This Indian woman’s CLIMB brought together survivors from 18 countries to break the silence around sexual violence

19th Apr 2016
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I spent the next three years undergoing intense counselling and therapy. I was an insomniac. My grades suffered for the first time. The psychological trauma meant I wasn’t able to run again for nine years. And I even attempted suicide, to try and end the pain…. I challenge you to talk about rape once today and next time you hear another devastating story in the media. And keep talking about it. We must make this world safer for our women and young girls.

Rape is the most brutal of all crimes. The above statement was spoken by Amanda Dufresne at the One Young World Summit 2013 held in Johannesburg. The summit witnessed participation of over 1,300 delegates from 193 countries. A recruiter at Google Boulder, she is also associated with an organisation named SOAR (Speaking Out About Rape) through which she shares her survival story with people across the globe in an attempt to bring awareness and empower people to heal. Little did Amanda know that her story would inspire two fellow delegates, India’s Poonam Thimmaiah and Israel’s Shada Abuhattum, to start a global platform – Climb Against Sexual Abuse (CLIMB). Founded in February 2015, Founded in February 2015, CLIMB is a non-profit organization dedicated to empowering survivors of sexual violence and aims to put an end to the social repercussions and the stigma that exists in our society today.

Poonam Thimmaiah, Co-founder of Climb Against Sexual Abuse
Poonam Thimmaiah, Co-founder of Climb Against Sexual Abuse

Poonam says,

Silence is how most of us have been programmed to deal with sexual violence. We want to take away their fear and provide a platform to tell their stories publicly. Over time this will create an environment where more survivors will speak up and perpetrators are punished. The abuse that’s inflicted by our society after the actual act of violence needs to stop.

Shada adds,

Amanda celebrated her 10 years of survival by running a half marathon – the same she had been training for when she was attacked; post-which, she thought she’d never be able to run again. A decade is a long time. With the right platforms, legal and health services in place, and more importantly, the right mindset towards survivors, this can be tackled faster. And, CLIMB is working towards changing this mindset.
Shada Abuhattoum, Co-founder of Climb Against Sexual Abuse
Shada Abuhattoum, Co-founder of Climb Against Sexual Abuse

Sexual violence – A glimpse around the world

As Poonam and Shada rightly say,

There is no demographic, age, colour, religion, or social status that can protect a person from sexual assault. And a testimony to this is the fact that one in every three women globally has been a victim of sexual violence at some point in her life.

Statistics are worrisome – In England and Wales, over 85,000 women are raped every year and Sweden has the third highest rape crime in the world. In a country like Ethiopia, nearly 60 per cent of women are victims of rape. Even in a developing country like India, rape occurs every 22 minutes; yet most go unreported.

 

The Indian scenario

Women in India are victims of several types of violence such as domestic violence, caste-based violence, sexual assault, acid attack, trafficking, dowry harassment, rape, etc. According to the National Crime Records Bureau 2013, a total of 24,923 rape cases were reported across India the previous year. New Delhi was the highest with 706 reported cases. In the same year, the nation also witnessed the fatal Nirbhaya’s gang rape case. Nirbhaya, a 23-year-old physiotherapy student, was brutally raped by six men in a moving bus in South Delhi. Fifteen days later, she succumbed to her injuries. What followed were nation-wide public protests against the Central government for failing to have adequate safety mechanisms in the country.

As a response, the Women and Child Development Ministry approved the One Stop Crisis Centre (OSCC) Plan. An OSCC centre act as a one-stop facility that will provide all kinds of aid to women in distress, namely – medical assistance, immediate emotional and counselling support, legal advice, registration of police complaints and economic rehabilitation if need be. All this while maintaining complete anonymity of the victim. The Women and Child Development Ministry allocated Rs 1,000 crore each year under the ‘Nirbhaya Fund’ for the same.

Today, OSCC centres are slowly surfacing in states such as Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, and Uttarakhand to name a few. While progress has been inarguably unhurried, OSCC centres are a positive sign towards tackling sexual violence.

Empowering survivors through CLIMB’s approach

One Young World helped CLIMB in their starting up stage immensely by spreading the word about their initiative. Soon, passionate people started approaching Poonam and Shada and in no time, CLIMB managed to have chapter leads in 18 countries (right from conflict-zones of Israel, to developing nations such as Bangladesh, India and Nepal to the developed US and UK).

CLIMB

Poonam says,

“There are many layers of problems a survivor has to face – the inherent culture of victim blaming, gender-policing in many nations, lack of familial, legal and healthcare support and stigma, which is responsible for the varying degrees of freedom survivors have. In some countries the survivors are more open to speaking up and in others they can be killed for it. Hence our local Chapter Heads ensure that our programs cater to the traditions of every community.”

CLIMB is working towards breaking the silence around sexual violence, undoing the stigma by shifting the societal mindset to create a global change. The approach is three-fold.

  1. Encouraging survivors to own their stories – By interacting with survivors globally and empowering them to come out and share their survival stories (in written and/or video formats), CLIMB is creating a global network of survivors who can inspire, seek help, and learn from each other. And on the other hand, CLIMB provides a comfortable platform for more survivors to open up. Poonam says, “Breaking the silence will give power to survivors to come out and report, the society will start accepting and dealing with sexual violence constructively and law will punish perpetrators in a timely fashion.”
  2. Educational Outreach Programme – The organisation participates in local university-led conferences and seminars, as well as national and international events, to spread awareness on the importance of breaking the silence around sexual violence for social reform to take place.
  3. Mountaineering – This is perhaps the most innovative approach of CLIMB. It organises small treks with survivors as participants, which symbolises the physical and mental challenges a survivor faces. The idea is to undertake a challenging journey that would symbolise the connection between a survivor and a buddy, the difficulties around opening up about a horrifying experience, and then collectively overcoming a tremendous obstacle in their lives.

 

Impact and way forward

Recently, CLIMB’s South Africa chapter completed the organisation’s first ever climb – the Drakensberg climb – involving two female and one male survivors. The climb was covered extensively by print and broadcast media helping open up the conversation around the issue. Florence Masetla, SA Chapter Lead, says, “The survivors we took to the Drakensburg-Maluti mountains climb came out more empowered after the first climb. For instance the male survivor joined CLIMB as a trustee to empower more people to break the silence and is now an upcoming entrepreneur”


Apart from this, CLIMB has also documented stories and connected over 60 survivors across 18 countries and hosted more than 25 educational outreach events.

This year, CLIMB is planning to take individuals from different parts of the world on an expedition to Kilimanjaro to further the global movement. Other than this, CLIMB wants to increase its presence to about 10–12 countries, have more events, and introduce the mountaineering approach across all its chapters.

Poonam and Shada conclude by saying,

Our journey has just begun and empowering survivors has become our mission.

Website


Read More:

All that glitters is trolled: Facebook’s reaction to Barkha Dutt’s child abuse proves we know absolutely nothing about rape

Priya’s Shakti: Tackling rape through augmented comics

Bitiya, a dalit rape survivor teaches an entire village what respecting women means

Raped by her uncle and nearly sold by her mother, Pinky Sheikh soldiers on

 

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