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Oct 05, 2018

We need to believe survivors! This issue is making headlines in India too right now, brought into focus by actor Tanushree Dutta who has accused film personality Nana Patekar of offensive sexual behavior while she was performing a dance sequence 10 years ago.  Reportedly at that time there were as many as 100 people on the sets, including 60 – 70 dancers. Only one person has corroborated her accusations, a senior journalist, who says she saw what happened.

Several Bollywood veterans like Amitabh Bachhan have decided to keep mum, but there have been an increasing number of supportive voices from the industry, mainly from the younger set, which is heartening.  (See below)

Listen to Tanushree Dutta in conversation with The Quint


Why don’t survivors report sexual offenders rightaway?

In this case Ms Dutta did complain about Mr Patekar to their cine artists association, but it was brushed aside! (They have acknowledged their mistake now.) But a major number of sexual assaults are just not reported.

Preliminary results of a Global Sexual Violence Victimization Survey reported in The Quint tell us “…an overwhelming 60 percent of women don’t tell anyone including cops about the assault.60 percent don’t tell. Why do women often not report or speak up after sexual harassment or rape? It is so simple. Playing on power, the perpetrator has already established himself as superior, capable of intimidation and threat. In most cases, those who rape or sexually harass are men who are more powerful than their victims.” 

Power. It is a familiar scenario, in Bollywood, Hollywood and most work environments where gender stereotypes are still in place.

Survivors fear loss of status, support, livelihood. More often than not, society punishes those who speak up. They are lampooned. Aspersions of morality are cast on the victim – not the violator. Many survivors are urged by families to keep quiet and “live with it”.

But over and above all this, survivors fear the trauma of re-living the moment as they are questioned again and again and again….

What makes survivors speak out after so many years?

Survivors battle with a mass of emotions. Shame of having been in a humiliating situation, which robbed them of their dignity, violated their body and shook their sense of self respect. Even though it was not their fault, the sense of shame is sometimes acute. This battle can go on for many years. While some survivors are fortunate to undergo therapy to come to terms, many have to find other ways of restoring self respect and emotional equilibrium.

The majority of the ‘Me Too’ we are hearing these days is from survivors who have gained enough strength and courage over time.

Why doesn’t the world believe survivors?

Bust magazine reports:  “In a survey by the National Center for the Prosecution of Violence Against Women, it’s estimated that only 2 to 8 percent of rape accusations are false. Why, against the odds, do we not believe rape victims? Recent studies in neurobiology have shown that the brain processes trauma in convoluted, often indirect ways, providing some rationale for why police officers many not believe victims.

 “Neurobiology has evolved to explain why victims respond in ways that make it seem like they could be lying, even when they’re not. The brain’s prefrontal cortex – which is key to decision-making and memory – often becomes temporarily impaired. The amygdala, known to encode emotional experiences, begins to dominate, triggering the release of stress hormones and helping to record particular fragments of sensory information. Victims can also experience tonic immobility – a sensation of being frozen in place – or a dissociative state. These types of withdrawal result from extreme fear yet often make it appear as if the victim did not resist the assault.”

Basically, traumatic experiences like rape are often encoded in fragmented ways in the brain, making it so that victims cannot recall their assault in a clear, linear manner, often focusing on minutia (such as the attacker’s smell) that may seem insignificant to law enforcement. This can lead to discrepancies in victims' stories, as they’re not able to recall everything perfectly, causing officers to be suspicious about their entire report.”

Studies show that the trauma of not being believed is sometimes more destructive to survivors than the shock of the actual violation.

Tweeting in support of Tanushree Dutta

Some of the tweets/ messages from film personalities

Anurag Kashyap: “It is important to change, acknowledge and accept our mistakes. It’s important that we, this goes even for me, introspect and see the wrongs we have done. It’s time we all grew up. It’s the fault of the entire system, the conditioning”.

Swara Bhaskar: “#IBelieveYouTanushreeDutta

Pooja Bhatt: the least people can do is not discount Tanushree Dutta’s courage to speak up.

Farhan Akhtar: “This thread is very telling. @janiceseq85 was there at the time of the incident being debated today,”

Priyanka Chopra: “Agreed... The world needs to #BelieveSurviviors,”

Parineeti Chopra: “I agree too. Survivors are survivors because they have dealt with something horrible and come out on the other side. So believe them, respect them.”

Sonam K Ahuja: “Many of my co-workers,female and male have been harassed and bullied, but it’s their story to tell. If we don’t encourage their voices and instead vilify and question them, how will victims ever become survivors? Let them speak up! Stand up with them,”

Konkona Sen Sharma: “We all know the reality of the power imbalance that exists in the workplace. Let us encourage these voices instead of shaming them so that others may have the strength to come forward.”

Richa Chadha: "It hurts to be #TanushreeDutta rn. To be alone, questioned. No woman wants publicity that opens the floodgates of trolling and insensitivity.What happened to her on set was intimidation. Her only fault was she didn't back down-takes a special courage to be #TanushreeDutta."

Twinkle Khanna: “Please read this thread before judging or shaming #TanushreeDutta a working environment without harassment and intimidation is a fundamental right and by speaking up this brave woman helps pave the way towards that very goal for all of us,” she wrote.

Filmmaker Hansal Mehta: “Will this also die a natural death with no formal complaint, no proper investigation and no punitive action against the predator if he is found guilty? Honestly, I am cynical about the outcome. These offenders go scot free because our outrage is short-lived. #TanushreeDutta “We must stop asking ‘what did you about it then’ and start asking ‘what can we do about it now’. It’s now or never”

Kunal Kapoor: “Whether it’s a man or a woman, just because someone is good at their work or charitable, doesn’t mean they aren’t capable of harassment.”

Simi Garewal: “#TanushreeDutta I've heard horror stories thru the years of this predatory jungle. Some girls became stars. Others disappeared quietly. Yes they took away your career. They darkened 10 years of your life. But they can't take away your voice & your courage!!”

Frieda Pinto: “I believe Tanushree Dutta!...I do know what truth, hurt and abuse sound like.”

Nandita Das: “The more women speak up, the more it will give confidence to others….”

Writer Varun Grover: “Neither I am #TanushreeDutta nor #NanaPatekar but even a cursory knowledge of gender-based power-dynamics and ugliness of male behaviour in this world should inform us that she’s telling the truth. Telling your stories is the way things will change.”