"They must support the child, accept the child, allow the child to vent her emotions and ensure she doesn't feel lonely."
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Following the expose of the ‘Bois Locker Room’ Instagram group earlier this week, latest reports indicate that after the Delhi Police first apprehended a 15-year-old, they questioned five students between Classes 10 and 12 from prominent South Delhi schools with their parents for six hours yesterday. Additionally, notices have been sent to other 21 members in the group.
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While the Delhi Police Cyber Crime Cell is currently investigating the matter, what happens to the women who were at the receiving end of this cyber-bullying and harassment?
Dr Ripan Sippy, a noted clinical psychologist based out of Delhi, spoke to The Better India about the sort of care and counselling that is needed in such circumstances.
“We first provide them with reassuring and supportive counselling because they are emotionally shaken up and vulnerable at this juncture. They are open to judgement from others even though they have done nothing wrong,” he says.
According to Dr Sippy, there are three stages to this process:
First, supportive counselling should be given followed by reassuring counselling through which the person is told that the matter will be sorted out, the law is on their side, and those perpetrating the crime will be held accountable. This is done during the first few sessions.
“In the second stage, we rope in their parents as well and tell them not to be angry or aggressive at their child or pass judgement on why they befriended this boy or person, but instead try to be a pillar of strength for the child. They must become a friendly parent, someone the child can approach and speak about things openly, without the fear of punishment or judgement.”
In other words, support and accept the child and ensure that she doesn’t feel lonely. “If she does feel lonely, it opens up the possibility of clinical depression and anxiety disorders. This makes the case more severe,” he adds.
For the third stage, Dr Sippy recommends professional counselling and help.
“If their mental state deteriorates further, we give them psychotherapy and counselling. Specific techniques like Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) are employed to provide them with a macro perspective on life, among other things.
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We also employ rational emotive behaviour therapy […”a short-term form of psychotherapy that helps you identify self-defeating thoughts and feelings, challenge the rationality of those feelings, and replace them with healthier beliefs”]. Such techniques are used to bring them out of anxiety. We also keep them under observation for some time and call them at least twice a week. We don’t want children to increase the gap between their sessions because this is the time they are very vulnerable to any psychological disorder,” he says.
According to Aanchal Narang, a Mumbai-based therapist who works with several young adults, the objective is to understand how the episode made them feel about themselves.
“Most of the time, girls tend to internalise a lot of the messages that are given by boys like this and society at large. There will also be a lot of self-blame they will hold as well, saying ‘I wish I didn’t put this photo up’ or that ‘I must have done something wrong’ compared to others who did not go through it,” she says, speaking to The Better India.
A lot of ‘self-blame’ would need to be worked on even though none of this is their fault. A therapist’s task is to help them understand that their self-worth is a lot more than what these boys are saying.
Moreover, give these girls the narrative that this episode need not define them even if it has impacted them. A lot of these girls will understand that it’s not their fault logically, but they will continue to feel within that it’s their fault.
“So, matters need to be dealt with at an emotional level, too through therapy. They need to understand emotionally as well that it isn’t their fault. You could ask questions like, ‘If this happened to your friend, do you think it’s her fault’? Mostly, they would reply ‘no’. But when you pose the same question to them, they will say yes. Unfortunately, women are conditioned to pick up blame due to the kind of marginalisation they face in society. Men are conditioned not to pick up responsibility, because of their privilege,” says Aanchal.
Whenever required, therapists also take assistance from school, and legal authorities says Dr Sippy. For example, if the said user is receiving threats of suffering blackmail regularly, just counselling will not be sufficient.
“Counselling takes about a minimum of two months, but can get extended depending on the severity of the case and the psychological makeup of the child. But counselling the minor boys involved in episodes such as this is far more tricky. There are two or three levels you can work on in this regard. We work on both the minor/juvenile, his family and intervene at a societal level as well,” he says.
While some have advocated naming and shaming these boys, Aanchal Narang believes this may not be the best way to address this behaviour, particularly for younger ones in the group.
“I am not saying that they shouldn’t be punished or face the consequences for their actions. If we are naming and shaming them, what next? What tends to happen is that they will get further isolated. The greater the social isolation, the angrier they will get. How do we change their behaviour? It’s not only them who have to be held responsible but society at large. Do take punitive measures, but is anyone talking to these boys? Are their schools putting them through proper counselling? Will the counselling revolve around just shaming them but make them understand what happened? Do we highlight the consequences of what happens to a girl’s self-esteem when you describe them using derogatory language? These are tough questions that must be answered,” opines Aanchal.
The objective here is one of reformation rather than retribution because these are children. And work—that is the process of gender sensitisation and sex-positivity upbringing—starts at home, and is extended in the school with healthy and informative sex education.
“Parents and school authorities need to come out of denial that young adults are sexually active, and start having open, direct and technical conversations with their tweens and teens about how to channel their sexual desires in a healthy manner. Boys also need to be taught to humanise the girls they sexualise—they need to be taught that their delinquencies can have far-reaching implications on a girl’s life. The damage they will inflict on a human being for the sake of a few cheap thrills is not worth it,” she says, to She The People.
Also, do we at various levels of society highlight the consequences of what happens to young girls when they go through such incidents? Do we even talk about levels of consent?
“This needs to be taught at all levels of society. One or two levels will likely fail. It needs to be a collective effort. It can’t be only parents talking about the issue. It can’t merely be the school’s responsibility either. What if you have neglectful parents? At least there is a school where a boy has a chance to learn and redeem himself and vice-versa. Finally, boys should be taught that they are privileged from childhood, which would make them more mindful of their privilege,” she tells The Better India.
Despite its horrific nature, the Bois Locker Room episode is only representative of the toxic misogyny every growing girl and woman goes through on both social media and life. Beyond technology, these are issues that pose challenging questions about our society, and in addressing them rationally and collectively, we can maybe take a small step in the right direction.
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)