The internet has been abuzz over the last fortnight with morbid news of sexual harassment and abuse pouring in from women all over the world. It began with Harvey Weinstein’s fall from grace after scores of women opened-up about their experiences with the once-untouchable producer. In India, the Weinstein scandal was mirrored by the murky dealings of High Spirits Café in Pune, whose owner – one Khodu Irani – has been accused of sexual misconduct by several patrons and ex-employees.
The scene was set for something big to happen and all it needed was a spark. That spark was the #MeToo campaign that took social media by storm last week. What began as a show of solidarity by a few victims of sexual harassment and assault, in the wake of the Weinstein affair, quickly snowballed into something much bigger than the sum of its parts. Before long, women across the world were sharing horrific personal accounts detailing the sexual misconduct and abuse they faced at the hands of (mostly) men. For the first time, the problem was laid bare for all to see. It came as a shock to many people to discover the scale of the epidemic and it was only a matter of time before some men began to chime in with their own stories of harassment and abuse as well, thereby enlarging the scope of the discourse.
To those looking in from the outside, there was an utter bewilderment that so many of these accounts had failed to emerge into the public eye before this. However, as many of those in the know about such affairs were quick to point out, this was largely because there’s hardly ever been a concerted effort to draw all these victims out before and offer them a ‘safe space’ to talk about and come to terms with what happened. And that’s where How Revealing and other digital ‘safe spaces’ enter the picture.
Born Out of Necessity
In 2012, after the horrific Nirbhaya rape case in Delhi, Urmila (surname withheld at request) realised that harassment had become commonplace for most women, but it was rarely spoken about publicly. “In India, there’s such a sense of normalcy to it – ‘this is how it is, this is how things are’; there’s this line of thought that there’s no use in speaking about it and that’s when apathy develops,” says Urmila, adding, “But there are also other reasons why people don’t want to speak about it. As we see now with the Weinstein case, there’s a lot of stigma attached to these matters; a lot of fear and pressure, as well as victim blaming and shaming too. I began thinking about how to solve the problem of the huge information vacuum regarding these issues, especially in India, where most of these cases aren’t even reported to the authorities.”
The aim is to paint a bigger picture so that we can show society that something is very wrong with how things are currently… I would say that maybe 1% of the posts on the website have been reported incidents, so that makes this repository very valuable in the long run.
Urmila, Founder, How Revealing
Five years later, Urmila started How Revealing, the first – and so far, only – website for women to anonymously post about sexual abuse they have faced, so that other victims can see that they weren’t alone in their struggles, and to begin to normalise the process of opening-up about sexual harassment and sexual assault. Currently, the website has about 140 personal accounts, most of which are quite horrifying. But that’s what Urmila wants, “The aim is to paint a bigger picture so that we can show society that something is very wrong with how things are currently. And most of these stories aren’t registered anywhere else. I would say that maybe 1% of the posts on the website have been reported incidents, so that makes this repository very valuable in the long run.”
Their last two campaigns have been successes – tackling complex subjects such as Bystander Intervention and Why Women Don’t Report – and have greatly helped in furthering the discussion around sexual abuse and harassment. Both campaigns were intended to highlight society’s involvement (both implicit and explicit) in cases of women’s safety and resulted in several discussions in the media that helped to drive the noble cause further ahead.
The Long Road Ahead
What does the future hold for How Revealing? Urmila hopes for an expansion in the issues the website tackles, “We want men to come forward with their own stories – either first-person or third-person – so we can show people that this isn’t exclusively a women’s issue.” And given that the website already caters to women, transsexuals, non-binaries and people of diverse sexual orientation, it’s only a matter of time before the one missing demographic find their voice and join the discussion.
Another group of people whom Urmila wants to hear more from are those who know victims – be they family members, bystanders, partners or lovers, who have seen their loved ones or people they know go through this traumatic experience. All these voices are needed if we’re to tackle India’s ‘rape culture’ and understand the problem on a deeper level.
In the long run, Urmila, a lawyer by profession, hopes to collect enough of these accounts to be able to paint a clearer picture of the problem we’re facing and then use this to push for policy and advocacy changes that will help victims of sexual harassment and abuse, as well as future generations, find some redressal and peace of mind.
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