A couple of weeks ago, I walked into a Sexual Assault and Violence Educators (SAVE) meeting just in time for it to start. As I sat down and looked around me, I realized that there was one boy among around 20 girls.
I found it really intriguing that there weren’t more men at the meeting, or at any of the other SAVE events. I understood that it could have been partially due to lack of awareness about the existence of such an organization on campus. Yet what the lack of males highlighted more than anything was the existent stigma that issues such as awareness about assault and gender equality were women’s issues, as opposed to being human rights issues, which is what they actually are.
The fact of the matter is that people are abused and violated, and due to the fact that it could happen to us at any time at least, it is crucial that we recognize this as an actual problem. I’ve heard of and seen incidents of emotional stress and trauma caused by triggers and retellings by survivors, but up until quite recently, I always scoffed at this.
My first SAVE event was the Voices Against Violence that was held on Oct. 8. It was a speak-out event held out in the open, with food and drinks. People sat on the grass and we provided a mic for people to tell stories about their encounters with domestic violence and abuse in relationships. In my head, it was like an open-air slumber party. It turned out to be so much more than that.
People who I worked with went up to the microphone to tell stories that to be honest I didn’t think happened outside police procedural television shows. Encounters with emotionally abusive partners that Grey’s Anatomy writers would envision had everybody in tears as the event progressed.
As time passed and more people got the courage to speak out, I stood on the sidelines offering everyone hugs, thinking out loud to the other organizers that at the next event we should have people going around whose sole purpose would be to offer hugs. Hot chocolate’s biggest, and only, flaw is that it can’t hold you when you’re crying.
As I watched everyone around me breaking down and crying, I found myself in that awkward position where you’re feeling extremely emotional, but you’re unable to cry. Thankfully one of my best friends came through and in return for being helpful got to listen to me railing on and on about how unfair and unkind the world was—and every other thought and emotion that went through my head—relevant or irrelevant, coherent or incoherent.
That night I realized why people break down when they witness something tragic—and why even witnesses and bystanders can go through trauma. Unfortunately I learnt the hard way—by going through it myself. Even the next day I wasn’t able to get everything I’d heard out of my head. I tossed and turned getting minimal sleep, and called my mom and broke down crying first thing in the morning—probably not the best thing to do right before a Chemistry midterm.
What this incident taught me—apart from the fact that cocoa puffs are great comfort food—is that the cause I’m advocating is way more intense than I thought it was. This experience was more than enough to prompt me to write this piece. If I was so impacted by this, I cannot even begin to imagine what a survivor is going through.
I realize that one article isn’t going to change the world. Despite having written blogs and articles for the longest time I’m not a firm believer in the saying “the pen is mightier than the sword,” because I think that they both come of equal benefit at different times. My motivation to write has always been that if I could be the cause of at least one person advocating this, I would feel like I had accomplished something.
Arundhati Menon is a first-year majoring in computer science and economics. She is a member of SAVE.