Please note that I am neither a scholar nor a trained psychologist. I am writing this post in hopes of starting a much-needed conversation about the fact that sexual abuse happens to Muslim women too and sharing some support and resources that are available. Watch the Facebook LIVE here.
Dr. Christine Blasye Ford's testimony will remain one of the most traumatizing things I've ever watched. It was so heartbreaking to listen to her share her story, the important details which will always be imprinted on her memory. I had no idea when I shared how upsetting I had found it on Instagram, that I would open the floodgates to women sharing their own stories of abuse with me. Even though I had always known this was true, that experience hammered home the fact that sexual abuse happens to Muslim women too. Not just that, but that as a community, we are woefully unequipped to deal with situations where a young girl or woman gets molested or abused and providing support in the aftermath.
Research conducted by the CDC showed that 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys get abused before the age of 18 in the United States.
As adults, women are 90% more likely to suffer some form of sexual abuse than their male counterparts. In both cases, among children and adults, abuse goes unreported and the survivors are afforded little opportunity for emotional and psychological support.
This issue is even further exacerbated by the cultural norms that exist amongst Muslims. Sex and intimacy are considered taboo topics so families don't discuss these things. All of the disclosures I have received shared stories of being abused by people with easy access to them- relatives, teachers or other connected male figures. The fear of breaking families apart or bringing shame upon the family is a huge deterrent in reporting abuse. Moreover, many women are afraid to feed into the rampant Islamophobia by sharing their experience and therefore choose to suffer in silence.
“I was 10 years old.”
I am sharing this story with permission from a survivor who requested that I share this story to help young girls and women understand that they are not alone and that sexual abuse happens to Muslim women too.
“I remember that day so clearly. My parents had invited a family we were very close friends with to our house. When they arrived, they brought with them a cousin who they told us was visiting them from back home. I thought the cousin looked creepy but was too busy playing with my friend to care.
At one point in the evening, my younger brother starting fighting with one of the kids over a toy. The mom told me to go down to the basement to grab the other toy that was exactly like the one they were fighting over.
I remember being annoyed about having to go get the toy. I remember how the basement smelled- that slightly wet smell that you get after a rain. I remember the feeling of the unfinished concrete floor under my feet. When I turned around to go back upstairs, the cousin was there, exposing himself. He pushed me against a wall and started touching me. I wanted to scream but I was too scared. He told me to touch him and I remember that overwhelming feeling of terror and disgust. My mom yelled down the basement stairs at that moment, asking if I had forgotten why she sent me there. Her voice startled him and gave me the chance to push him away and run up the stairs.
I don't remember the rest of that evening. I do know that I didn't tell anyone about what had happened. Who would believe me? This cousin was supposed to be this really religious person who did all his prayers. How could someone like that do what he had done to me?
I buried the experience and tried to move on but it impacted every relationship I ever had. I could just never trust anyone. I thought of telling my husband before we got married but thought he would think I wasn't pure and wouldn't want me. When I finally did tell him, it was because we were experiencing serious issues in our intimacy stemming from my experience. I've been receiving counselling for the last 6 months and it has made such a huge difference.
I want this to be a message to every young girl who experienced this kind of trauma, don't give your abuser power over you by living with the secret. Seek help. Get Counselling. The journey towards healing is possible.
You are NOT Alone
Most of the women who reached out to me said that they felt so alone. They thought they were the only ones who had experienced something like this and the shame made them unable to share their experience with anyone, including their parents, siblings and even husbands. One of the women told me that this has led to intimacy issues in her marriage which are exacerbated by her inability to share her past.
If you are a survivor of abuse, please know that you are not alone. Although more research needs to be done specific to Muslim communities, all signs point to the fact Muslim girls and women experience abuse at around the same rates as the national averages. The unfortunate reality is that most of this abuse goes unreported and help is rarely sought in such cases. This leaves the survivors living with the pain of their trauma with few avenues for recourse.
This was NOT your fault
It is so important to understand that your trauma and abuse was not your fault. Too often, women live with the awful shame of believing they brought this on to themselves, by not dressing or behaving a certain way.
Help and Healing are Your Right
There is a way forward, past the grief, trauma and fear that comes with being abused. Most women who reached out to me were unaware of options that were available to them locally for support. Seek help and support and don't let your trauma define your future. Don't let the horror you experienced impact your life.
I did a ton of research prior to doing this Live and there are a lot of organizations that are out there that offer support. The one that keeps coming up and has one of the best reputations for providing support for survivors of sexual abuse is RAINN: National Resources for Sexual Assault Survivors and their Loved Ones.
If you are looking for help, call 1-800-656-HOPE (4673) to be connected to a trained member of a sexual assault service provider in your area. Not only will you receive confidential support from a trained advocate, they will also help you find a local healthcare facility should further treatment is needed and local resources that can help you in your journey towards healing and recovery.
I also recognize that it can be very difficult for women from a faith-based background to speak with someone who doesn't share their religious sensibilities. One of the people who was instrumental in helping me prepare for this blog post is a trained crisis intervention advocate for survivors of sexual assault/abuse. She herself comes from a very conservative religious background. If you are someone who has sought help but felt that those you couldn't relate with those supporting you, please reach out to me and I will connect you with her.
If you are in Canada, another amazing option is Nisa Homes which provides trained counselors as well as other support for women escaping abuse.
I just want to conclude with the thought that abuse is never ok. Our faith places an incredible amount of importance on the sanctity and the safety of the human body. It is so important to enforce those boundaries when you feel like people around you are violating them. It is your right to be safe. It is your right to feel secure. And if that right has been violated, it is your right to seek help and start the journey towards healing.
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