RAHI Foundation is a support centre for adult women survivors in New Delhi. Based in New Delhi, and now in Kolkata, it has been working since 1996 to end incest and child sexual abuse (CSA) and address its long-term impact on women survivors. It is the only organisation of its kind in India. RAHI’s pioneering work includes support and recovery through the distinctive RAHI Model of Healing, education, awareness raising, advocacy, capacity building, research and communication.
We had the pleasure of talking to Anuja Gupta, Founder and Executive Director of RAHI Foundation, who spoke to us about this unique centre and how it provides adult CSA survivors with the therapy and support that enables them to recover and heal from incest and CSA.
MS: Incest and Child Sexual Abuse is still a taboo in large parts of the country, and socially engaging with these issues is quite difficult. What made you take up such a topic?
AG: The answer lies in your question. Since incest/CSA is a taboo topic, someone needs to engage with it. RAHI started 21 years ago when nobody was talking about these issues. As a survivor myself, I knew how important it was to bring them to the fore. At the time, I was going through my own healing process and I realised there was no space for survivors to speak about their experiences. The silence around the subject was deafening.
MS: Your website mentions that you offer uniquely designed professional services. What makes these services unique?
AG: Primarily, RAHI is unique in being the only support centre for women survivors of incest and child sexual abuse in the country. We have been working for over 20 years, and have come up with our own model of healing called the ‘RAHI model of healing’. We based this model of healing on our work with survivors over the years and our understanding of their specific recovery needs. The model comprises individual therapy, group therapy, and social action.
In individual therapy, we discuss the survivor’s trauma and its consequences through in-depth one-on-one sessions. In group therapy survivors meet others who have gone through similar experiences. This breaks their sense of isolation and loneliness. Through social action, survivors find a voice, a platform for action and are empowered to bring about social change. This is also important for their healing.
MS: What kinds of challenges and support do you receive from the family members of survivors?
AG: We mostly work directly with survivors, but have had a variety of experiences in this regard. We have seen family members who are supportive, who accompany the survivor to therapy, and who keep in touch with us over the phone about her progress (of course, any information shared with them is with the consent of the survivor). But there are times the survivor herself does not want her family to know that she is seeking help. This is especially so if the abuser is a close family member. When we can, we empower the survivor so she can get support from her family. For instance, if the survivor’s relationship with her mother is strained, we help the survivor to work through it and get the support she needs.
MS: Child survivors have to be dealt with extreme sensitivity since the incident leaves a prominent mark on them. How do you manage that?
AG: We use the word ‘victim’ for children and ‘survivor’ for adults. We don’t work with victims at all unless someone reaches out to us with a specific case. In this situation, we refer them to an organisation that works with victims of incest or CSA.
MS: Confidentiality is an essential element when engaging with this topic. What is your organisation’s policy regarding it?
AG: When survivors sign up with us, they fill out a form which certifies the role of the therapist, as well as the responsibilities of the survivor, the therapist and the organisation. This form has a confidentiality clause which clearly mentions that confidentiality is maintained except in cases of supervision. Even in supervision meetings, we only share the gist of the situation and do not give out the name or any personal details of the survivor. When using stories and testimonies for research and training, our policy is to always ensure we have the survivor’s consent.
MS: In what ways does your organisation create a support environment for survivors?
AG: People have told us that the very existence of such a centre is very supportive. We have survivors writing in to us from all over the world expressing their gratitude and appreciation that RAHI considers their issues important. We have clear guidelines for our therapy sessions and even our physical space is designed keeping survivors in mind. Our therapy room, for example, is well-lit with plenty of natural light and cosy furniture. All our team members are trained in speaking and writing to survivors and replying promptly to their emails. We have been conscious of creating a warm and welcoming environment for survivors from the start.
MS: How did the organisation assist in Satyamev Jayate’s episode on incest/CSA?
AG: We provided the Satyamev Jayate team with information from our own research for their episode on incest/CSA. They met and interviewed six of our survivors before the show was filmed, and finally invited one of them on the show. We helped them with the nuances of the issue every step of the way. They also recorded an interview with me and used it to train Aamir Khan and the team. We worked with them for almost a year.
MS: What is the organisation’s take on the surrounding debate on incest as two adults consciously deciding to engage in sexual activity?
AG: Our stand is very clear: we use the term ‘incest’ along with the term ‘child sexual abuse’ to refer to sexual abuse during childhood. We help people who have survived abuse from a family member or others while growing up. We have no problem with or moral judgement on adult consensual incest.
If you are an adult woman survivor of incest and/or child sexual abuse (CSA) or know someone who is, you can contact RAHI Foundation at email@example.com for more information and support.