Deo Shares #WhyIDidntReport

#WhyIDidntReport sexual assault? This popular hashtag on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram is driving conversation on why sexual assault often goes unreported, a discussion that has been long overdue. The hashtag
03 Oct 2018 13:45
Deo Shares #WhyIDidntReport
Roshika Deo with the former first African-American First Lady Michelle LaVaughn Robinson Obama.

#WhyIDidntReport sexual assault?

This popular hashtag on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram is driving conversation on why sexual assault often goes unreported, a discussion that has been long overdue.

The hashtag originates from the alleged sexual abuse of US Professor Christine Blasey Ford.

According to a report on BBC on September 23, ‘President Trump inadvertently spawned the new and trending hashtag after questioning why Professor Ford did not report her alleged sexual assault by his Supreme Court nominee when it happened 36 years ago’.

Closer to home, someone who has been in the public eye who ran as an independent candidate in the 2014 General Election has taken the bold move to use this hashtag to share her story.

Roshika Deo revealed on September 24 on her Twitter account that she was first sexually abused at seven years old. She also claimed at 21 years old she was also sexually abused.

She tweeted: “My family told me at 7yrs to forget that it ever happened.He was allowed back in the house. My housemate told me that it was my fault for letting my ex stay over becoz he needed a place to stay for the night.”

Ms Deo who describes herself as a female revolutionist joins the chorus, of women, children, and men the world-over who are coming out and telling their stories on the social media platforms.

The following is an in-depth interview with Ms Deo on her experience and why she has chosen to finally speak about her sexual assault experience.

At what age would you say you understood what sexual assault is?

I think I understood at around seven-years-old that it wasn’t right and it didn’t feel right. I knew it felt wrong but I didn’t know the language or the words to articulate or express it until I was a high school senior. Then you learn this through movies or conversations with older cousins but not necessarily in a way that is empowering and informative.

You were seven-years-old when the first incident took place, what did you understand from that incident? What thoughts did you have at the time?

The sexual abuse was over a period of time. Obviously, there are certain feelings that get etched in memory. He was an older first cousin and used to look after me and my younger siblings, and work for the family business. In the beginning it is presented as a game, so as a child you are excited. Then eventually the feelings change to confusion, disgust and shame. There was a lot of crying.

When your family and roommate discouraged you from taking action, how did that make you feel?

When as a child your family shames you, tells you to forget it and not tell anyone, you hold onto that most of your life. As a child growing up in a very conservative family, you are completely reliant on your parents and what they tell you is what you do. Otherwise you get a beating at home.

Taking action was never even part of any conversation on this. It was a given that no action would be taken. He was family and it was important to protect a misplaced sense of ‘honour’ that most families have.

Plus the male member of a family is far more valued and regarded than the female members. So even if you get sexually abused over a period of time, how you felt and how it would affect your life and growing up didn’t matter. What only mattered was that no one found out and he be forgiven, and brought back to the house after a couple of years.

Even as an adult at 21 years, taking action or reporting it was never part of any discussions. The first reaction you get when you tell what happened is the one that’s the most powerful and has the most impact on what you do next. When you are told it is your fault. When you are already living with years of denial and self blame, it is very easy to fall prey to the same sentiments in any context.

Looking back now, do you think the response you got from your family and roommate changed your perspective on things like trust and dependability?

Yes. I think my family failed me. Not because the sexual abuse happened. That was beyond their control. They trusted someone and left us in his care. That was not my parents’ or my family’s fault. The failure was when I told them what happened they didn’t do anything for me. Their failure was when they thought it was more important to protect him and themselves than me. Their failure was when they let him back in the house. Their failure was that they still continued to have a relationship with him and give him importance. The failure was that even today, they refuse to acknowledge what happened to me and continuously dismiss my experiences and how it has affected me since thereafter. .

Did you tell anybody else about it? Why?

No I didn’t tell anyone at that time. When you are around 7 years old and your parents tell you forget it ever happened and don’t speak to anyone, that’s what you do. You forget and you don’t speak about it. The first time I spoke about it when I was 20 years and to a university counselor, who also tried to justify what happened.

Then the following year I was raped by my ex boyfriend and once again the only person that knew was my housemate and another friend. Didn’t say it to anyone until now.

Did you consider reporting your ex-boyfriend to the police after the incident regardless of what your roommate said?

It didn’t even cross my mind to report him. When you grow up knowing that you hide sexual assault, you pretend it didn’t happen and it will bring shame and blame, why would reporting even come to mind?

Even though I was at an Australian university the level of awareness on sexual assault on campus and among students was hardly present.

It wasn’t even an option really. He was my ex-boyfriend. He was Australian. I was an international student. I was already feeling extremely vulnerable with the coup that had just happened in Fiji and the suffering my family were going through. There was that trauma to deal with.

How did you deal with the emotional disturbance post both the incidents?

Initially, it was by negative coping mechanisms and bad mental health. Over time, with proper support and access to mental health services one heals or at least learns how to positively cope with the trauma.

Certain images/content, some family members, unhealthy intimate relationships and other specific things can be triggering.  One then has to decide whether they continue having a relationship with those family members, or when to disassociate yourself from conversations about sexual assault online etc. It’s a process that one goes through with professional help and support from friends to set boundaries and decide what works best.

Why do you think victims in general don’t report about these incidents?

For many reasons people don’t report instances. Shame, blame, family, fear of retaliation, cycle of violence, no support etc. But most important is the family and the people that are the most immediate around you. Your first point of contact following the incident and their reaction to it determines heavily how you react. One’s circumstances also influences it. When one feels independent, in control and feels they have power they more likely to report and speak out.

What can be done?

It is so important to talk about mental health and to have easy access and non-judgmental care. We lack these provisions in Fiji.   Families need to change their attitude and response to sexual assault. As a society we fail girls, women, boys, queer people and men that are sexually abused.

We need to also challenge the rape culture as this purports sexual violence against girls and women.

We need to remove men and boys from the pedestal that we put them on and hold them accountable.

Given that men are in most positions of power and influence, many of them are also perpetrators of violence and they uphold the
structures that allow this violence to take place.

We need to hold powerful men accountable and we need to have more women in these positions.

We need the system to change and urgently. 

Edited by Ranoba Baoa


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