Early this year, as the country reeled under shock after a 23-year-old New Delhi resident was gang-raped, and died of her injuries, Powai based trauma therapist Hvovi Bhagwagar noticed her women clients were rescheduling their late evening appointments.

“Several said they didn’t feel safe visiting the clinic that ‘late at night’,” says Bhagwagar, about appointments scheduled post 8 pm. This despite the fact that her clinic sits inside a busy mall. Another patient, a 17-year-old girl, stopped coming to the clinic altogether. “When I inquired, her mother asked me how could I expected the young girl to drive down alone to Powai when newspapers were buzzing with news of sexual assault,” adds Bhagwagar, who has been practising for 13 years. It’s no different this time around, after news of a 22-year-old photojournalist’s gang rape last week.

While an increased sense of caution following news of this sort is normal, Bhagwagar says the behaviour her patients exhibited was linked to Vicarious Trauma (VT).

In 2008, Bhagwagar says, there were reports that students at city schools seemed withdrawn, and lacked focus in class. “This was after the 26/11 attacks in Mumbai, and we realised that the children had been exposed to terror via television for three days, and didn’t know how to process their feelings,” she adds. The parents had to be advised to stop watching news 24×7, or watch it on their laptops.

While one would argue that after attacks like last week’s, it would be normal for any woman in the city to be anxious and alert, Bhagwagar points out there’s a difference between the two. “Alertness results in problem-solving behaviour, whereas anxiety leads to avoidance behaviour.”

Featured in Mumbai Mirror, August 29, 2013.