It’s extremely difficult for youth who have been sexually harmed to disclose abuse, and even more difficult to report a case to police. When survivors share their stories about sexual harm, it allows them to regain a bit of control taken from them when they were abused.
Bhoomi is a quiet and studious teenage girl who was raised by her father. After a fight with her stepmother, she ran away and was abused in the home of her friend’s friend. When the CSJ team first met Bhoomi, she was very hesitant to share about her experiences. She carried immense shame and blamed herself for what had happened. But as we prepared Bhoomi to give truthful testimony, she began to open up about the abuse.
An important need for survivors as they heal from sexual harm is to be believed and supported when they disclose abuse, especially from family. In fact, family support is almost always needed for a child to testify truthfully in court. In Bhoomi's case, her father believed her when he heard about the abuse and this support strengthens her as she pursues justice.
Bhoomi’s speaking her truth is the first step in erasing shame attached to the abuse. “Bhoomi inspires us because she's taking steps to not let the abuse define her or her life,“ CSJ lawyer Avaantika says. Adds CSJ social worker Nikita, “Her father’s support played a big part in that too.”
As CSJ explores how to use restorative justice (RJ) within the Indian context, we've learned it has so much potential to help survivors find their voice. Unlike the criminal justice system, the purpose of RJ is not about establishing guilt. In fact, offenders must admit the crime to participate in RJ processes. Rather, it's about creating a safe, supportive environment where survivors can ask questions, explain a crime's impact and work towards a solution that repairs harm caused by the crime.