I Survived Sexual Violence: My Journey Of Rediscovering Self Worth

My name is Devika Panicker. I am a 21-year-old from Singapore and I am a survivor of childhood sexual violence. This project was first developed as a part of my portfolio for my university application to explore the theme of neglect. I chose to photograph my body as the subject of this project, realising that the overall wellbeing of my body was something that I had overlooked for the longest time.  This is a very personal part of my life that I am sharing with the world in hopes that it will inspire survivors of sexual violence to share and speak up about their own battles. The contents of the following photo series might be emotionally disturbing to some. Viewer Discretion is advised.
Devika Panicker
Devika Panicker

“This is where my body was intimately explored for the first time. I was 7. He was 36. And it was against my will.”

This is a seemingly innocent shot of me appearing jovial and untroubled along a brightly lit corridor of Singapore’s public housing. But things are not as they seem most of the time. This is the place where I was sexually violated. Despite that, I was a happy child as I did not know that I was being wronged. Nobody would have guessed that I was being abused on a daily basis. It was not until a year later that my parents found out of the abuse. I consider myself fortunate enough that I was given justice and that the abuser received the sentence he deserved. Sadly, this is not the case for most abuse victims in Singapore. I personally know several individuals who have experienced sexual violence but have not reported it due to fear of social rejection or the humiliation that comes with confession, as most victims believe or are made to believe that being abused was somehow their fault. Beneath this reasoning lies the assumption that such crimes do not take place in Singapore, as statistics have shown crime rates are comparatively low here. Hence I took this self portrait to shatter such assumptions. I hope that others will not overlook the possibility of abuse happening anywhere to anyone at any time and that we will never be complacent about our safety.

Davika Panicker
Davika Panicker

“This is where my body found joy and purpose. This is where I learnt to appreciate my body for the first time. This is where I first discovered my passion for dance. This is where I found my obsession for escape.”

This is a self portrait of me dressed up in Bharatanatyam (Indian Classical Dance) costume in my Primary school dance studio. This shot was taken facing the mirror as shown because I wanted to use the illusion of a spacious room as a metaphor for the freedom I felt when dancing. I was 8 when I first discovered dance in this studio and it was the first time I ever felt any real connection or acceptance to my body. I could move it how I wanted; I could feel every muscle in my body being engaged. I could feel my heart pounding against my chest, the strain in my spine and the beads of perspiration coating my back. It was the kind of adrenaline that kept me going even when every inch of my body was screaming for rest – and I was obsessed with it. I felt limitless and invincible when I danced. But in all honesty, feeling limitless did not mean my body came with no limits. I was just never ready to accept them as I had felt like they were signs of weakness. This denial, however, came with a price.

Devika Panicker
Devika Panicker

“This is my body right now. This is where I accept that it has survived a great deal of trauma. I will find balance and strength in knowing that my body is mine and that taking care of it has been long overdue. It’s still not too late to start. After all, this is a body that survives.”

I placed myself in the middle of the photograph to portray a balanced perspective that I have come to embrace recently. As seen in the photo, I have sustained a knee injury. This was the result of overworking my body. Prior to this, I had been diagnosed with Anaemia, sustained several toe fractures and a broken nose. Back then, I refused to take the rest that I needed due to not wanting to limit myself. However, today I am at a point in my life where I know that understanding my limits does not equate to limiting myself. I have found a balanced outlook – one that helps me understand the pace that my body can keep up with, without feeling like it has not lived up to its full potential.

My crutches, being placed behind me, express my hope that I will be able to leave this injury behind, allowing only the lesson it has taught to stay with me. My performance make up and thick anklets represent my undying passion for dance and the desire to be able to lose yet find myself in dance again.

Now I am no longer ashamed; I am empowered.

I would like to express my gratitude to my Family for supporting me in this endeavour and for always believing in me. A huge thank you to my best friends, Kalai and Reuben, for helping me out with this project. I couldn’t have done this without their infinite support and love, and I definitely wouldn’t be who I am today without them. Special thank you to all who have taken a few minutes of their time to reach out to me regarding this project and express your support. I am truly humbled to receive such undying appreciation and love from all of you.

To my fellow survivors, thank you for staying strong. Thought Catalog Logo Mark


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