I was sexually assaulted on a Sunday. Rather, to put it correctly, I have been sexually assaulted many times — just like every other Indian woman has — but most recently I was sexually assaulted on a Sunday.
I remember because I had a wonderful Saturday evening with friends and woke up to a beautiful, sunny day thinking how this was turning out to be a lovely weekend. And then I saw a crew preparing to demolish an abandoned house next door. My partner and I asked them to pause because there was a kitten that had made the terrace of this building its home and I climbed up the dilapidated structure to try and rescue the kitten. A member from the demolition team came along to help.
When I came down, I had no kitten and had been molested several times within the span of a few minutes. To get away from the perpetrator, I held on to a flimsy branch of a nearby tree and jumped off the terrace. I returned home with hair covered with twigs, ankle swollen and turning blue, all muddied, scratched up and bleeding from my injuries. I sat on the floor, overwhelmed and still trying to make sense of everything that had happened.
I reached for my phone, messaged my friend N and asked her to come over.
She stopped by my favourite local bakery and bought enough food that it seemed like she ransacked the place. When she sat next to me, I told her that I didn’t know what to do. “You don’t have to do anything right now,” N said. “For now just be, we can figure it out together when you’re better.”
Right after the incident, I had walked up to the crew’s supervisor and told him what happened. When he questioned the perpetrator, he called me a liar and denied everything. When I countered what he said, he looked at the supervisor and replied “She wasn’t even wearing a bra.” The supervisor looked at me and just stopped short of saying “Well, what did you expect then?” Instead he said “This is why I asked you not to go and rescue a cat. You should have known better.”
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That stuck with me. Why did I not wear a bra? Why did I agree to wade through this crumbling, run-down house with a stranger? Why did I strike up a conversation with him?
“This is such a stupid train of thought,” N said, snapping me out of my “what ifs” and “why did I.” Anyone who has survived sexual assault knows what this feels like: wishing you had done just one thing differently and maybe you wouldn’t have had to experience that trauma. But the onus of any of this wasn’t on me, N pointed out.
Anyone who has survived sexual assault knows what this feels like: wishing you had done just one thing differently.
As a feminist, I knew in theory that it is never the survivor’s fault. But when I was in the situation, it was so hard to shake off all the internal slut shaming and victim blaming that has been so ingrained in me. Which is why I needed N around.
Another friend, M, joined us shortly. She became the voice of all the rage I was unable to express. “You want to thrash him up? I’ll call friends, you don’t worry,” was the first thing she said when she entered home. Amidst all the numbness and dissociation, M found a way to make me laugh and over board games, she gave me the distraction I desperately needed.
Finally, B, an old, wise friend showed up with more treats from my favourite bakery. We sat around playing Monodeal and eating marble cake and spent the next few hours just discussing how men are trash. Or sometimes even making morbidly dark jokes about what happened, making my partner and another male friend so uncomfortable and confused as all of us women laughed in sad relatability.
I don’t know what that day would have been like if not for my female friends, but given past experiences I would have spiraled down a hole of blaming myself, self-harm and just anxious fidgeting. But instead, I spent the day with my closest female friends, each understanding how complex and disorienting sexual assault is, all of them knowing when to hold me and when to leave me be, all of them forming a safe space for me within my home at a time when I felt most unsafe and vulnerable. And for such friendships and sisterhood, I will always be thankful. Even on days where everything feels hopeless.