Ranju Darshana

To be touched without your consent is just about the worst thing that can happen to you

It was a fine summer day and I was out to meet my friends. On the way, one of my favorite didis called me into her home. She forced me to play with her breasts and to perform sexual activities. I was all alone. I couldn’t scream or run. I was also way too small to use my fists. I felt helpless.

When I finally forced myself out of the room, everything annoyed me. The lights outside her closed room, the blossoming flowers, my other favorite people, everything!

For years, I couldn’t look at myself in the mirror. This is the reason I am serious about what kids tell me. They do give us hints. When I was a kid, my voice was ignored as ‘kid’s talk’. So I don’t ignore anything kids tell me. But I don’t think my scars will ever completely heel. By the way, that didi today is a mother of two.

The first two paragraphs were narrated to me by a male friend of mine who is now 25. But that friend is not alone in suffering sexual harassment in our society. In fact, there may not be a house in our community where someone or the other is not suffering from sexual harassment. Another friend of mine, who is now a nurse, had her own story.

“He was my daddy’s best friend, fun-loving and intelligent. Every time he came, he came with plenty of chocolates. Dad manned the shop and my mom was almost always in the kitchen. Daddy’s friend would give me chocolates as we were watching TV. He would then place me on his laps, put his hands inside my undergarment, and covering my vagina with his palm, push inside. If I tried to move, he would hold me firm. I could do nothing but watch cartoons and eat chocolates. When I remember it now, I can still feel fear well up.”

I have heard so many of these stories. Another female friend talked of how her female teacher used to “pull at her bra-straps” in punishment; yet another male friend brought up his female school teacher who touched him in wrong places; a mother of a six-year-old narrated how a close relative would only kiss the child “on her neck and under her tummy; a young man spoke of the fear of this decent-looking aunt who touched him without his consent.

It’s not hard to come across the harassers as well. Recently, I chanced upon a conversation in a chia-pasal. Some men who looked to be in their 30s were taking about how “catching the private parts of young girls and boys in the street was the best feeling in the world”.

To be touched without your consent is about the worst thing that can happen to you. But how many times have we failed to admit to ourselves that we were harassed? How many times have we stopped short, fearing what the world would think? By keeping quiet we miss a chance at healing; we pass on an opportunity to save many others from harassment.

I know it’s not easy to share something so personal with others. I myself took three years to share my case indirectly and six years to open up completely. But when I finally shared my experience, the harasser was defamed, at least among his close circle, and my going public also make it hard for him to harass others.

Coming from a family where the advertisement of condom on TV was skillfully skipped every time, I organized a gathering called ‘sexual harassment inside the family’ and gave a presentation.

I made some key points in this presentation. I talked of the need to be aware of what constitutes sexual harassment; the importance of communicating with your kids, listening to them whatever they have to say, making them feel safe to do so; then I talked about good touch and bad touch.

I pointed out the need to monitor your children while they are playing, with whom they are playing and how they are playing. In case of your child, you shouldn’t trust anyone blindly. This is the point where parents have failed.

As some of the above mentioned examples show, girls are not the only ones to be harassed. Boys are as well. But in my experience girls find it easier to open up about their harassment than do boys. I don’t know why.

You can see that these harassers can be anyone, even your closed ones you have come to trust. But you also have the power to safeguard your son, daughter, brother, sister, or a friend! Start talking about it. You’ll feel light and you will be able to safeguard one more person.

The writer is the Central Committee member at Bibeksheel Nepali and the student of Development Studies at National College, Balwatar