What will you say?

Kirthi Jayakumar
Posted November 13, 2019 from India

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 [email protected].













This story was submitted in response to #IStandWithHer.

Comments 11

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Jill Langhus
Nov 13, 2019
Nov 13, 2019

Hello Again Dear Kirthi,

Good luck with your story submission, dear!!


Nov 13, 2019
Nov 13, 2019

Helo Kirthi,

I agree with what you said and I quote: "we respond poorly to survivors, most often without thinking enough to educate ourselves". We need to continue to educate ourselves.

Nov 14, 2019
Nov 14, 2019

This is a very good initiative!

Language is extremely important and it is so disappointing when women resort to questioning, blaming, and doubting other women who ran to them for solace.

We should listen with empathy and compassion to women instead of adding insult to their injury.

I hope that those reading your post will adopt your words. Thank you very much for this.

Anita Shrestha
Nov 15, 2019
Nov 15, 2019

Dear Sis
Thank you for sharing

Nov 16, 2019
Nov 16, 2019

Dear Kirthi,
I relate to most of your point. Especially regarding not trusting anyone who might not understood.
Kirthi you are a brave courageous woman. I know how the feeling is. How are you doing as in today?
I hope you are doing very well. My kind regards to you and have a great weekend.
Take care of yourself

Nov 16, 2019
Nov 16, 2019

Wow beautiful, I'll love to translate into my language, so that those who can't read English can I dentify with it. Thanks for shearing

Nov 17, 2019
Nov 17, 2019

These cards are fantastic, straight to the point and helpful...and encouraging empathy vs judgement. What a wonderful project and initiative for all survivors. Bless you!

Tamarack Verrall
Nov 17, 2019
Nov 17, 2019

Dear Kirthi,
I am so sorry to learn that you were betrayed by the unconscious remark by a trusted friend. That stings deeply. I agree "we have also socialized ourselves into becoming callous" and that all too often people "respond poorly to survivors, most often without thinking enough to educate ourselves". I believe as well that these responses, automatically defending violent men, are deep-rooted in a deep desire that this amount of violence toward especially women and girls can't possibly be true, deep denial, mixed with a taught fear not to associate with women speaking out, in case her own vulnerability to attack might increase. The cards are brilliant. What a gift of work to send them out to us all in so many languages already.
Loving greetings dear sister,

Mercy Kusi
Nov 18, 2019
Nov 18, 2019

Victim-shaming remains a big problem. Thanks for taking up the initiative to let victims share their stories.

Nov 18, 2019
Nov 18, 2019

Dear Kirthi,
So good to see this initiation. The materials are so reading friendly and catchy. Congratulations .. Indeed this is a very important issue, how you say it. It comforts a survivor and that is one of the most important things for building confidence. I would be very happy it can be translated into Nepali too. I would be more than happy to be part of this or contribute to this, please.
Best regards,

Nov 23, 2019
Nov 23, 2019

Hi Kirthi, hugs. Thanks for sharing.