Do you know somebody who has been sexually assaulted at some point in their lives? Most likely you do! In India, a child under 16 is raped every 155 minutes and a child under 10 every 13 hours. Over 53% of children who participated in a Government study reported some form of sexual abuse and about 50% of abusers are known to the victims. In 95.5% of cases, the attacker was known to the rape victim in 2015. In the US, one in five women and one in 71 men will be raped at some point in their lives. One in four girls and one in six boys will be sexually abused before they turn 18 years old.
If those numbers clutch you by your spine, know that rape also remains the most under-reported of all the crimes. In the US, about 63% of cases are not reported to the Police.
Robert Uttaro hasn’t written a book about numbers and figures because numbers are perhaps irrelevant to a survivor. Going by the percentage of unreported cases, they are also misleading at their best precision. Robert prefers the word ‘Survivor’ for a rape victim. The word victim is defeating and gives more power to the perpetrator whereas survivor gives the control back to the ones who are trying to overcome a tragedy. To many people who have suffered some form of sexual violence, identifying as a survivor is empowering. These numbers may move you, trouble you, or inspire you to do something about the problem. However, you would have started on the wrong foot because numbers don’t present to our mind and consciousness the real stories of these survivors. A victim has no use of such statistics. To understand an affected, we must listen to them when they choose to speak and that’s what Robert has managed to do successfully throughout this book.
The book starts with Robert’s own story of how he volunteered for THP (The Healing Place), understood that he didn’t understand a lot of things about rape survivors, and went about learning from his seniors and colleagues at THP. Robert works in the Outreach and Education wing of the center and the nature of his work has allowed him to ‘interact with, learn from, teach, and help a lot of people from different walks of life’. A major part of the book entails the stories of survivors who chose to volunteer for survivor speaker engagements. The author has recorded their stories as told by them voluntarily in conversation with him. While the survivors have spoken about how they were violated and what they did to heal themselves, the author has deftly steered the conversation to stress on different aspects of sexual violence through these narrations. While one conversation discusses the inadequacies of the legal system, another one talks about the role of one’s faith and spirituality in the healing process, done tangentially to the story being told so as to not dilute them. Robert Uttaro comes across as a great listener and a master conversationalist. It is a matter of fact that most of us don’t understand this crime well enough and such an arrangement of conversations fills the knowledge holes in our head.
The stories as told by the survivors take us into the deepest and most difficult chambers of their being. They speak about the assault, the assaulter, response from the family members, the realization to get healed, and the healing process. No two stories in the book are same and yet they are similar in more than one way. Stories differ because they are the stories of different individuals who have lived through the horrid experience. Their approach to life in the aftermath of an assault and the healing process is unique to them. However, the reader might feel similar pangs of pain in their gut and heart because all these survivors had to undergo something that shouldn’t befall anyone in the world. The stories are also similar because they all exude hope and help. These stories have been shared by victims who have chosen to become warriors against this crime.
Most of the people who saw me reading this book and had a look at the cover came up with one common response – “This is too heavy for me, I can’t read this book.” I’m not sure how Robert would react to this. Robert has tried to change this very approach to the subject of rape and sexual violence through this book. Our society must acknowledge that our legal system is inadequate in handling this problem. Instead of the perpetrator having a difficult time in the courts, the survivors have to live their assault repeatedly in the course of investigation and litigation. It is for us to understand that when a mere male voice can trigger a survivor who was raped by a male and send her into regression (read the book for the complete story), what does the reliving of the assault in open public do to them. The second point that our society must accept is that we as individuals and communities are miserable in our response to such incidents. We don’t teach this at school, we don’t teach this at university. The field is largely left to researchers and activists to explore and work in. When the crime is so common as to occur in every 6th individual’s lifetime, why are the most common people in our society not trained to respond with care, trust, and empathy if some survivor gathers courage to talk about the assault? With all our advancements, this unwillingness to talk about sexual violence in family, friend groups, schools, universities, or workplace is an unfortunate fact. Not only this creates a hostile atmosphere for anyone to speak out but also gives rise to a conducive environment for such assaults to take place and remain unnoticed. Mankind was perhaps born with a disability from the beginning. That we are not capable of empathising with the victim of a crime until we face it ourselves is a great bane and whenever there is somebody like Robert Uttaro who conquers this disability, it comes off as an exception rather than a norm.
The book could have used another iteration at the editor’s desk. However, that doesn’t take away from it the fact that it is one of most important books to have been published in our world and must be in our hands for us to understand this problem better. The most special part of the book for me is Jenee’s story and her thoughts on forgiveness. The book would have remained incomplete without it. If you’re trying to decide about getting your copy of the book, my suggestion would be to buy it and read it in silence with yourself, though Robert has another take on this.
I stepped into 2018 reading not only about one of the most heinous acts human race knows and indulges in but also about that proverbial light at the end of the tunnel. If you’re a survivor reading this, know that help exists, inside and outside and it is possible to encounter light well before you reach the end of the tunnel. Robert Uttaro has penned down a book titled To The Survivors and the most remarkable thing about this book is his sincerity. I wish that human race presses the reset button and eliminates this act for as long as it inhabits this beautiful planet that is today dotted with the physical, psychological, spiritual scars of rape survivors. That they can’t be seen from within our tinted glasses by no means warrants that they do not exist. We are a bleeding race and the book tries to soothe and heal some of the deepest wounds we have inflicted upon ourselves.