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Rape Victim Pavan Amara Helps Women Reclaim Their Bodies And Regain Self-Respect

Pavan Amara, a student nurse in London, now 27, was raped as a teenager. She decided to reach out and help rape victims reclaim their bodies. She began by talking to NHS doctors and nurses, Rape Crisis volunteers and staff at Sh!, the only female-focused sex shop in the UK.

LONDON – It is hard to imagine what goes through the mind of a woman after sexual violence. Revulsion for your own body, an inability to look at yourself in the mirror and a debilitating tension have been described by victims as some of the life-changing consequences. One woman said that her rapist had taken away so much from her and now he was taking her health, too.

Pavan Amara, a student nurse in London, now 27, had suffered similarly. She was raped as a teenager. She decided to reach out and help rape victims reclaim their bodies. She began by talking to NHS doctors and nurses, Rape Crisis volunteers and staff at Sh!, the only female-focused sex shop in the UK.

In 2014, Amara, whose family comes from Kultan, near Amritsar, set up the “My Body Back project”.

Amara found that many victims stopped visiting doctors because they were not able to let anyone touch them. With the My Body Back project, Amara has created services for them to access healthcare.

“We run our MBB Clinic for women to have STI testing, cervical screening, and contraceptive fitting and removal. We have just started our MBB Maternity Clinic, too, which is for women who are pregnant, have a newborn, or want to become pregnant to receive specialist care,” she said.

“I knew there was a gap in services from my experience, and the more I spoke to other women the more I realised something really needed to be done about it. We also run workshops for women to explore what they like and don’t like sexually, so they feel they have control over their sexual choices again after being raped”.

Additionally, a large number of those seeking help or reaching out are Indian, “We have had a surprising number of emails from India since we started our project. Not only from women wanting to use our services, but also from Indian men congratulating us on starting the service,” Amara said.

Amara will also run the first maternity clinic for rape survivors. She explains that doctors and nurses are not always equipped to deal with rape survivors. In the clinic, women will be in control, using first sessions to specify body positions and phrases they’re not comfortable with, and have the option of self-test kits to avoid being touched.

“This is not a new problem, and women deserved this way before 2016. I really hope it can make a big difference to the women who use it and the babies who are born there. I have a lot of support from the staff there, who are very passionate and caring. That’s important because it’s a huge work load and we all need to look after each other as well as our patients. As long as we always put the women and babies we look after at the centre of our world, keep looking after one another, stay close-knit, and stay very focused and determined then things should be fine”.

The evidence is clear for why such an establishment is necessary , “Worldwide, the World Health Organisation estimates 1 in 3 women have experienced sexual violence. It’s so common, and the very least that can be done is provision of proper services”.

On combating rape specifically in the Indian and Punjabi community, Amara highlights the mindset: “Women are always blamed regardless of the context in our culture. People cry when a baby girl is born, her mother is blamed for her birth, daughter-in-laws are routinely blamed by their husband and in-laws for a small dowry, it’s still a cultural norm for daughters-in-law to be treated badly, and Indian police still record the huge number of honour killings simply as another ‘kitchen fire’. In every stage of a woman’s life, she is blamed within our culture, so it’s little surprise that when she’s raped she is to blame yet again, rather than the rapist”.

However, Anara notes that particularly since the horrific death of Nirbhaya in 2012, in Delhi, many in India “challenge and question their country’s attitudes towards women far more than in Britain, and they are changing it”. She also however, condemns societal pressures such as “behsti” and “izzat”: “This has stopped women in India and in the diaspora from speaking out for a long time. A lot of it has to do with keeping the family’s izzat, and that responsibility always seems to lie with the women in a family rather than everybody. People are questioning these things though. I was surprised when I went to visit my family in India in 2013, it felt like a country different from the one I had last visited in 2012. Nirbhaya’s death had changed some things. In our village, everything was being questioned, women seemed to be saying things publicly that had only ever been spoken about privately before”.

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