"I was repeatedly sexually abused by our driver when I was about 10 or 11, yet nobody trusted me because one, he had been with us for years and two, because I was a male child,” says 30-year-old Suraj Tripathy, a Delhi-based banking official, who is working towards creating awareness about sexual abuse among children in Rohini area of the capital. While it doesn’t come as a surprise that both genders are victims of sexual abuse and harassment, not many men come out and speak openly about their nightmares.
With the social media campaign #MeToo becoming a rage after Hollywood actress Alyssa Milano posted a message on her Twitter handle about it, asking others who have been sexually abused and harassed to post #MeToo in reply, millions of women around the world, and some men have raised their voices. The campaign has highlighted the magnitude of the problem yet not all men can speak up about it. Supported by men across the world, #MeToo shows just how important it is for men to speak about sexual harassment instead of brushing the issue under the carpet.
Tripathy, who still gets nightmares each time he thinks of those dark times, says, “He could take advantage of the fact that both my parents were working and that he was appointed for ferrying me to and from school and tuitions. He often touched my genitals and sometimes hurt me too. At times he would make me fondle his private parts and smile in a mysterious way. Although I didn’t really understand what it actually meant as I was too young, I knew it was not right. Initially I tried telling my parents, but it didn’t work.
Later he threatened me by saying that he would kill my parents if I disclosed this to anyone. I was so depressed and scared that I started deteriorating in studies and eventually failed in my exams too. It was then that my parents sent me to a boarding school in Delhi and I was out of his clutches. But up to this day, I regret that I couldn’t get him punished,” adds Tripathy who hails from Dehradun.
Age no bar
While we often think that young boys are the most vulnerable targets for such heinous crimes, adult men too are victims of abuse. City-based graphic designer Sounak Chatterjee, who works at an advertising company, was abused by his female boss. “This lady, who was at least 10 years older to me, was initially very helpful and friendly. I was quite happy as I was in a new city and thought that a positive work environment was a great start for me, but hardly did I know her intentions. To pass my designs and illustrations, she started asking me for sexual favours. When denied, she would sit close to me and press her bosom against my head. Given that it was a startup and only four people worked there, it was easier for her to do that,” says Chatterjee for whom things became worse when she forcibly kissed him on his lips.
“I went and filed a complaint at a police station too, but since there was no proof, no CCTV footage, and she got the benefit of being a woman, the case was dismissed. I left that job but the incident has shaken me so much that even after four years, I’m scared to befriend a woman or work under a female boss,” confesses Chatterjee.
Not just a woman’s issue
Among many other men who posted #MeToo as their Facebook status, is city-based youth and founder of Are We Foundation (NGO) Rohit Valecha. He says that the stories people shared are heart-wrenching.
“Nearly every woman I know has faced some form of harassment. And many continue to face this each day of their lives. Some choose to ignore it, some are tired of raising a voice against it. And unfortunately, many give up. If women across the world have faced this, the only conclusion is — all men are guilty. The argument here that ‘all men are not the same’ is futile, because we men have failed women,” points out Valecha adding that reading these stories on his feed made him feel ashamed. “I’m ashamed of the fact that it takes so much for men to even acknowledge a problem we know exists. We can’t take our gender, our privileges, our society status for granted. It’s high time we took responsibility for our actions and became better men,” says Valecha.
Seeing so many people talk about it openly today saddens him deeply, but doesn’t surprise him. “Courage is not always about fighting back, it’s about speaking up. You may or may not want to join this movement, that is your prerogative. But if you are paying attention to social media and watching this movement, you can see the magnitude of this epidemic. This is just the tip of the iceberg, there are millions without access to computer and internet, who face some or the other kind of abuse, on daily basis. And there must be many who have chosen to not share it. Survivors don’t owe their story to us. For everyone who has gone through this, whether you post #MeToo or not, you are a survivor. More power to you!” he concludes.