Monday, April 3, 2017

How Revealing

A group of Indians have worked together to create in the hope that it will be a safe space to deal with these feelings. Anyone can post their stories on their platform, so that writing about them will legitimize these feelings and people know they are not alone. Here’s an interview with Urmila, one of the founders.

Let's start with something about you. Could you talk about yourself, your work, growing years and education to the extent you feel comfortable sharing?
I am Urmila and a lawyer and I, like many women in this country, have grown up hearing (from various quarters) that one must not invite attention or ‘ask for it’, one must dress ‘decently’, be less angry, not so argumentative, that if a leaf falls on a thorn or a thorn falls on a leaf, it’s the leaf that gets hurt….  I could go on but I think my anger and despair at this normalization of apportioning blame, and, shaming the person who experiences sexual abuse and sexual assault, are major factors behind having initiated How Revealing

What inspired the creation of "How Revealing"? Was there a particular reason?
I realised that a lot of friends and family go through experiences that happen so often that they felt that there was no value in talking about it or they were ashamed/guilty/embarrassed/apathetic or scared etc to do so. One of the main reasons is the constant blaming and shaming, continuously hearing that one is wholly or partly responsible for being assaulted. So, the idea was to create a safe space and an inclusive platform where people can share these experiences, whether so-called minor ones or major ones in an environment of no judgment. Experiences of sexual assault are common but they should not be 'normal', anywhere in the world. Also, the ‘small’ and ‘casual’ incidents of sexism we encounter regularly, when we are made to feel ‘touchy’ for raising our voices – we want to record these experiences as well because it is all part of and contributes to the same, larger problem.  We also realized that men who haven’t had experiences of sexual assault sometimes know of them from people close to them – friends, family, partners etc but also, more crucially, have absolutely no idea how bad it could be. I have had this idea for over two years now, since early 2014. I was mulling over it, thinking of different ways to do it and how best to go forward with it while simultaneously looking for the right people to take it forward with. I found that in Pigeon & Co. and Penguin Thoughts, the two studios I have partnered with. Pigeon & Co. and I have had multiple conversations over the last year regarding the form the website would take and how we can make it as easy and as welcoming a forum as possible. We decided that it would be a dedicated platform for people to share and that would be its sole focus, along with the links to Support organisations. We are not a forum to 'report' incidents of sexual assault but we are a platform to share, to let it out of your system, to speak out.  The reason for the name How revealing can be found here - our attempt at reclaiming a common victim-blaming and shaming refrain, and to show ‘how revealing’ attitudes and behaviours are towards sexual assault in India.

What are your goals for the project, and what defined these goals?
The goals of the project are multiple. We want to reduce the normalization of victim-blaming and shaming and to that end, the stories speak for themselves. Along with that we want to have the immediate impact of helping survivors know that they are not alone.  Simply put, the message is – You never ask for it, you are not alone, you can speak about it and you can seek help.

In time, and with enough stories, we hope this will be a movement for change that can impact policy changes in the country, especially in areas of survivor support and justice mechanisms. There is an information vacuum in the country with respect to incidents of sexual assault and sexual violence due to under-reporting and stigmatization, and hopefully, the website will be able to fill that vacuum and create awareness about the issue, show that it is so complex, yet so universal.

The more people share, the more we can understand its scale and depth, and the better we can try to solve this issue, find different solutions, better solutions. In a country like India where this is so much stigma surrounding the issue, speaking openly and fearlessly will hopefully help reduce it, even if through an online platform like ours. We also hope to destigmatize seeking support and assistance if someone needs it by making it a little bit easier through the links to organizations gathered and provided on our Support page.

In the medium to long term, we also need to think about how to reach more people, the non-English-speaking, non-urban, non-Internet connected sections of the Indian populace who will have experiences that they want to share.

Having put up a bunch of stories already, where do you see this going? Do you have more ideas / campaigns in the pipeline that you want to take off the floors with this?
The response has been positive and heartening and we have about 65 stories already. It’s early days yet and we launched only on Jan 13, 2017 so it’s barely been a month. We have been brainstorming ideas on how to take this forward using different mechanisms and will do so in due course.

What are some of your major challenges in the journey so far? Have you had a lot of resistance?  How have you dealt with these challenges? 
The major challenge – how best to get the message across to people that this is an inclusive platform and that it’s not only for women. We want anyone who has had an experience in India to post, whatever the gender identity, sexual orientation, age, nationality – we also want people who haven’t had a direct experience of sexual assault to write about their emotions associated with it. We deal with this by reiterating it at every step, with every interview we give and we are in the process of getting the message across in other ways as well, by getting in touch with organizations working in the space. To solve this issue, India’s ‘rape problem’, we need everyone .

Right now, storytelling seems to be one of the most significant factors in addressing abuse and trauma related to abuse. What, in your opinion, makes the mechanism so effective? 
How Revealing as a platform allows people a chance to anonymously tell their story, break the silence and let it out and in the process, understand that you are not alone. That is a powerful mechanism because writing is cathartic and one of the ways in which a person can begin to deal with trauma relating to abuse. The other side to this is that not everyone is experiencing trauma but still want to write, to share, to get it out of their system ,whatever the emotions be it anger, fear, apathy, shame, guilt… so story-telling as a mechanism allows for that too. Once people share their stories, we want to get the message across that your journey need not end here and if you so wish to get help or support, there are avenues for that.

What inspires you? What keeps you going?
We get messages expressing profound gratitude for the platform from people who have never spoken about their experience of sexual abuse with anyone and many times, the first time they are letting it out is on How Revealing. This is what keeps us going and from the response we have got we know that there is a need for a dedicated platform like this. In about a month we have had about 60 thousand page views which is great.

9. What is a typical day in the life of How Revealing? How do you receive the stories, vet it and share them? Do you edit stories, do you tone down any graphic descriptions?

Yes, I am the only one who receives, reviews, edits and publishes the stories. So, they are carefully curated. I edit out identifiers i.e names of abusers or places or other details that can make identification easy. I also make other minor edits like spelling errors to keep the flow of the story intact. We are not a platform to report incidents , we are not a platform to discuss or comment on stories – How Revealing is a dedicated platform so people can share in a safe space so it can serve as a repository, for people to know, to learn from and to understand how sexual abuse and sexual assault happens and can affect people.