Ahmedabad: Anuja Amin, 37, founded Circles Of Safety in 2015 when her first daughter was barely a year old. The organization’s motive was to tackle child sexual abuse with the help of the 3 Es: 1. Educate 2. Empower 3. Enrich. “I was a victim of child sexual abuse, and I knew that finding my voice and telling my story was the first step in my healing journey. I knew that this step would help me cope with the trauma–I’ve always wanted to do something about this, and the birth of my first daughter gave me the final push”, she says.
For Anuja, it all began when she was 5; She grew up with her parents in a bungalow away from the city. Whenever there was no one around, her house help would lay her down on the bed and touch her inappropriately without undressing her. Her mother would be busy with daily chores, and her father would be at work. After he was done, he’d carry on as if nothing had happened.
“My memory is very blurry now, but I think it went on for almost a year, but I didn’t know the difference between safe and unsafe touch, so I never said anything,” Anuja recollects. Sadly, this wasn’t the only incident.
Growing up, she was molested by her watchman and, once, by her exam supervisor. “The supervisor sat next to me on the same chair, kept his hand on my thigh, and held my shoulder tightly; I was terrified and couldn’t think clearly. I failed that exam & had to repeat an entire year”, she recollects.
Like many families, Anuja grew up in a dysfunctional home, so there were enough issues at home; she didn’t bring up her problems because she didn’t want her parents to worry. Even if she wanted to tell someone about her experience, she was not equipped with the words or the emotional vocabulary to describe it.
At 13, her parents agreed to send her to a boarding school upon her insistence–the change of place was a relief to Anuja. “For the first time, it struck me that what was happening was wrong. Even then, I just repressed my pain”, says Anuja. “I had serious body image issues; I’d always use ‘ugly’ as my password everywhere. And for 2 years, I was in a toxic relationship because I felt I deserved it.”
Once, when Anuja was at Crawford market with her mother, a stranger sexually assaulted her. “A stranger just shoved his finger under my dress! I vividly remember being stunned, crying, and blaming myself for wearing a short dress in such a crowded place! Ever since, I think I am in ‘survival’ mode when on the streets- holding a big handbag in front of my chest in crowded areas or covering my body with loose clothes to avoid unwanted attention.”
The faces of the perpetrators changed, but such incidents kept happening. Anuja found it difficult to show affection and trust in romantic relationships. She never realised that the impact of her childhood trauma had manifested in so many aspects of her life. It took her 21 years to unburden and disclose the abuse to her mother and her would-be husband. A month before she was about to get married, she broke the news to them– “At 26, I told my Mom & husband everything. I thought it’d let me go into my future unburdened.”
But a month later, when her parents gifted her a collage of her childhood photos for her birthday, she spotted that same servant in a picture holding and lifting her! “I just broke down. I realised that I was nowhere near being healed & began therapy. I started reading about child sexual abuse extensively.”
The ability to ‘bounce back from trauma without support and guidance from a counsellor is majorly overstated. “Although it may seem that I was functioning alright on the surface, it is only when I sought help from a counsellor that I was able to address the many triggers that disrupted my sanity. The safe space made me feel heard and seen, without judgment.” ?
In 2015, Anuja founded ‘Circles of Safety’–to educate parents and the community on body safety. “I’m even trying to introduce Sex Ed right from grade 1. In 2016, I began workshops in schools to educate parents and teachers on prevention strategies. It takes a village to prevent child sexual abuse. Each one of us must do our bit!” says Anuja.
30 years later, Anuja is still healing. “Now, I’m a mom to 2 daughters; I began teaching them about consent early on. If my 3-year-old feels uncomfortable, she says–’ I’m not comfortable with hugs.’ I’m glad they raise their voice for something as small as a hug. Because, you know what, they didn’t need to take my clothes off to violate me. A layer of cloth means nothing when you take away someone’s consent.”