A sister messaged us to share her story about being a victim of sexual abuse and rape in a Pakistani-Muslim household. This extract explores her story, how she has coped and advice to fellow victims. The writer wishes to remain anonymous.
He forced his hands onto me, one hand crawling up my shirt, the other pushing me down onto my bed. God that force felt like a ton. I begged and cried for him to just fuck off. Please. He covered my mouth shut. I eventually pushed him off and kicked him, scraping my thigh on my beech coloured bed side table as I escaped to the bathroom where I lay on the floor, wrapped in my yellow blanket crying and waiting for my Dad to come home so that my step-uncle would leave my bedroom. I Facebook messaged my best friend on my Nokia 5233, who for the millionth time, told me to tell my sisters. Finally, something inside of me broke or clicked, so I did tell them that night. That was the last time he ever touched me. That was the last time anybody touched me without my permission. I remember that night, sometime in June 2011 as if it was yesterday. My whole world turned upside down…
Confiding in my family about the truth of the rape and sexual abuse I suffered for the worse of 17 years was a blessing and a curse. The best thing to come out of it was the end to my suffering. However, it opened up a whole new lane of suffering that I really wasn’t ready for. Damn. This was the point in my life where I really began to stand up for myself and really find myself too. That shit ignited a spunk in me that nobody can put out.
I began constant battles with my family. My stepmother calls me a liar until today, my family wanted to shove it under the rug and still do. Pretend that it never happened. They wanted me to just move on with my life and forget it all. Like it was a fucking toothache. If I wasn’t living in enough misery whilst awake, nightmares took over in my sleep. So I vowed to help myself mentally if nobody else would and they didn’t. People often forget that whilst there’s an end to the physical suffering, the mental sufferings need professional help.
After seeking out therapy this year, at 24 years old, the sessions have given me the help I needed to deal with the events of what happened to me, and gain closure and reflection. I have successfully completed EMDR therapy from one of the best trauma and psychosexual psychologists. Recapping the trauma and memories with a specialist, being emotionally free in a safe and healthy environment has benefited me in ways words can’t even describe. Therapy has been very positive for me and has enabled me to cope better with all parts of life now.
I can write the details of my rapes, abuse and experiences, but to tell my story like that won’t benefit anybody in the way it should. So rather, I’m offering free advice I suppose, on how to perhaps avoid these matters altogether or the escalation of them. I have accumulated the following from reflection:
1) Practise being effective communicators. We live in a time where technology enables us to communicate at any time, any place to anywhere. Yet ironically, the world lacks real communication. I wonder how much suffering could have been avoided if only my family asked me on a regular basis what was going on in my life, shown more interest in me and my life too. What is expected of me has always been communicated clearly. However, what I want and need used to be difficult to communicate. I struggled to confide in my immediate family for almost 17 years about the truth of the years of rape and sexual abuse I suffered. My family don’t practise any kind of open or approachable conversation. I think we all have suffered hardships in our own lives and perhaps I was trying to save them from mine. Nonetheless, I have learned from friends and life itself to share and talk about our pain. Reassurance, love and just a decent pair of ears can really make all the difference and you may save somebody’s life. When was the last time you asked a sibling, friend or neighbour what they’re really feeling? I dare you to ask your children, siblings, and peers how their days are, ask about their lives (pay attention) and ask what they’re really feeling. Show them REAL interest. Be approachable. Communicate with them often enough that they are able to confide in you during times of need. Make yourself available to people and offer them the same comfort you want to find in others.
2) Teach and learn sex education. Properly. Sex is a natural human instinct that every single human possesses, therefore it shouldn’t be treated like it’s a dirty, shameful and one-way ticket to Hell. I’m not even talking about the act of sex, the conversation alone for some Muslim and Asian communities is such a taboo. Seriously. My parents didn’t talk to me about sex at all, the closest thing to sex that my Dad ever spoke to me about was, “Don’t fall for guys, they’ll tell you I love you and then use you and leave you”. As a reader, I’m sure you can gather what “use you” means. I can’t recall my Dad ever using the word ‘sex’ in front of me. It may as well not exist in his extensive vocabulary. My sex education before Key Stage 4 Science came from the American Pie movies. I’ll give them credit for being open and honest about sex being human nature. Islam is a religion of educating yourself, “from the cradle to the grave”, which doesn’t disregard sex education. Asians and Muslims educate themselves on so many topics yet one of the most important, our human needs, get lost in teachings. I’m sure there are so many teenagers who have burning sex-related questions to ask their parents, elders or guardians, yet they’re afraid of being told off, being labelled a sinner etc. It’s your parents or guardians responsibility to teach you and educate you on the topic of sex as a child. I think it’s vital to be educated correctly with patience, answers to your curiosity and to be open about the conversation of sex, within boundaries of course. When I think about it, a lack of openness on such topics is probably one of the reasons why I didn’t tell my family sooner. How can I talk about sexual abuse when the word “sex” is a big no-no?
3) Learn to differentiate the difference between culture and religion. The perpetrators in my experience were both of Pakistani origin and Muslim, raised in a very Pakistani cultural environment where genders are taught to not mix and rules are continuously informed without any real reasoning or logic. I do personally believe that this causes oppression and as a result further stimulates paedophilia. I was even told by my own cultured father, that the way I dress attracts unwanted attention such as that of my cousin and step uncle. So you can imagine, this added victim blaming that I endured in a place that was meant to be my home and the pain of almost 10 years of sexual abuse caused me to lose my faith and no longer practice. So at 17 years old, I gave up on Islam. Everything in Pakistani culture translates into being Haraam and I was fed up.
I wanted my Dad to support my choice in getting therapy so in January 2018, days left until my first session with my psychologist, he told me to “not talk about it. Just move on and let it go”. I questioned my Dad about my step-uncle and when I asked him why he didn’t act on the truth in 2011, his response was ,“What would people say?” Yeah, because the fucking asian community’s opinion matters so much. I don’t owe anybody anything. I can’t name one person from the area I grew up in, who talks to me today. From the age of 11/12 onwards, most Asian kids aren’t even allowed to go out or have a social life. So I would love to know which member of the asian “community” is meant to be my best friend? Or has my best interests at heart? My Mum passed when I was a young child, the only blessing to come out of that was her entire family didn’t bother with us anymore, I.e, I didn’t have to see my disgusting rapist of a cousin. So the fact that my own blood relatives didn’t stick around during the hardest part of my life, just makes me think screw the Asian community “sticking together” and screw the concept of Asian mentality and their lies about “community”.
I think that a lot of Pakistani culture focuses too much on what other people think or say. If I could have a penny for every time my Dad said “What will people say?” (Log kya kehenge), trust me, I’d be a millionaire and have ran far away from all of my pain. Traditional Pakistani culture is too much for some of us who don’t live in Pakistan. And it’s important to know that parents aren’t always right either. Especially cultured parents.
No matter how educated one is, my Dad has no problem at all knowing I work with men daily, he sent us to mixed and Catholic schools; today I live independently away from the house that caused me so much pain, however when male guests visit my family home, I am expected to behave in a certain manner and stay away from the room they’re in unless I’m serving food (which I refuse to ever do) because it’s apparently haraam for me to be in the presence of non-mahram. If that’s the case, then why do Asian parents force their kids to educate themselves, get amazing jobs (doctors, teachers, engineers), knowing they’re going to be working alongside, literally, elbow to elbow, with the opposite sex? Especially doctors who are exposed to the naked human anatomy! Why is there a double standard for working with men, travelling in countries where genders walk side by side and yet, in the home, it’s suddenly forbidden.
Some of the culture creates myths/superstitions and teaches it as if it’s religion, for example, “During a fast in Ramadan, if your period comes after 12pm, you must continue your fast”. I believed this until Ramadan 2017 when I decided to research the logic behind this, Islam clearly prohibits a woman from fasting when she menstruates. In fact, I read that it’s extremely haraam to continue a fast whilst on a period. However, I’m sure most cultured Pakistani women will continue to preach lies like this. In my experience with Asian culture, women are definitely treated like second class citizens and stereotyped. The double standards literally make my blood boil. Islam doesn’t teach this. Islam prides itself on being a feminist religion yet some Asian-Muslims insist on implementing and mixing their cultural views into religious teachings. I suppose the same concept can be applied to Muslim extremists. For me, Pakistani culture and Islam was an ugly mix. It still is. I struggled to understand how any God could allow his creation to suffer in such a way. But, with many angry questions, I sought answers for myself. I demanded Islam to explain itself to me. Which it did. For the first time in my life, at 19 years old, I allowed myself to ask numerous questions, research for myself and not follow the bullshit Pakistani culture teachings. I learned about the concept of freewill, and that the evil of the perpetrators was on their own account. I read about punishments in Islam for those who spread evil and caused pain. God nor Islam caused my pain, humanity did. Today, I find so much peace in Islam however I do not associate myself with being Pakistani or any of its culture. That shit never benefitted my life and in fact, it increased my sufferings.
Some of you reading this may disagree or be offended (which isn’t my intention at all), however remember that I am writing from my own experience. If you have found a balance of culture and religion for yourself, congratulations. For others who are culturally confused and suffering from its impacts, I recommend you find what works for you and just go with it. Culture isn’t the law. In my opinion and experience, it’s just a sense of community and belonging created in foreign countries and practised by migrants. Seriously it is NOT that deep. You should all actively be vocal and practise what is clearly right and what is clearly wrong without input from culture.
4) Vigilance is underrated and underestimated. I was raped by my cousin from the age of 3 to 7 and then abused by my step-uncle from the age of 13/14-17. These two men lived in my home due to my typical asian family believing they should accommodate half of Pakistan. As much as my parents thought they were helping their family, they placed their own children in so much danger without realising it. Learn now: monsters and evil come in all shapes, sizes, forms, family members, friends etc. Many similar cases take place due to traditional Pakistani home structure where several members of non-immediate family living together. Don’t ever feel like you need to apologise or explain yourself for your vigilance. The world is not all pretty, sunshine and daisies so be wary and keep your eyes open. There is nothing wrong with being cautious about the safety of children, or anybody else for that matter, and especially about those with the most access to your life.
One of the factors in triggering me to write this piece was the case of Zainab Ansari, God rest her cute, innocent and sweet soul. Zainab was raped and murdered at the age of 6 by her uncle in Pakistan. I know Zainab isn’t the only Asian rape/sexual abuse case, but she was one of the few in my lifetime to be headlined globally and the details so graphically. So, I wanted to voice her pain and many others in any way I can. Now Pakistanis can’t deny that rape exists and even within their own families. Whatever sufferings I may have had, I still count my blessings because I’m alive and some victims end up pregnant by their perpetrators or worse, dead, such is the case of Zainab. I can relate to many factors of Zainab’s story but with these cases, no justice in the world is ever enough. Perpetrators damage their victims forever and us victims just learn to live with it.
I know if my advice above was practised toward me, it would have changed my life and avoided the rape and abuse to linger out years instead of one moment or even the possibility of it happening altogether. Sexual abuse and rape is all I have come to know for about 17 years of my life and childhood, and inshallah the future won’t consist of it at all. But rest assured therapy has helped me with closure toward it.
I am deeply sorry to all of my fellow victims for your pain. Do not let it define you. Do not let the pain take over. You’re stronger than you think and you should know that, I promise. Keep going. I recommend to all fellow victims of sexual abuse, rape and any other trauma to seek professional help. Give it a real try. You owe it to yourself and you have nothing to lose. Even if nobody around you helps you, you MUST help yourself. You must seek out mental health clinics/therapists. Don’t be ashamed or embarrassed. You aren’t alone. These clinics, doctors and professionals exist to help you for these cases. If I can do it, then you definitely can.
I recommend to everybody in general to take initiative and time in understanding your family and friends’ pain. Don’t think trauma can just be dealt with and easily forgotten or brushed off. We are all fighting different devils on different levels.
Most of all, I want everybody to learn from the mistakes of people who should have protected me, my mistakes and the way in which my situation was handled. I truly believe that our generation can be better than the last, we can create safer and more open environments where children feel safe and can express themselves emotionally. And as adults, we make better choices for all victims, better choices for the wellbeing of society and those after us. So much of what happened to me and many others could have possibly been avoided with real communication, openness and education in all conversations, sticking to what’s right and wrong without culture impacting and strong vigilance.
At the end of the day, nobody gets out of this life alive and unfortunately this life is so short. So as long as you’re not hurting anybody, just do you. Do what makes you happy. Do a lot of it. Have a positive mind. It’s 2018 people, and mental health is at the forefront of personal well being so embrace it with your arms as wide as you fucking can!
I choose to remain anonymous for now, for my own reasons. But do not let that take you away any of my words above.