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Before Questioning Survivors, Question Your Inability To Believe Them

The unfortunate truth is that victims are often shamed, blamed, disbelieved and shunned.

After Raya Sarkar’s 2017 List of Sexual Harassers in the Academia (LoSHA), India’s second wave of #MeToo movement seems to be well underway with predatory men in the media and film industry being exposed. One common theme in most of the survivors’ accounts is that these incidents took place years ago. Tanushree Dutta was harassed by Nana Patekar and went to the producers and the Cine & TV Artists Association (CINTAA) when the incident occurred ten years ago in 2008. Neither the board of producers nor the association did anything. In the case of several many journalists, they never had formal complaints registered against them. Utsav Chakraborty, a comedian associated with AIB, has been sexually harassing women and girls for years yet nothing happened to him either. Queen director Vikas Bahl was accused of sexual assault in 2015 and the incident was reported to his business partner Anurag Kashyap a few months later, yet it took two years for any action to be taken.

When Tanushree Dutta first came out with the allegation ten years ago, many from the film industry shamed her into quitting. Recently Pahlaj Nihalani has said that Tanushree Dutta’s career was failing so she has resorted to blaming Nana Patekar for ‘publicity’. Nana Patekar has filed a defamation case against Dutta even though there are witnesses to the incident. When it appeared that journalist Sandhya Menon (@TheRestlessQuil) was alone, many questioned the veracity of her statements. But as more women have opened up about their own stories, it seems these questions are being put to rest.

Many have lauded women who spoke up but there are also many that have questioned why they did it over social media rather than official channels or report it to the police. These questions are asked from a position of privilege. Many men and women are aware that reporting these incidents will probably not do anything to the abuser. Instead, what happens more often is that the victim is punished for coming forward. Either they are fired straight away or retained but without any hope of professional growth. Almost certain that their accusations will result in more harm to themselves, they remain quiet. Just as everyone else in the world, even victims of sexual abuse have to consider their future. This might seem like they are complicit in the cycle of abuse but really, they are double victims of the society that will not believe or do right by them.

Many victims change industries or companies soon due to this. To many, this could seem suspicious. People who have not faced intimidation or abuse are probably not aware of the repeated trauma of seeing an abuser. Often the abuser either ridicules the person they harassed, with jibes about their lack of talent or tells them that one will believe them. Victim shaming or blaming comes up often especially if the victim was drinking during the incident. They might also threaten their victim with professional consequences or physical violence. If the victim tries to report the incident, they try to guilt the victim as it could mean the end of the abuser’s professional career or personal life.

It is not uncommon for victims of sexual harassment and abuse to undergo severe anxiety and depression. On one hand, the society questions a victim’s motive behind coming forward, citing the end of the abuser’s professional career, they do not consider the victim’s life. People question the victim as the most common assumption is that they are lying. There is a notion gaining popularity that many victims lie about their abuse. The truth is that most victims do not come forward about their attacks and even the ones that do are often silenced before they have a chance to make a formal complaint.

The unfortunate truth is that victims are often shamed, blamed, disbelieved and shunned. The thing we should remember is that coming forward with a claim of sexual abuse or harassment has a lot of negative repercussions. Supporting survivors of sexual abuse should come to us a lot easier. In a world that is filled with undeniable proof of the extent of sexual abuse, we should question our difficulty in believing such allegations instead of questioning the allegations.

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