Issue 2, 2009
I Column

… on how sexual rights affect one personally, and how they are affirmed and/or violated in one’s local cultural setting.

hell house a survivor’s account of same sex abuse

I am a survivor of multiple child sexual abuse. Speaking about my survival has been an uphill climb for me. Sometimes I feel like I haven’t survived at all, the flashbacks take over and the past haunts like everything occurred just yesterday and not over a decade ago. However, with the help of friends and fellow survivors, my past and I have reached a relatively solid consensus over the frequency of panic attacks and sleeping disorders and have been leading a peaceful co-existence for a couple of years now.

While speaking with a journalist about the prevalence of Child Sexual Abuse in India, it occurred to me that women, while being seen as victims, were rarely perceived as being capable of meting out the same form of physical/ emotional/sexual abuse which they are portrayed as being recipients of. Slowly, my experience of being abused by a female friend when I was younger returned, and forced me to delve deeper into this uncharted territory of the female as a perpetrator of violence.

My parents separated when I was five years old, forcing a change of residence to my grandmother’s rambling old house. With time the house needed repairs and my mother and I moved in with friends at their house for three months till we were ready to move back. The friends had a daughter, Soniya, who was a little older than I, and rather prone to what we 13 year olds called ‘weird behaviour’. She would touch the girls in class and look at them suggestively, and for her to be called ‘lesbian’ was not uncommon. However, I didn’t succumb to the label drama and considered her to be a close friend. So it didn’t bother me that she and I were made to share a bedroom and a bathroom for those three months, not to mention going to school and sitting next to each other (she insisted). The abuse therefore, was a shock, and its roots continue to raise questions about my part in it, if at all.

It began at night, after a sumptuous home-cooked meal and a little television. I suffered from mild sleeping trouble, and it took me a while to get to sleep. Mummy always insisted that I get into bed at a respectable hour and lie down with my eyes closed till sleep overcame me. To Soniya however, I was the fastest sleeper around, she didn’t know I was awake. It started with her leg over mine, one arm across my chest. I chose to ignore that. It made heavy progress though, and every night became more and more awkward as I attempted to fathom exactly what was going on while her hands roamed all over my body.

The ‘AHA’ moment arrived when one night when I was reading a Sidney Sheldon novel (Tell Me Your Dreams) and reached the exact part where the central character realises that her father molested her. That night, Soniya attempted to divest me of my underwear and the puzzle pieces fit instantaneously. I feigned getting up to go to the bathroom and stayed there for the rest of the night, shaking with anger at the realisation of what was being done to me.

Being sexually-abused was not news to me, having been subjected to the trauma at the age of eight years by a caretaker in my father’s house. Being abused by a friend, another girl, was not only unbelievable but also an inescapable part of my stay in that house.

There was nobody I could speak with, least of all with my mother or hers, for obvious reason – nobody would believe me, and what proof did I have? Soniya did not physically hurt me, there were no bruises/cuts or any other marks to speak of. How could I prove that her hands were all over me, not to mention other parts of her? If I did disclose the abuse to the grown-ups, they would ask me why I hadn’t told them before. What would I say? That I was afraid that I had encouraged it by pretending to be asleep? If hell ever existed on Earth, I lived in the hub of it for those three months of my life.

Finally, the torture ended. We moved out of Hell House and into our own little space in my grandmother’s house. I felt relief, if only temporarily, but when a fish has been out of water for so long, even a droplet of water on its body will incite hope, and a desire to struggle. I was no different from the fish.

School became another struggle. Soniya had become accustomed to being with me 24/7, and demanded my attention at all times. From physical touching to meaningful glances, I felt like a pawn in a most dirty game.

I became labelled, like her. ‘Lesbian couple’, we were called, because of our so-called ‘closeness’. From being apathetic about labels, I became paranoid about them. Any hint of closeness to another girl, be it a friendly handshake or sharing a lunch box, and I would run away from the situation.

Hair. I felt that my hair and overall appearance had something to do with the abusive relationship I shared with Soniya. Ugly. I must become ugly to survive. Thus began a reaction to abuse which I need help with, till date.

Uglification became my defence. From a healthy weight to overweight, long hair to short, and friendly disposition to withdrawn, ‘Uglification’ of body and soul drove away friends who would otherwise have been around for me.

Suicide was another option. I cut myself regularly in the hope that one day I would hit an artery that would put an end to the pain and confusion I was feeling.

Ten years later.

Today I feel a lot better about myself and am thankful that the suicide option did not work out. Soniya and I are in touch. I confronted her about what she had put me through and she apologised to me for it. In terms of forgiveness I wouldn’t say I have forgiven her 100%, there’s still a little anger left that I need to work with. Soniya, by the way, is bisexual and I respect her for it.

On an episode of Salaam Zindagi on NDTV, I spoke about my abuse (same sex) for the first time and anticipated a lot of hate mail but instead, received messages of solidarity and empathy from both male and female survivors.

While I acknowledge that what I went through with a female who was also a minor cannot be technically-termed as being ‘child sexual abuse’ as it is more about exploratory sex and touching, the experience left me feeling victimised and left behind scars which are visible, although much lighter than before.

Same sex abuse follows the same definition as child sexual abuse – an unequal power of an adult or older person over a minor (child). In the context of my personal experience, my abuser was close to two years my senior and used her power over me.

Pranaadhika Sinha founded Elaan, an NGO dealing with Child Sexual Abuse and Incest awareness/support in 2007 after running it as a survivor support group for four years. She teaches Human Rights to school students and is currently writing a book on her experiences with sexual abuse awareness activism. Go to