At ‘My Body Back’, rape survivors are handled with care

Pavan Amara, a student nurse based in London, was raped when she was a teenager. The incident turned her life upside down and it took her a long time to come to terms with it. She started to look for support but found few useful options. Amara contacted several women in a similar position to discuss how they felt about sex, body image and healthcare after the trauma. To her surprise, she was far from alone. She found that every single one of these women was seriously affected. Following which she set up ‘My Body Back’ in London, a project that supports women who have experienced sexual violence, focusing particularly on issues of body image and sexuality, helping them to reclaim their bodies as their own. Recently she started the first maternity clinic for victims of sexual assault and rape.
In an email interview, Pavan states that the UK and other developed countries are still relatively backward and blinkered when it comes to women’s rights. Some edited excerpts.

               (picture by Alisa Connan)

What kind of trauma your women seeking treatment in your clinic undergo during pregnancy and child birth?

We have created a different birthing pathway to ensure women who have experienced sexual violence receive the sensitive and specific care they need. The WHO also states that one in three women who have been in a relationship have experienced physical and/or sexual violence. When women are giving birth to their partner’s child, it’s not uncommon for the man by their side to have raped them at some point. The very least we can do is make pregnancy and labour as pain-free as possible for rape survivors.
Has the nature of sexual assaults changed in any way in the recent past, are they becoming more severe or violent?
I was speaking to a lawyer about this not too long ago, she has been a Queen’s Counsel for a long time and has dealt with lots of sexual assault cases. She was saying that she sees more sexually violent crime that mimics porn nowadays, compared to when she started working in the 1970s. This says a lot about the devastating impact violent pornography has on the lives of women.
Does rape still carry the stigma with it, even in developed countries?
Yes, while we live in a patriarchal world, women will be left to feel responsible and blamed for the crimes of men. No country or society is immune from this. The UK is no better than India in this respect. The UK has better public services, and so we have better support services than in India – but patriarchal attitudes still persist in the population. The UK and developed countries are still relatively backward and blinkered when it comes to women’s rights, we’re still paid less than men, the UK government does very little to support public services for women, and people still become uncomfortable when you talk about feminism and the need for it. Having said that, I know from personal experience that sexism is far more entrenched in India. But I feel Indians are better at accepting this and doing something about it.
How can society help in building lives of rape victim, how does a change be brought in the attitude of people towards rape survivors? What kind of support mechanism is needed?
Society needs to realise the extent of violence towards women and girls across the world and stop ignoring it. It’s not a small problem, an isolated problem, or something that affects a small proportion of women. This is a problem so many women encounter in their lifetimes because of patriarchal attitudes. The shaming and labelling of women needs to stop, we need to take a look at ourselves and individually change our behaviour. For example, if you hear your family or your friends saying something stupid, say something, staying quiet helps no one. Don’t be scared to make a fuss of things, things don’t change unless you make them change. Don’t be scared of what other people think of you, just do what you think is right and you can’t go wrong.