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TED Fellow Shalini Kantayya bravely shares her story of sexual assault in India

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Shalini-KantayyaAs protests roll through India, calling for punishment of six men who brutally gang raped a 23-year-old woman on a public bus in December with fatal results, TED Fellow Shalini Kantayya has written a powerful op-ed for The New York Times detailing her own sexual assault in India. Kantayya shares that event was traumatizing — a fact multiplied by the shocking indifference she received from both American and Indian authorities as she sought justice.

Kantayya was in India, filming a documentary about political street theater, years ago. She awoke one night in her hotel room to find a man holding her down on her bed, his hands violently over her mouth. She recognized the man as the waiter who had served her dinner that night in the hotel restaurant.

“I was biting and kicking, using every ounce of my energy to fight for my life. My mouth was badly bleeding and in the struggle we fell to the floor,” writes Kantayya. “He picked up his lungi and said, ‘I’ll leave. Don’t tell the manager.’ Then he ran out and shut the door. Did he really think he could try and rape me in my sleep, without protest and that I wouldn’t tell? Yes. He did. He counted on the fact that he lived in a culture that blamed the victim — that the stigma associated with sexual assault would force a woman to keep quiet. And although I had escaped the worst-case scenario, and prevented a rape, the nightmare was far from over.”

As Kantayya writes, no one responded to her complaints — not the hotel, nor the police, nor American authorities. The incident haunted her for years. She suffered from deep depression and was eventually diagnosed with PTSD.

Writes Kantayya, “The recent gang rapes in India are a reminder to all of us that the rapists are not the only persons who are guilty. The onlookers, the institutions that turn a blind eye, and fail to implement comprehensive policies to address sexual assault are complicit in the violence. When these crimes are swept under the carpet, it perpetuates a culture of silence.”

At TED2013, speaker Lakshmi Pratury will also share her effort to break this culture of silence, with her project Billionaires of Moments. This website — also on Facebook — aims to “pay homage to the young rape victim from Delhi.” It is an open forum for people to post their reactions to the brutal crime, share interesting articles and resources, and have their own stories heard. Pratury’s website went live just yesterday and already has a long scroll of entries — from women and outraged men, alike.

Stay tuned to the TED Blog for coverage of Pratury’s talk on Thursday, February 28 — as well as all the talks from TED2013.