Earlier this year, I reconnected with an old friend. Our conversation was regular, run-off-the-mill, touching upon our every day lives, when things took a different turn. Something brought up an old memory of abuse at the hands of a person in power, and I felt safe enough to share it with her. What started off as a safe space closed in on me, leaving me feeling suffocated and silenced with the sound of her response ricocheting off the walls of my mind: “But surely, a person of such stature couldn’t have done that without you asking for it.”
Aside from the discomfort and the triggered memories, I was left with a sense of fear of meeting people who may not understand, or who may respond in a way that retriggers painful and difficult impacts. She left me with difficult questions. How do we cultivate empathy in a way that builds lasting circles of solidarity and inclusion? How do we strive to support those around us that have faced assault, abuse, and harassment, and are working toward shaping their own healing journeys?
We’ve grown up understanding that sticks and stones may break no bones but leave no less a destructive impact in their wake. And yet, we have also socialized ourselves into becoming callous in our response to survivors, especially, of sexual assault and harassment. The writing is on the wall, be it through the news or in conversations around us: sexual assault, harassment, abuse, and violence continue around us, often covertly, often by those in positions of relative power, and often, as repetitive occurrences. And yet, we respond poorly to survivors, most often without thinking enough to educate ourselves.
This made us think, deeply.
Through Saahas, we try to create spaces of safety for survivors to find, access, and rely on support specific to their needs in the aftermath of any form of gender-based violence. Language is powerful: it has the capacity to evoke tears with as much ease as it has to put a person in comfort. Using it in a way that helps, heals, and makes peace can go a long way in creating and nurturing safe spaces. To extend this further, we partnered with a brilliant initiative in our city, called The Mithra Trust, and crafted an extension of their existing “What to Say” series, where we drew up common problematic responses to stories of sexual assault, and recast them into what we should be saying, instead. Today, this repertoire is available in 10 languages. We’d love to have them translated into more languages, too, so if you can translate the deck into a language you don’t see on this list, do write to us on firstname.lastname@example.org.