Last week, Priyanka Bansal, a journalist with The Quint in India, penned an article about her experience as a survivor of sexual abuse and harassment. We have secured Ms. Basal’s permission to republish this piece on the Women in News platform.
Sexual harassment and assault are a global phenomenon, as our own statistics show. Findings from a Women in News survey issued one year ago to our constituent base in 12 countries throughout Sub Saharan Africa and the Arab region revealed that nearly 2/3rds of respondents have experienced some form of verbal harassment in the workplace, and nearly one quarter have experienced physical sexual harassment.
A total of 1 in 12 respondents reported being sexually assaulted by a peer, superior or source. 71% did not report incidents to company or authorities. Their primary reason for not reporting was fear over job security, or a feeling of embarrassment or shame.
We hope that by publishing this unflinching personal story, women from our community and beyond will be encouraged to raise their own voices. It is only by casting off the shame and fear around these experiences – so deeply personal yet also universal - that we can begin to dismantle the structural and cultural stigmas around sexual abuse and harassment, and in the process, hopefully also begin to heal.
To Priyanka Bansal: We hear you. We believe you. And we stand with you. Thank you for your courage to share this story.
*TRIGGER WARNING* This article contains information about sexual harrassment and/or assault which may be triggering to survivors.
Why I Didn’t Report Sexual Harassment And Probably Never Will
By Priyanka Bansal
This article originally appeared in The Quint
A recent slew of incidents have reignited the debate of #Me Too and ‘Why I didn't report?’
Why didn’t I report? Because it started before I could even spell these words out. Why didn’t I report later? Because I was scared of everyone, but mostly of victim-blaming. Perhaps I was also worried about what my parents would think.
This is the first time I am talking about these incidents and it feels great – like a stone being lifted off my chest. I know I can’t go to anyone. Most of these perpetrators might not even remember what happened. I, however, am going to keep it with me, probably till I grow old and senile.
In many cases it starts at home and I feel parents should sit children down and have the ‘good touch/bad touch’ conversation as early as possible.
He Masturbated at an Eight-Year-Old Me
I remember a day – when I was about 8 or so – and was in Janpath, a very famous market area in Delhi, with my aunt and a younger cousin. A man, who must have been in his forties and had one arm, was looking at me. I did my best to ignore him, but my aunt was buying something and I had to be in that shop. When I looked again from the corner of my eye, I could see that he was rubbing his crotch. I felt ‘dirty’ but could not fathom what was happening.
The man kept following us whilst looking at me and rubbing himself with the one arm he had.
Years later, I realised he was masturbating at an eight-year-old me, in a public place. Years later, when I understood what exactly happened. I felt like I owed the eight-year-old me an apology, an apology for letting the little girl feel ‘dirty’, for no fault of her own.
For people who say women “ask for it”, I have one question, how did an eight-year-old “ask for it?”
When Everyone Fails You
But what really broke me was when my school failed me. There was a classmate who molested me every day for two years when I was in the ninth and tenth standard, but no one did anything. My teachers never made me feel safe enough to walk up to them and talk about it.
The constant victim-blaming made me believe that ‘they’ will say it’s my fault. So I just endured. I endured when that boy touched me, I endured when he said filthy things to me. I endured when he told all the boys in class that I was the slut who has lost her virginity to him. This is before I even knew what virginity is. What a piece of sh*t.
I do want to report this, to call him out but I don’t know how. Our system works on witnesses and evidence. And I have neither.
When Tanushree Dutta’s story broke and there were people demanding to know if she has any proof, I realised my assumption was right. A survivor’s word is not worth two dimes. You need a detailed eye-witness account, preferably with video proof, for your story to even be believable.
He Followed Me and Waved Goodbye
Another incident that happened a few years back shook me to the core. It is also the one that I kept replaying in my head and cursed myself for not doing anything about. (This has been the hardest one to write too)
It was a January morning. I was getting late for drama practice. At Rajiv Chowk metro station, I squeezed myself into the choc-a-block general compartment. I was at the door and suddenly I had the feeling that someone was rubbing himself against me. For a minute I ignored the sensation, thinking it was an accident because of the rush. But when it continued, I turned around to see there was a man right behind me – who must have been older than my dad.
And he was having the time of his life. He looked me in the eye and smiled. I don’t think I ever felt as disgusted as I did in that moment.
I tried changing my posture so that he would get the message that I wasn’t liking it, but it didn’t stop him. After five minutes when some people de-boarded, I moved and stood at some distance. When I got off, I looked over my shoulder – the man had the audacity to follow me to the top of the stairs and wave at me.
Most of you right now would be like, “Why didn’t you shout?” or “You should have slapped him right across the face”. Believe me, only I know how many times I’ve pictured slapping that bas*ard.
Over the years, I’d tried getting over that incident but could not – the feeling refuses to leave me. I felt ‘dirty’ and beat up myself for not raising an alarm. But I was numb. Too numb to shout.
But over time, I have also tried to forgive myself because I read and heard other survivors talk about how they also went numb when they were harassed and it was normal for that to happen. You don’t have to blame yourself for it.
After that, whenever I have felt uncomfortable in the metro because of someone's proximity to me, I have asked them to back off. Sometimes, this has made me wary of well-meaning people too, but I cannot help it because of what had happened.
Desperate Need to Believe Survivors
Working in a newsroom can be hard sometimes, especially when there are reports of rape, harassment, assault every day, sometimes every hour. Working with social media more so, because you are constantly aware of what people think. You can no longer live in your own sweet bubble.
When the news broke about Tanushree Dutta levelling sexual harassment allegations against Nana Patekar, it was like any other news day – or so I thought.
As soon as the news went viral, social media was flooded with comments from random people asking for proof, saying that it was being done for publicity and “why didn’t she speak for 10 years?”.
I just have one thing to say – stop judging and listen. A woman deserves to be heard, no matter when she decides to speak. It’s not because she wants something out of it – except for justice.
It’s hard. It’s hard, accepting something terrible happened to you. It’s hard, feeling uncomfortable and cheap for no fault of yours. It’s difficult knowing that you didn’t do anything. The hardest part is forgiving yourself for “letting it happen”.
My message to all the survivors – it’s not you. It’s them. Harassment is not justifiable. It’s okay if you did not speak up, you had your reasons and it’s more than okay if you decide to. More power to us!