Sexual violence awareness advocate Devika Panicker shares why women need to speak up and not tolerate violence

PHOTO: Picturhaus

While she first stepped into the spotlight after her win at Ms V Supreme 2019, Devika Panicker is a woman of many talents; she’s acted in television, is an accomplished artist, and a vocal advocate for sexual violence awareness.

Her talk at TEDxYouth@Singapore saw her share a vulnerable experience of childhood sexual abuse, encouraging and inspiring others to find strength and empathy in the face of trauma. In this edition of Eye Candy, we catch up with Devika on advocacy, life, and dreams for the future.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Gratitude Post: Dashna, Kiki, Shareen. Hats off to you ladies, really. To come back to a competition to support a fellow competitor in #msvsupreme finals definitely isn’t easy. Yet here you girls were, doing the best to support me to the best of your capabilities. It takes great emotional maturity and sportsmanship to be the way you girls were with me. Never in a billion years could I have asked for a better team ISTG. From the day we established our team for finals you three have never failed to put forward your best foot. Not only were you girls such an amazing support system for me, but you have been such dear friends to me. You’ve seen me in anxiety breakdowns & moments of self doubt. You’ve guided me through some of the most stressful periods leading up to the finals. Even when I was caught up with my own set of other commitments, y’all were working on everything backend; all on your own initiatives. Your dedication & commitment moved me to tears. Shareen, you showed up to finals with a fractured shoulder and I was so worried for your wellbeing but you kept reassuring me you’re fine. And then you proceed nail it in the Aunty Role. GIRL I WAS SHOOK! Kiki your commitment to make sure all of us looked Atomic for finals was so motivating! On top of that you were beautifully eloquent & demure in your role as Tara, I was like YO WHERE IS BAD GAL KIKI at?! And Dash, you were so natural on stage! You put in so much effort for your role and memorised the script, asked questions on how you could deliver the character better. You made sure you never missed a single rehearsal when you showed up for it even when you were so unwell, oh my heart 😢 It was definitely strenuous for all of us, but despite it all, you rockstars pushed through all the way for me. How am I so blessed ? I don’t know. And words can never express how grateful I am for each one of you. But I can confidently say you guys have shown me what it means to be a part of a cooperative, supportive, power house of a team! Literally my A-Team! So this win, is our win. Not just mine ❤️ I Love you each to the farthest planets and back. Literally couldn’t have done this without the three of you. 🌻

A post shared by Devika Panicker (@devikapanicker) on Mar 31, 2019 at 2:37am PDT

You wear many hats: artist, actor, model, and sexual assault awareness advocate. How would you describe yourself?

I would describe myself as a rebel with a cause. Either that, or “a walking paradox”.

A lot of us might know you as the winner of Ms V Supreme 2019. What inspired you to join the talent show, and what was the best part of that experience?

When Vasantham first announced that it was holding an audition for Ms V Supreme 2019, many of my friends tagged me in the post, insisting that I take part in the competition.

At the time, I had already been advocating for sexual violence awareness via Instagram, but I had observed that there was still a huge lack of conversation about the topic within the Indian community, due to the stigma that has always surrounded it.

Therefore, being an Indian person myself, I felt that it was my responsibility to help navigate these conversations within my community. That, in turn, inspired me to join the pageant.

The best part of that experience was definitely the friendships I forged with my fellow participants. They were all such empowered, inspiring women and it was my honour to have competed alongside them.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Thank you for coming to my TedTalk 💋 #blessup

A post shared by Devika Panicker (@devikapanicker) on Sep 14, 2019 at 6:26am PDT

What’s something you’ve been working on since then that’s really important to you?

I have been working on many different things such as acting gigs, panel discussions, advocacy work, etc. But my most memorable and important work has been the TEDx Talk that I gave for TEDxYouth Singapore in September 2019.

You’re a prominent spokesperson for AWARE. Could you tell us more about your journey from surviving childhood abuse to becoming an advocate for sexual violence awareness?

When I was seven, I was completely unaware of the fact that I was being abused by my family friend. Even after my parents found out, or after the court case that followed, I remained none the wiser. My parents told me to think of the episode as a bad dream that I should keep to myself.

At that age, naturally, I followed their advice. It was only during a health education lesson years later in primary school that it dawned on me that my body should not have been subjected to such actions by someone else. The trauma came crashing down then, and since I had been instructed to keep the ordeal to myself, I felt extremely alone and isolated from the world.

As time went on, however, I confided in other girls, only to realise that they had stories that mirrored mine. Although the weight of loneliness was lifted then, it was quickly replaced by the disconcerting truth that if I was not alone in this, then that in itself was a problem too.

I came to realise that sweeping sexual assault under a rug was only enabling the problem to worsen and – consequently – decided that in order to combat a malignancy that thrives in the shadows, one must direct a spotlight at it.

That is how my advocacy journey began. I never underestimated the power of a single voice, and made sure to pay attention to healing and resolving my own traumas along the way. Today, I continue to educate myself constantly, so as to be a well-informed and objective voice in the advocacy space.

What’s something you think more people should know about violence and consent?

More people need to learn that violence is not just physical, and that it doesn’t always have to be aggressive in nature for it to be considered violence.

Anything that compromises another individual’s sense of safety is a form of violence. This we must acknowledge and no degree of violence should be tolerated in our society.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Completing the row this gorguzzz shot! @picturhaus ✨ Photography: @eilynn.t Styling & Direction: @pavi.rafaela

A post shared by Devika Panicker (@devikapanicker) on Sep 13, 2020 at 10:59pm PDT

As for consent, I think more people need to understand that arousal is not consent. One common misconception we have is that if a person is aroused, that means they are consenting to sexual advances.

This is untrue because the body can react to stimulation regardless of consent; arousal is in no way an indication that the person is consenting to sex or sexual advancement. The default should always be assumed as “No consent”, unless otherwise explicitly stated by the other person.

What is your biggest dream for sexual violence awareness in Singapore?

My biggest dream is to eradicate sexual violence altogether, but the reality is that it isn’t as simple as that. A more realistic dream would be to have a Singaporean society that has zero tolerance to violence.

We’ve all spent a lot of time indoors these past few months – what was your favourite part of lockdown?

I am naturally a busy person, and my schedule is often very packed. Due to the lockdown, my schedule cleared up so much that I was finally able to have a lot more time to myself. That was definitely my favourite part of lockdown.

We understand you’re a keen painter and digital artist as well. What kinds of works do you like to create?

There are no specific kinds of work I consistently like to create. What I create depends on what I feel on that day or in that moment. Some days it’s watercolours, some days it’s pen and ink or realistic drawings. Either way, art is therapeutic for me.

What are some of your favourite hangout spots in Singapore?

One of my favourite spots in Singapore is the Starbucks at The Cathay. Sadly, I don’t get to hang out there as much as I’d love to. Another favourite spot would be the East Coast Beach.

What’s one goal you’re hoping to accomplish before the new year?

To be more mindful and to attain a more balanced lifestyle. I hope to enter the new year with these better habits.

This article was first published in City Nomads.