true’ when you are powerful.

(Jahnabi Mitra currently works as a Research Associate. She is pursuing her PhD in Psychosocial Clinical Studies from Ambedkar University, Delhi. This is a personal blog and the views expressed are the author's own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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Topics:  Sexual Assault   Sexual Harrasment   MeToo 

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