How can we support survivors of sexual violence?

How can we support survivors of sexual violence?

Going ABOVE AND beyond

An awareness programme about the provisions of the POCSO Act.

It’s not your fault” and “you are not alone”— this is what any survivor of sexual violence needs to hear first. And from here be able to say, “It’s not my fault.” But this is not simple. While each survivor’s journey is unique, almost all blame themselves and carry some degree of guilt. The stigmatisation they face does not help. Without addressing these, healing cannot even begin. 

Indeed, the journey from ‘victim’ to ‘survivor’ is in itself long and rocky. Simply because a child (boy, girl or third gender) or even an adult has survived (as in, not killed or dead) after the incidence of violence, doesn’t mean they are a ‘survivor’. It is only when they shed their guilt and scars, address their pain and move ahead, that they truly become ‘survivors’.  And they need to be supported in this journey.

Timing is extremely important. Most victims or survivors need immediate assistance and support — medical, economic or even mental health. The nature of support is determined by who is the victim or survivor i.e. it depends on their gender, age, medical condition, socio-economic status and who the abuser is (remember over 70% of the abusers are known persons and many are family), and the nature of the abuse. 

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After several years of working with victims or survivors of child sexual abuse, HAQ: Centre for Child Rights, has developed its Restorative Care Programme to support this journey from victim-hood to survivor-hood. It draws upon ‘restorative care’ in the healthcare system, which refers to follow-up care and rehabilitation of patients whose recovery takes a longer period, and uses a multidisciplinary approach to bring such patients to their optimal functional level and as far as possible, restore them to their previous living arrangement. 

It has been found, victims or survivors of sexual violence need long- term care and support through a multidisciplinary approach.

Although ‘restorative care’ is not a term in the existing literature on access to justice, its elements are visible in the use of words like support services, relief measures, compensation etc.

HAQs multidisciplinary team is constituted based on a systematic psycho-social need assessment. This may include lawyers (if the legal case is still on), social workers, psychologists, therapists, special educators and any other professional. There are short-term and long-term interventions that are identified and provided. The services needed may be medical, residential (short or long-term), educational or even skill. 

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Recognising that the journey and needs of each individual are unique, the most critical component of ‘restorative care’ is casework management, and the most important person is the caseworker. This is the support person needs to ensure that the plans are executed and goals of ‘restorative care’ are achieved. 

Equally important is long-term hand-holding support to the survivor and their families with a proper and planned exit strategy to ensure that there is no sense of dependency. An adequate and appropriate support system requires infrastructure and resources. 

Victims need support in their journey to survivor-hood. But this will not happen until we stop treating it as charity and philanthropy, dependent on goodness of individuals and institutions. It must be a human right and become part of the justice system.

(The author is co-founder and advisor to HAQ: Centre for Child Rights, Delhi)