Last year, I faced what I thought was the worst time of my life. I thought I would never be able to come out of the trauma I was going through every day.
I felt the weakest I hadn’t felt in all the years of my life put together. And this is probably the worst feeling to have- to feel so helpless you think you’re not going to survive any more storms life puts you through.
Many a times the biggest battle you have to fight is not the battle alone but the after-effects of the battle. You have to be your own hero not only when you face the incident or deal with the situation but also months after its occurrence.
I faced a pathetic case of voyeurism, a camera at the end of one’s hand would take pictures of me at my own house through the window. Twice a day for around five days, a guy used to come to the tenth floor from the eleventh floor, to stand near the balcony of my house, to manage himself on the metal railing of the balcony, risking his own life only to click photos and videos of me.
There were no tall buildings nearby for me to close the curtains tight. As a normal person visiting the balcony, you wouldn’t be able to see anything if you glance at my window.
I caught the act on the last morning when the camera was facing my house. I instinctively hid myself behind the sofa in foetal position and saw the guy’s reflection on the TV. I had not seen this face before, I did not recognize the man.
After a split-second of panicking, I grabbed a t-shirt and ran towards the door to catch the guy red-handed. I heard footsteps running faster than mine.
When I reached the staircase, the footsteps could no longer be heard. I went to the CCTV room and gathered a couple of friends and neighbours, and complained to the security personnel. It was the CCTV who revealed that it’s been happening from the last five days, twice a day. The guy lived in the eleventh floor and was an employee of the same organization I worked in, but a different workplace.
He had also left a note in front of my house telling me to call him, leaving his phone number on that piece of paper. His identity was clear as crystal.
By the time we reached his room, he had already vacated the place with his luggage.
I had to stop him from leaving the town just like he left his room. I had to find the mobile phone before that and delete the pictures he must have taken. I was desperate to take an action that very day lest I would get viral on the internet.
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I called up the seniors of my organization who immediately aligned the local HR. They made sure that the guy doesn’t leave the workplace till they get a green flag.
We collected all the CCTV footages showing him lurking around my house and ensuring that he doesn’t get caught. The process took us the entire day because that’s how slow reality works. Those CCTV footages take a long, long time to get copied and transferred.
When I reached the workplace and took the guy’s phone we had to download an app to restore recently deleted photos on the phone. And there it was – my photos and videos for five days, twice a day.
There were photos and videos of me doing mundane everyday things, unaware of who was lingering around. He knew the timings when I had to get ready for work and when I came back after work.
When we confronted him, he, a well-educated, well-paid and young employee, immediately accepted that he stalked me yet refused that it was wrong what he did. His reasons were that he didn’t upload it on the internet so he must be forgiven. Twisted!
A man guilty of a crime stood in front of me without shame, without guilt. His only remorse was that he got caught, that I, instead of being another woman, turned out to be a manager in the same company he newly joined.
He did apologize and to show his seriousness he resigned from the organization immediately. But his firm stand on how he believed it wasn’t a crime, made me shiver in fear.
I spent the next few days being afraid of going to my apartment. I was fearful that he may try to take revenge on me, that if I fought a legal battle I would lose.
I was afraid to go to the police, because of a previous experience at the police station. I didn’t expect them to be sensitive to me or treat me with respect because of my young age or bachelor status.
My worries knew no limits.
I felt weaker every time someone would say that I did a brave thing by complaining, that it was enough. I had the sudden realization that people do not usually complain, that I was an outlier and hence, was called brave
Instead of feeling brave I felt like I did something unconventional, something normal people won’t do. I started to want this matter to be kept as a secret. I started being afraid of the storm after the storm had passed.
All this because I was not able to, contrary to my expectations from the confrontation, make this guy who violated my privacy, genuinely agree that what he did was wrong.
I joined back work after a week and tried to act normal, as if nothing happened, accepting that the storm had elapsed.
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I survived each day in fear that he would show up at my door step or someone else would I survived each day in guilt that I couldn’t rewire his brain into considering a sincere assurance that he wouldn’t repeat such a crime in the future.
There weren’t many people who would actually understand what I was going through, to give me strength, to say to me that they have got my back as I take a stand for myself. For them, it was routine life; while I was pretending to play my part.
In a week I broke down and headed home to my parents.
I confided in my family a little late for the fear that they would worry for my safety, living far from where they did.
I was made to feel that it was not a big deal if someone had a scantily clad photo of mine. That it was okay even if it circled the internet. I could have been nude in a beach so there is nothing to be ashamed of it.
A week too late but I was no longer alone, no longer afraid. My family had my back. I got the courage to file a cyber-crime complaint, to know the legal procedures, to know the punishment involved.
I returned to work after another week, having fought two battles- one external and the other internal, after the external was over. I was proud of myself for having dealt with it. The worst was over.
Except that it wasn’t.
There were times I would get to hear a rumour about me. Those rumours came from both men and women.
There were rumours that something happened to me because I go out with boys, or because I live alone.
There were questions about how could I allow something to happen to me. Although the fact was that I didn’t allow anyone anything and hence, I stood up.
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And then there were subtle accusations that I would file a case of sexual harassment against anyone for anything. Anything.
And those words kept coming to my ears for months, of how people should refrain from hanging out with me because of what happened to me, and so on.
There was no way I could be myself again. Did it happen to me because it was me? Was it because I lived alone? Was it because of what I wear or what I eat or who I go out with?
But there were words carefully spoken to me that helped me resume normal life, that it wasn’t my fault, that it could have been anyone in my place. That I can be careful of the windows from now onwards.
The fear of those glass windows seeped into my friends too, who heard my story. One makes sure all curtains are well shut, the other has brought a CCTV camera, and another one would put two curtains in place of one for extra precaution.
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Everywhere I went, I made sure the windows are well-covered. It was just my ears that couldn’t be covered from the rumours.
It’s been a year now and I try my best every day to be my old happy self. Yet every time someone makes a casual joke on Sexual Harassment, I feel personally attacked. I often feel like they know either the partial truth or something that could be untrue.
So, every time anyone briefly mentions those two words, I feel uneasy. I do not know how many women or men get uncomfortable when they hear casual remarks on sexual harassment. I know quite a handful of people who do.
So, I do think we should be a little more careful about what we speak. Because we do not know what battles the other person is going through, we do not know if behind a smiling face lies a deeper trauma.
It is not okay to talk about how anyone can file a case of sexual harassment against anyone for anything. Indeed there could be instances of false allegations or misunderstood gestures, but those would still be less than the actual cases people are facing. There would be people who would not be in a very good position in terms of professional status. They would be afraid to come out and complain because of such judgement and accusations.
If we can’t help someone else, let’s not bring them down with rumors and gossiping. You don’t know what they get to hear and how that affects them.
It is not okay to declare that someone’s accusation must be false just because of the way he or she dresses, or whether they drink or smoke, or whether they look happy.
The people around me wouldn’t have an idea that I could be writing this just because of my exterior personality. This article cannot make my life easier. But we sure can aim to make someone else’s life easier, to be a little more sensitive towards what we say, to be more supportive and empowering to those who stand up for themselves. To never forget, that we do not know what someone else is going through.
If you’re reading this and going through similar problems, please know that you can always confide in me. I promise to listen and to support you through the thick and thin.
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