The leering gaze as you walk down a dark alley, the unwanted touches on a crowded public bus or the gestures that mock your dignity when you are waiting for an auto-rickshaw. Most women face harrowing situations similar to this, or more dangerous every day of their lives. In a world where a woman can face sexual harassment and violence anywhere– from public places or her workplace to her home, it has become essential for us to learn how to protect ourselves. From knowing how to ward off a predator to understanding how the law protects you, the most important weapon we can arm ourselves with is the information and knowledge to defend ourselves.
How to Protect Yourself from Harassment in Public Places
According to a study done by ActionAid in 2016, approximately 79% of Indian women have faced some form of harassment or violence in public spaces. This includes leering gazes, catcalling, groping, molestations and rapes. Whenever one finds herself in a dangerous situation, it is essential to exude confidence and think logically to save oneself, despite the fear and panic.
Here are some tips to help you be safe:
- Whenever you travel to particularly unsafe places, keep a trusted family member or friend informed. Tell them your routine or plans so that they can notify the authorities in case anything untoward takes place.
- Stay aware of your surroundings. Know where you are going and who is around you. It will help you notice anyone who is following you, helping you stay prepared.
- Stay off the phone. While it might make you feel safer to talk to a loved one, it renders one of your hands occupied in case of an attack. It also distracts you from noticing any potential predators.
- When you are in a crowded public space, scream and shout to call attention to yourself and the assailant. This works specifically in crowded places like buses, theatres, and busy streets. The crowd is likely to help you out, and ensure you are safe. Use your voice to alert those around you.
- Always carry pepper spray with you. Today, you get smaller bottles that easily fit in the pockets of your pants. It is important to know how to use the weapon against an assailant as well, keeping it easily accessible and ensuring it doesn’t affect you as well during usage. You can use your keys to injure the perpetrator as well.
- If you have to use force, attack the assailant where it hurts the most. Use your shin to kick them in the groin, or use the heel of your palm to use hit their neck or throat.
- Download the 112 app by the MHA, Government of India on your mobile phones. You can use this app to generate a panic call that will alert Emergency Response Centres. You can also use the ‘Shout” feature which will alert registered volunteers in the vicinity for immediate assistance apart from activating ERC.
How Do I File a Complaint?
The Criminal Law Amendment Act, 2013 (Nirbhaya Act) gives all women rights to fight sexual assault. Acid attacks, attempts to acid attack, sexual harassment, act with the intent to disrobe a woman, voyeurism and stalking are punishable offences under this act.
The Police are required to register an FIR (called zero FIR). No police personnel can refuse to register a complaint. Doing so is punishable by law. If the complaint lodged occurred outside the area of jurisdiction, the Police must register the complaint and forward it to the concerned station. The victim cannot be denied her Right to Privacy while recording the statement – ensuring that no one except the concerned officials overhears the statement by the victim. The Police cannot refuse to register a complaint even after a considerable amount of time has elapsed since the offence occurred. A woman also has the privilege of lodging her complaint via post or email. The law also protects one’s identity – under no circumstances can the Police or media use the name of the victim. Even courts refer to the woman as “the victim”. Another critical fact to note is that a doctor cannot decide whether a case of rape has occurred. A medical professional can only determine recent sexual activity.
The Prevention of Sexual Harassment at the Workplace Act, 2012 has also been passed to protect women from abuse and harassment in their workplace.
How to Escape an Abusive Home?
Most victims face abuse and assault by someone they know. They could be a close relative, friend or neighbour. It takes incredible courage and bravery to report the abuser and seek help. A stigma of societal pressure, honour and shame prevents most victims from reporting abuse. The abuser often manipulates the victim into staying in the relationship. In most cases, the abuser is a spouse or significant other who gaslights, threatens and emotionally manipulates the victim. Here are the signs of domestic abuse.
In India, approximately 30% of women have faced domestic abuse and violence. In most cases, these crimes go unreported, and the victim does not seek help. It is important to confide in a trusted friend or family member. Begin to set aside money for yourself, and start looking up for a safe place of shelter outside of your current home. One can file a complaint under the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005. It is crucial to contact the Police, legal services and numerous NGOs and services which help women in such a situation. Here is an article which details the legal recourse for victims of such abuse.
These are the helplines which you can contact in any time of distress.
All these measures, however, are only to help women today lead a safer life today. The world will continue to be a dangerous place for women to live until we enforce stricter laws and rules, ensure speedy justice and hold ourselves, and the society to higher standards. We live in a society where we expect and accept violence against women. Even for bystanders, these cases become just another statistic and are forgotten as yet another case. A friend confiding in you about her abuse, the casual misogyny a female worker experiences or the bruises you see on your domestic help is not just another statistic. It cannot be callously dismissed as “something that just happens”. It is a violation of rights and abuse of a human being, and nothing will change until you raise your voice against it.
We can promise the next generations a safer world only when we ensure the concept of consent is understood by all: where heinous crimes are punished quickly; and the social stigma of reporting of sexual assault goes away. Until then, women will have to stand up against any harassment and prove that they are no inferior to men. We’re all equal beings in this society, there’s no need to hide, fear or feel ashamed.
Written by Siri Rajanahally for MTTN
Edited by Vaishnavi Karkare
Sources: Forbes Magazine, The Swaddle, Nari, The Indian Express
Featured Image by Ishika Somany and Samara Chandavarkar for MTTN