Why do we use the word survivor for a person who has faced sexual violence? We often hear of a debate around the terminology of ‘victim’ or ‘survivor’, and whether the latter devalues the victims who don’t survive sexual violence. ‘Why do civil society organisations get broiled in these semantic battles?’, some of you may have wondered. Today I would like to explain to you with an example. Why to us, she is a survivor and not a victim.
Imagine being a young teenage girl, who was abused for two years by her own father. Imagine finally discovering a safe space in a local community organisation and finding the strength to disclose this abuse to them. Imagine hiding inside a room, as that very father comes looking for you at that organisation’s office, while the staff wait for the police to come. Imagine going through a painful court process, testifying about your most horrific experience and seeing your own family come apart as a consequence. Imagine trying to rebuild your life, love a mother who blames you for her misfortunes, study in school and keep up with court dates. Imagine facing a biased community that looks at you with disdain instead of compassion, while trying to do this all.
And then, imagine another older man coming into your life, who starts abusing you, once again. And imagine being told by that man, that this is what your life will be, since you are ‘impure’ now.
This is the story of Rhea, a warm, loving and kind person, who CSJ has now known for three years. We have come to know her as an unusually selfless child, who always puts the needs and wants of others before herself. CSJ was contacted by the community organisation to which she first disclosed her abuse. We supported her in facing the legal procedures and in coming to terms with her trauma, though she would always be more worried about the impact the process had on her mother and brother.
She hesitated from disclosing her second abuse, knowing the harsh impact it would once again have on her family. It was only when Nikita, CSJ’s lead social worker, probed the signs of anxiety and fear she was showing, that she overcame the fear and shame of being branded ‘impure’ and finally revealed how she was re-living a nightmare we had all thought was over. The CSJ team once again assisted Rhea by producing her before the Child Welfare Committee, complying with mandatory procedures and getting her placed in a shelter home. All through this frightening process involving a physical examination and police procedures, Rhea remained calm and as was her nature, concerned about the people around her, asking the CSJ team to eat before she did.
Rhea is in a much safer and happier space now. All of us here at CSJ continue to be amazed by her spirit, resilience and undying compassion for others, in the face of deeply traumatising abuse. Children like Rhea, survivors in every sense of the word, inspire us to work harder to make a better world for them. They remind us that even when we struggle with the greatest of adversities, we can smile and move forward with grace, while doing the best we can. Their resilience empowers us to fight for their rights, to bring them true justice while in so many ways, they heal us.
With Rhea’s story, we come to the end of this year’s True Justice Heals campaign. The message of the resilience in children that we see, is a fitting end to these inspiring stories that we have lived and shared with you through the campaign. We hope we have conveyed the power of testimony, accountability, remorse, sensitivity, listening, acknowledgement and resilience, that we have seen in children through our work, to you. We hope we have inspired you to support us in our efforts to bring true justice to children.
Thank you very much for being part of and contributing to CSJ’s journey.