The last few years have seen a major upswing in how many horrific sexual assaults and violence have been getting reported. Just when one thinks this is the worst that could happen, every new month even more such stories emerge, each with unbelievably sickening histories of how, where, how many, for how long and so on and so forth. With social media being so active and so many news channels on the air and in print, there is no shortage of public discussion and outrage. The call for action is palpable in every public arena possible.
A person must literally be living under a rock to now know about all this happening.
While there is so much in the public arena, let’s talk about what might be happening in the more private and intimate spaces of a loving relationship when such news breaks.
Often, there is nothing.
Early in the relationship, many unspoken rules get formed. We make a pact as it were, on what is OK to talk about, and what is not. Sometimes, it is directly spoken about and agreed (“I don’t want to hear about what you discussed with your school friends unless critical,” for example or “I don’t understand your work at all. Please don’t bug me with details about some issue you solved.”) Mostly though, these rules come about based on what we observe. How did your partner react to a movie scene showing the hero forcefully plant a kiss, for example. Or, what did your partner do when you talked about a friend who was molested in the metro, or when there is some more innocuous news on TV, say for example on an inter-community marriage.
One makes decisions pretty early to say how much the relationship can bear, and one edits oneself accordingly – and that’s generally OK.
Thing with news reports such as on sexual assault is that for many people who have gone through sexual violence in the past, these news stories when they break or when they are being analysed and spoken about in detail, it can be triggering. The new reports might bring up old trauma and pain, even after having spent much time and effort in getting some degree of healing. It is at such times that one starts to really feel the need for a safe, loving space to just talk and if there is any kind of spoken or unspoken pact that the relationship is not open for such painful but necessary conversations, then it gets really tough. Sometimes, it can even threaten the relationship itself.
As a loving partner, if you think you need to be the one to be able to support your partner through any such pain, that you want to be the shoulder that gets leaned on, remember that you cannot suddenly become that person overnight. It is a privilege earned through all the small interactions. Watch yourself on how open you are for the small conversations if you want to be there for the big ones.
As written for and published by The New Indian Express
The Vishaka Guidelines of 1997 and the subsequent Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013, have gone to great lengths to specify systems, processes and protocols to make the workplace safer and our lawyer friends tell us, are among the best such laws in the world.
While the law is quite rigorous, the implementation especially at the local district and state levels is still nascent. However, many leading corporates and institutions have gone ahead and implemented the Act in letter and spirit, often going beyond the law to cover all genders and taking a larger workplace safety view beyond sexual harassment.
That said, all too often, reporting and getting action on sexual harassment is a real ordeal, even in work spaces where all the policies and protocols are in place.
Often, the idea of where the incident(s) took place and whether they were at the office premises become the first line of questioning, and despite the growing virtual workspaces and blurring of boundaries between work and private spaces, and the wide definition of 'in the course of employment,' there is a reluctance to fully investigate a complaint if the incident happened outside the office. Secondly, despite very specific guidelines on how cases are to be documented, confidentiality is to be maintained, closure obtained and communicated, often action is through undocumented meetings, verbal commitments and actions oriented towards creating a 'compromise' especially where no hard evidence exists. Thirdly, leaks in the process mean the 'news' gets out, other employees take sides or form opinions and the work environment could become hostile for either or both the parties.
In the process, the complainant who is reporting an offense ends up feeling victimized all over again, or - on the other hand, the one complained about finds their reputation tarnished even before they have had the slightest chance to defend themselves. Many times, the process is exhausting emotionally and the parties just want to close and move out or move on, and that then can leave the complaints committee with questions of what is fair or just, and if they really addressed the complaint fully.
Point is, creating safe working spaces need to go far beyond documenting policies and procedures. Sensitizing all the people involved in the process is critical to its success, as is ensuring confidentiality and maintaining rigorous documentation. Wide-spread communication and keeping up awareness on the rights & responsibilities of all staff is important.
That said, while there are some baseless and malicious complaints intended only to hurt, the larger reality is that most complaints are genuine and yet victim-blaming continues to be the norm. The complainant's personal history, habits, prior relationships, performance history at work, history with the person in question and everything else gets dredged up. That needs to stop for more people to feel confident enough about the system and the processes to report any issues, and for the work place to be fully safe.
This post is inspired by a social media campaign by Himani Auplish aiming to increase awareness among the people about harassment after the harassment
Ajanta, Mahesh and other InnerSight counsellors and guest contributors are happy to share their thoughts here.