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The girl whose rape changed a country
06:22 - Source: CNN

Story highlights

Moni Basu's story on a rape survivor in India resonates with readers

The reporter's revelations were difficult to write

Many talk about their own lives after being attacked

They say it's the only way to change rape culture

CNN  — 

As a rape survivor, I have always wanted to give voice to victims of violence. But it was only this week, after the publication of a very personal piece on rape, that I understood how important it is to do so.

The response to my story about Mathura, a woman at the center of a landmark rape case in India, was overwhelming. On Twitter, on Facebook and on e-mail, the messages kept coming.

The girl whose rape changed a country

What stood out were comments like this one from Vilasi Venkatachalam, who tweeted: “We usually don’t care about the afterlife of a rape survivor. Very touching.”

Readers thanked me for caring about Mathura enough to embark on a journey to find her after four decades; to find out how her life had turned out. And in reading about her, others were encouraged to talk about their own afterlife.

Activist Seema Sakhare (right) with Mathura, who says she was raped by two policemen in India in 1972. The photo was obtained from a booklet published by Sakhare's organization.

Sarah Silver sent CNN iReport an account of her own rape. She was 20 then and intoxicated one night when a guy she had been casually dating drove her to a covered bridge in the middle of nowhere and demanded she perform oral sex on him. When she refused, he pinned her against a railing and raped her.

She spoke of her rape only one time. She was told it “didn’t count” because she had already had consensual sex with her rapist. And what did she expect when she was so wasted?

“The misogyny present in our culture and cultures all over the world sends the message to survivors that they should not try to be heard because they are inherently responsible for their ‘misfortune,’” Silver wrote in her iReport.

“I was lucky because I survived. I finally accepted the truth that what happened was NOT my fault.”

Silver told me she was moved by my story; that it affected her much more than a news article about rape. She was struck by how Mathura never got justice. Her perpetrators, two policemen who claimed innocence, were set free because India’s Supreme Court did not believe Mathura’s story.

Mathura did not scream. She had no visible marks on her body. Therefore, she must have consented. She was, as the court said, “habituated to sex.”

Rape culture. “It’s not going to change unless we talk about it,” Silver told me.

Sunday night I had signed on to Twitter and Facebook and told my followers and friends that the most difficult story I’d ever written had been posted on the CNN website.

True, because the story was critical to me. Mathura’s case helped spawn a movement to battle sexual assault and triggered significant changes in antiquated rape laws in my homeland. Finding her all these years later was not easy.

But perhaps more true because I had never before told anyone about my own rape in college; I broke a 33-year silence in a very public manner.

I braced myself for the reaction, from people who are close to me and did not know about what happened to me and also from those who might post comments that were less than sympathetic. I know there is still so much blame put on victims.

I also received messages from fellow Indians – all men – who were upset with me for writing a “negative” story about our homeland. Other men were angry because they felt I was blaming them for the problem of rape.

‏@affanckkhalfans tweeted: “it’s not men’s problem it’s all about urs u get it.”

But the immense outpouring of comments from women who had experienced violence in their lives buoyed me through what was otherwise a week filled with discomfort at work and nights tainted with bad dreams about an act that I had tried so hard to forget.

One woman, Sona, wrote me an e-mail about tragedy in her own life. “Your story touched a nerve,” she told me, “and I felt I could relate to you and the story both.”

I could tell it had taken time for her to deal with her own suffering.

Another woman, Durba, said this: “You penned the last word about violation … the unspoken word of a thousand women.”

Others said the story was difficult to read. They used terms like “pierced me” and “jolted” to describe how my words affected them.

There were many notes like this one, sent on Twitter from @lifeisgood1972:

“Thank you for speaking out about what’s happening. I know it’s heartbreaking. Thank you for being strong for all those who can’t.”

Some told me they could not understand how any man could be driven to rape. The story, they said, motivated them to take action and speak out for the first time about their own assault.

Another woman, who I won’t name because I have not yet heard back from her, told me she was raped when she was a little girl by servants who worked for her family. She never told anyone what happened out of fear. She felt she would be looked upon as damaged goods.

“I don’t feel that I am,” she said in an e-mail, “and I wish I had the courage to speak out about my experience like you did. Like Mathura did.”

Late Thursday night, I spoke on the telephone with a Bengali woman from Washington. Sumiko had not been raped but she had dealt with her own troubles with a man. She found strength in Mathura’s words: “Happiness. Sadness. What does it matter? What’s important is that I’ve survived.”

“Something that horrible happened to her and she still wanted to live,” Sumiko told me. It was a line that stuck in her mind, a source of inspiration to go forward.

We spoke for a while and I asked her if I could write about her in this story. She agreed and said this: “Can I ask you something? Please don’t portray me as a victim. My life is not over.”

Earlier in the day, I had spoken with Mona Singh of Texas, who shared her story about being groped, then stared at on a train in India. She described the incident in graphic detail. It happened 20 years ago and yet she remembered it like it was yesterday.

For Singh, although she was not physically assaulted on the train, the mental scars run deep. Every time her husband came near, she felt uneasy. Intimacy became a challenge.

“It may come across as selfishness on my part, but the more I heard about such stories, the better I felt. I was not alone.”

That is how I feel today as I write this, as my secret is no longer one. I am a part of a global community of women who have suffered, a community that is, unfortunately, a large one.

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