How the Jharkhand minor rape survivor is coping with trauma

  • Sanchita Sharma, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Sep 09, 2015 11:21 IST
Experts say mental trauma is likely to strike the Jharkhand rape survivor, who is undergoing treatment at Medanta hospital in Ranchi, when she hits puberty and understands the nature of the violation. (HT Photo)

Guddi (name changed), 9, has a golden stuffed bear she calls Jojo and loves more than her Goldilocks Barbie. Jojo is her security blanket, she hides behind his furry face when she speaks. She occasionally peeks out to smile hesitantly, but her smiles don't reach her eyes.

She and Jojo spend all their time watching television from her hospital bed at Medanta, Ranchi, where she is undergoing a series of surgeries to recover after being raped on July 3 in Jharkhand's East Singhbhum district.

She retains the inquisitiveness of children, briefly abandoning Jojo to learn how to use an iPad camera to take photos of her mum. She says she misses some of her friends, but flares up asked if she misses school. "But they don't teach anything. Sir and madam sleep in school," she says.

For a girl who was kidnapped, raped and left bleeding on a riverbank outside her one-roomed home two months ago, she shows surprising resilience. Her psychiatric assessment done on September 1 says she is not depressed or suffering from psychosis, the medical term used to describe severe mental trauma that impairs thought and emotions and makes a person lose contact with external reality. She is motivated to recover and get her life back. "Psychologically stable," concluded her report at the end of the elaborate psychological assessment, the day before she went for surgery.

Guddi is happier now than she was a week ago, say her parents, who describe her as unhappy, weepy, irritable and defiant in the weeks following the rape. She'd stopped eating after "the incident," they say, and put it down to her battling physical pain from her many physical wounds.

What Guddi was going through, however, is what clinicians describe as the "acute trauma phase" after rape.

Three stages of rehab
All rape victims go through series of reactions -- emotional, physical, and behavioural -- that are bunched together under the umbrella term of Rape Trauma Syndrome. Since each sexual assault is different, each victim reacts differently, depending on the nature of the act, the circumstance, and the type and amount of force used. For example, when the assault is committed by a stranger, the randomness of the attack creates an overwhelming sense of vulnerability, making fear the most difficult emotion to overcome. In assaulter is someone known, the victim may feel guilt and blame herself for poor judgment.

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The first phase is acute reaction, which lasts for a few weeks. The initial shock and disbelief is followed by the primary feeling is fear, humiliation and shame. Victims turn restless, visibly tense and weepy, or may appear clinically controlled and composed. Sleep patterns go haywire, as do eating patterns, all of which Guddi went through for the weeks following the rape.

What she is going through now is the "underground stage", where she is attempting to come to terms with her trauma and return to her life by blocking out thoughts of the assault. This stage may last for years.

Finally, healing occurs with during the "recovery stage", when the victim overcomes fear.

Post-traumatic stress
In Guddi's case, the mental trauma is likely to strike when she hits puberty and is old enough to understand the nature of the violation. Right now, says the psychiatrist treating her, she has just registered the physical battering, but once she is older, she is very likely to develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Surviving PTSD without psychiatric help and prescription sedatives is possible, and the Tamil Nadu government proved this when it helped thousands of child survivors face their nightmares and demons after the Tsunami in 2004. In partnership with UNICEF and Nehru Yuva Kendra Sangathan, the government used crayons, puppets, dance, song and yoga to help children overcome the terror of the killer waves that wiped their families and home.

Read: Is India doing enough for public health?

Initially, all the images the children drew were dark and gloomy - overcast skies, flooded villages, dead animals and uprooted trees - but by the end of 12 weeks, the sun started shining and the children were back to playing cricket on the beach.

Support from the community, courts and police has been tremendous for Guddi, with even the police showing sensitivity, going as far as to ferry her brother, uncles and sundry villagers to Ranchi from her village 200 km away to meet her.

The police has even gifted her father a mobile phone, which he still doesn't know how to use.

The challenge will be rehabilitating Guddi after she is discharged from hospital -- positive support shouldn't lead to overprotection and skirting the elephant in the room by asking the victim to forget about it.

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