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Reuters/Abhishek N. Chinnappa
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HOW REVEALING

A project in India is creating a safe space online for people to share their stories of sexual assault

By Maria Thomas

In India, it’s often the brutal or the large-scale stories of sexual assault that capture national (and even international) attention, be it the horrific gang-rape of a young woman on a bus in New Delhi or the mob of lecherous men chasing revelers on New Year’s eve in Bengaluru.

However, every day women across the country, both young and old, experience sexual harassment and assault in different ways. Many of them shrug off these smaller incidents but together they contribute to the overwhelming feeling of being unsafe and out of place in India’s public spaces.

That’s why on Jan. 13 a team of anonymous Indians, led by an Oxford-trained lawyer, launched How Revealing, a website dedicated to recording experiences of every magnitude, from unwanted stares on the street to public masturbation. Named for the common refrain that lays the blame for assault solely on the clothing women wear, the website sources stories from individuals across the country, including people of different gender identities and sexual orientations.

For the 29-year-old founder, who said she wanted to remain anonymous because it’s more important for the stories of sexual assault to receive attention, the website came out of an idea that she’d been thinking about for two years.

“I realised that a lot of friends and family go through experiences that happen so often that they felt there was no value in talking about it, or they were ashamed, guilty, embarrassed, or scared to do so,” she explained in an email. “So the idea was to create a safe space where people can share these experiences, whether so-called minor ones or major ones, in an environment of no judgement.”

The ongoing project currently has first-hand accounts from Indian women and men who recall incidents of molestation, catcalling, exhibitionism and abuse at different ages in cities such as Bengaluru, Mumbai, Lucknow and Hyderabad. Together, they make for an important and unparalleled public record, one that is a valuable resource in a country where crimes against women, for instance, are reported every two minutes.

The team plans to create a directory of organisations that offer support and assistance for victims with the goal of ending the blaming and shaming of those who suffer from sexual assault or worse. And in time, with enough stories, How Revealing hopes to finally be able to push for greater policy changes in India.

“There is an information vacuum in the country with respect to incidents of sexual assault and sexual violence,” the founder said. “Hopefully, the website will be able to fill that vacuum and create awareness about the issue, show that it is so complex, yet so universal.”