As I write this to you now, I am choked with anger. My fingers refuse to move across the keys as my mind is clouded with pain and anguish. My team has just rescued a three-year-old child. Her baby voice demands a “packet” from me. I am at a loss trying to understand what “packet” she is referring to. And then my colleagues gently inform me that she is asking for a strong Indian drug called “gudumba”, which is sold in packets.
This child had been doped, intoxicated and sexually exploited for over six months. For once I am unable to say, “better late than never”. The damages done to this child are unpardonable, and a stain on humanity. I feel the outrage that has simmered inside of me for the last 26 years come to the surface all over again.
As a teenager, I survived gang rape. It was then, for the first time in my life, I understood what shame and enforced isolation meant. It was a surreal experience. I was accused of committing crimes, and told that I was responsible for my own violation.
So I not only came to know sexual violence first-hand, but also the burden of shame and guilt.
But the experience was also a transforming one for me: a moment of reckoning. I knew then what should be the reason of my existence. I chose not to be idle, but to fight for the rights of victims of the worst forms of sex crimes imaginable: human sex trafficking. I founded Prajwala, which is today one of the largest organizations in India fighting sex crime and sex trafficking. Prajwala is also one of the nine NGOs that is spearheading the #HerVoice campaign, calling on the government to end violence against women and girls by actively tackling rape culture and better enforcing existing rape laws (you can sign our petition here).
Over the years, I have met thousands of survivors and learnt unpleasant truths, which remain almost completely hidden from social view. In the last 12 months alone, as a part of the special intervention started by Prajwala to support rape survivors, we have dealt with over 293 child rape cases, the youngest being around two years old. And all of this was just in two small states in India.
There is a silence, an eerie one, supported and perpetuated by each one of us. We do not want to acknowledge that it is this silence that encourages perpetrators to act with impunity not only in India but all over the world.
A world free of sexual violence cannot happen by the intervention of a selected few. It can only happen if all of us make it our personal choice to stand up and fight. Maybe it is about working with our sons. Maybe it is about breaking gender stereotypes. But mostly it is about speaking and acting when it is required the most.
There is no better time than now. I call upon each one of you from every corner of the world to sign our petition and stand with #HerVoice. Our collective voices and our collective action will be the only way to make this world a safer place for Her. Let there not be another little one going through what this little one has gone through.
Sunitha Krishnan is the founder of the anti-human trafficking organisation Prajwala, and a survivor of gang rape. Prajwala is one of the nine Indian NGOs who have partnered to launch the #HerVoice campaign.
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