How theatre helps child sexual abuse survivors move on
Child sexual abuse: “Positively Shameless” is a play that not only works to create awareness about a personally and socially relevant issue, but also provided an avenue for the actors and audiences to express and examine their emotions and feelings in a safe environment. The Delhi Police south district had organised a staging of the play on Friday at the Indian Institute of Foreign Trade.delhi Updated: Feb 20, 2017 10:16 IST
Memories, conflicting and confusing emotions, are some of the demons that haunt survivors of child sexual abuse, calling for help and “Positively Shameless” comes at that juncture, as a “devised theatre performance about surviving childhood sexual abuse and working through the residues as an adult.”
Performed by five women, who have survived child sexual abuse, the play not only worked to create awareness about a personally and socially relevant issue, but also provided an avenue for the actors and audiences to express and examine their emotions and feelings in a safe environment.
“Every story we have used here is true. But we are not necessarily always acting out our own stories. It can get a little too close for comfort if we do our own stories,” said an actor.
The five actors, who are based out of Bengaluru, had all been a part of the director, Maitri Gopalakrishna’s, drama therapy workshops, conducted as part of her PhD thesis. “After the therapy, some of us wanted to take it forward,” explained the actor.
“Drama therapy has many forms and functions. One is of course catharsis, where one can release their emotions and get relief. The other way it helps is to make sense of the sometimes jumbled and confusing event, as theatre does not have to be linear,” said Gopalakrishna.
The Delhi Police south district had organised a staging of the play on Friday at the Indian Institute of Foreign Trade. “This is an area which is yet to be explored. Normally, we talk about women’s issues, domestic violence, and drug abuse. But we realised that around 50% of people had experienced some sort of inappropriate behaviour as a child. This is a problem that surpasses all divides and it needs to be dealt with,” said an officer.
Though we have had the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act since 2012, child sexual abuse is still a problem that looms large. According to the National Crime Records Bureau’s latest numbers, 8,800 cases were registered under POCSO in 2015. The victims knew their abusers in 8,341 cases, and in 929 cases the assaulter was a close family member or relative.
The play not only looked at the conflicting and confusing emotions that one feels even years after the abuse, but also how the reactions of those close to us can impact the survivor and their perception of the abuse.
One of the most powerful performances was about a woman who had been assaulted by her cousin, when her father had sent her out with him. The woman is constantly battling conflicting emotions when it comes to her father, including anger, for sending her with him, guilt, for blaming him, and even gratitude, for all that he has done for her otherwise.
“Family support is very important. Personally, my sister had visited to watch my play. It was a very special moment,” claimed an actor of the play.
Another micro-narrative in the play looks at how an adolescent girl, who had been abused, was reprimanded by her mother after a dance performance for her “indecent” costume. The mother, who slaps her daughter in front of her friends, also claims how “he,” presumably her abuser, was in the audience, and “what would he have thought?” The woman recalls how she had retired her ghungroos on that day, and had not danced since.
The audience also sought solace in the play and many were visibly moved to tears. “If somebody has personally gone through something similar, it can be very emotional, powerful and cathartic for them. Otherwise, people may feel a certain disconnect,” said Freya, a viewer.
Cathartic or not, it was next to impossible not to be affected by the tear-jerking performance. The sheer rawness and realness of the play touched a note with most people.