Student nurse Pavan Amara was raped as a teenager. The incident changed her in more ways than one: “I couldn’t go to the doctor any more because I didn’t want to be touched. I didn’t want to be in a crowd; it affected my relationships, but the biggest thing it affected was my perception of my body and my body image. I felt terrible,” she told The Guardian.
Finding it tough to go to a doctor, Pavan began to look for support online. Discouraged by the limited resources, she started reaching out to other survivors of rape:
“Every single woman said it seriously affected how she felt about her body. They just couldn’t have somebody touch them. They were triggered badly by it, so they felt it was a choice between their mental health and their physical health,” she says.
The struggle of sexual assault survivors with body image issues, the toll this took on their health and the lack of resources available pushed Pavan to start My Body Back in August 2014.
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The project aims to help survivors of sexual assault reclaim their bodies and deal with their body image issues.
Pavan started by launching Café V, a monthly trans-inclusive workshop where women could come together to discuss their experiences and their struggles in a safe space. She then launched the initiative Notes of Love, where university students write messages of support and love for victims of rape.
Pavan then began working on setting up UK’s first cervical screening and STI clinic for survivors of sexual assault. The clinic gives women complete control over how they would like to undergo medical tests.
On approaching the clinic, survivors have an introductory session with trained professionals. They are then given the power to choose everything, from the aromatherapy they want to the music they like. They can also inform the medical professionals about the phrases they do not want used and the body positions they would like to avoid.
Women who don’t like being touched are giving self-testing STI kits and a video tutorial. The women can conduct the tests themselves and the results will be sent to them directly on their phone.
“It’s all about regaining control over what happens to your body,” Amara says.
Under My Body Back, Amara recently launched UK’s first maternity clinic for victims of rape.
“A lot of women who didn’t have children were telling me that they wanted to have children, but they weren’t because they were worried that all these tests and this whole maternity experience would bring up what had happened in the past with the assault,” Amara told The Independent.
The maternity clinic will cater to these women and – as is the case with the STI clinic – will offer the women complete control over how they would like to conduct the tests.
“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,” she told The Times of India.