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Expert Opinion: Mental Health And Behavioural Issues In Female Victims Of Violence Or Sexual Assault

Violence against women is a reality and it has worsened in COVID times. Boldsky had written about COVID-induced violence against women through the pandemic. What is also a reality is the bias against women who have been victims of violence or sexual assault. No data or statistics can give us a measure of the far-reaching impact that violent experiences have had on the mental and physical health of victims. To understand what kind of behavioural issues are seen amongst women who have been victims of violence and/or sexual assault, Boldsky interviewed Kolkata-based counsellor Mridula Bose, who is also a Trauma Informed Care Specialist working with victims of abuse.

Take a look at these facts and figures:

- Worldwide, 137 women are killed by a member of their family every day.
- Globally, violence against women disproportionately affects low- and lower-middle-income countries and regions.
- Less than 40% of the women who experience violence seek help of any sort.
- 15 million adolescent girls worldwide, aged 15-19 years, have experienced forced sex.

These are just a few of the many data points from the UN Women report on violence against women. More information is available on the web page of WHO. [1] and [2]

According to Mridula Bose, "Behavioural issues in victims of violence can be divided into two types - short term and long term issues. Issues that manifest themselves within a period of 1 week to 1 year are called short term issues. Issues that manifest later than 1 year from the incident, and stay with victims longer, we call long term issues."

Short-Term Issues Faced By Victims:

Anxiety

The immediate and most prominent issue is anxiety. Women victims suffer from severe anxiety concerning a possible future attack. Hand-in-hand with anxiety goes intense fear. Victims not only fear for their own safety but also about the opinion that society has formed about them and their families.

Victim Blaming

Victim blaming is common in India and bias against women is manifested through statements such as, 'She brought it upon herself' or 'She must have done something to deserve this'.

Reminder of Trauma

Added to these problems is the constant reminder of the unfortunate incident; family, neighbours, police officials and courts serve as constant reminders of the attack. Every little detail is discussed and dissected in public, which does not allow the victim to overcome her anxiety and intense fear.

Women devalue themselves

After a point, women are known to devalue themselves. Mridula Bose says, "This is particularly common in women from marginalised sections of society. When the victim lives in a small house with little to no privacy and there is a big crowd of people right outside, it begins to feel like a spectacle. I've had victims tell me, 'Didi, they have come to watch a show'."

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Insidious Trauma

PTSD or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and insidious trauma are other behavioural problems common in victims of violence and sexual assault. Victims suffering from any of these behavioural problems need therapy, just as they need treatment for potential physical ailments such as the chances of having contracted an STD (Sexually Transmitted Disease) or HIV.

In addition, there is the risk of becoming pregnant in the case of victims of rape or sexual violence. Unwanted pregnancies feed back into feelings of fear and self-devaluation.

Long-Term Issues Faced By Victims:

- Low Self-Esteem
- Self-Blame
- Guilt
- Denial / Blocking
- Suicidal Tendencies
- Change In Sexual Preference.

Incidents of violence and assault leave a mark on the victim for their entire life. Bose says, "Violence and sexual assault cause several long-term problems such as low self-esteem, self-blame, guilt, denial/blocking out the episode and in extreme cases, suicidal tendencies. Sometimes, women's sexual preferences change, too. Previously heterosexual victims may become homosexual or bisexual."
While self-blame makes victims ask the question "Why me?", denial/blocking manifests in "It did not happen; not to me".

What happens in case a girl / woman becomes pregnant as a result of rape?

On being asked this question, Mridula Bose said, "Conception arising out of an act of sexual violence serves as a constant reminder of the incident to the mother. It is not uncommon for women to feel resentful of their babies. Such children can be given up for adoption. If the baby is born to a woman out of wedlock, she (and her parents, if she is a minor) have the sole right to take a decision about the surrender of the baby."

Severe Mental Health Issues

Mental health is just as badly affected as the body. Victims are in as much need of psychotherapy as they are of medical attention. That is why experts are pushing for the presence of a mental health professional to be present when victims are interviewed by the police and courts. The ingrained bias in our society does not help and insensitive handling of cases of violence against women makes recovery of mental health difficult.

We wrote about the Maharashtra government's guidelines for sensitive handling of cases involving victims of sexual violence in our previous article. We hope such changes are properly implemented and are helpful in bringing some relief to victims who have already suffered so much.

For women in distress or facing harassment, help available in India at the following helpline numbers:

- Central Social Welfare Board - Police Helpline: 1091/ 1291, (011) 23317004;
- Shakti Shalini- women's shelter: (011) 24373736/ 24373737;
- All India Women's Conference: 10921/ (011) 23389680;
- Joint Women's Programme: (011) 24619821;
- Sakshi- violence intervention center: (0124) 2562336/ 5018873;
- Nirmal Niketan (011) 27859158;
- JAGORI (011) 26692700;
- Nari Raksha Samiti: (011) 23973949;
-RAHI Recovering and Healing from Incest. A support centre for women survivors of child sexual abuse: (011) 26238466/ 26224042, 26227647.

Mental Health Helpline Numbers:

1. COOJ Mental Health Foundation (COOJ)- Helpline: 0832-2252525 | 01:00 PM - 07:00 PM (Monday to Friday)
2. Parivarthan- Helpline: +91 7676 602 602 | 10:00 AM to 10:00 PM (Monday to Friday)
3. Connecting Trust- Helpline: +91 992 200 1122 | +91-992 200 4305 | 12:00 PM to 08:00 PM (All days of the week)
4. Roshni Trust- Helpline: 040-66202000, 040-66202001 | 11:00 AM - 09:00 PM (Monday to Sunday)
5. Sahai Helpline: 080-25497777 / Email at - SAHAIHELPLINE@GMAIL.COM | 10 AM- 8 PM (Monday to Saturday)
6. Sumaitri: 011-23389090 / FEELINGSUICIDAL@SUMAITRI.NET |2 PM- 10 PM (Monday To Friday); 10 AM - 10 PM (Saturday and Sunday)
7. Sneha: 044-24640050 (24 HOURS) / 044-24640060 | Email at- HELP@SNEHAINDIA.ORG |8 AM - 10 PM
8. Lifeline: 033-24637401 / 033-24637432 | Email at LIFELINEKOLKATA@GMAIL.COM | 10 AM - 6 PM.

Illustration by Freepik

Story first published: Wednesday, January 26, 2022, 19:13 [IST]