Friday, April 26, 2013

Child Sexual Abuse Awareness Month April 2013 - Courage

This post is part of Child Sexual Awareness Month, April 2013. April is almost over, and I didn't speak till now because I thought my brief memory was nothing in comparison to the horror others have endured. But while casually telling the story the other day, I realised how my mother's response changed my perspective on the entire thing. And that's what I want to share. 

It was a hot summer afternoon in Delhi. Coolers roared in every house, fighting the scorching heat. No one stepped out unless necessary. I was 8, and I was walking home alone from where the school bus had dropped me. No one came to pick me up - my mother was home with my little brother, not wanting to step out with him in the heat. Most of my friends walked home by themselves. Our apartment was part of six blocks, of six floors each, linked with inter-connected corridors on each floor. So it was easy for me to get off the bus and walk home through the maze, never hitting the main road. It was safe.

But I didn’t feel safe. As I neared the last stretch, my steps slowed. Even though I gazed down at the stairs I was climbing, I was looking out for him. He had been waiting for me at the same place every day, and his eyes would follow me as I walked past. My steps would quicken and I would pretend to look through him as I walked past him and hurried the last 100 meters home.

That day, he was standing at the top of the stairs – surprising me by waiting at an earlier spot than usual. There he stood, looking at me, fly gaping open between his hands. In horror, I took a few seconds too long to look away. I pretended I could see nothing, that he did not exist. I walked within 10 inches of him, crossing him on the stairs to go home. I don’t know what he wanted. I didn’t know if his sick mind had planned beyond that moment. Back then, I didn’t really know what he could do to me. But I did know I was scared. I went home. My mother saw my face and asked what was wrong. I started to explain, unsure of the words to use. Unsure of her response. 

I don’t remember what I told her, but she got it right away.

And then she went charging out of the house. My little brother stayed home alone - she forgot about him in that minute. “Where was he standing? Show me? Is he still there?” she demanded, on the warpath. I still remember following meekly but hurriedly behind her, scared of what she would do if she found him. The man had disappeared. Ma looked around, scanning the stairs, the corridors stretching away from us. She stood there for some time. I don’t know what she would have done if she had seen him. I don’t know if she knew what to do. But the next day she was at the bus stop to pick me up, shifting my 2-year-old brother from one tired arm to another, mopping her sweat with the edge of her saree.

Did I get off easy? Yes.

But I will never forget that afternoon. And I think what I remember more than the fear was the thrill of knowing that my mother, my smiling, friendly, chatty mother, went out ready to fight on my behalf. That’s when I knew I could tell her anything and she would listen. She would believe. She would act. And that gave me courage like nothing else.

Does your child have that courage?