To trust is good but the same trust can make us vulnerable to dangers.
Child sexual abuse had always been lurking in our society. We have always known about it or heard it from some source, but we also brush past the uncomfortable subject believing the It’s-never-going-to-happen-to-us fallacy. Now, thankfully, child sexual abuse is coming more into prominence because of the few victims speaking out, movements against rape and media attention. I start my article with a question to parents. Think about your most expensive possession. For example, a jewelry set, phone or laptop that is worth several lakhs (or worth a lot of secrets). Would you be able to hand your most prized or cherished item to any person who comes to your house? No. Then maybe an acquaintance? I’m guessing still no. Give it your driver to keep, or any other helper in the house? A relative? All no. Then how do we trust someone so readily when it comes to our children?
We don’t want to believe that we live amongst dangerous people. But ask the weak or helpless and you will see a different world. Just because it doesn’t happen to us does not mean it doesn’t happen at all. It all starts with someone manipulating you into trusting them to facilitate their evil schemes. Once trust has been established by parents and children, they start planning their moves. We as parents grant such people this easy access to our most priceless children. We put them in danger because we are too scared of misjudging someone and questioning their ulterior motives.
People don’t speak about child sexual abuse. It’s too uncomfortable to think about. Parents find out that their child has been molested and they bury that secret forever. Spouses don’t share that information and worry how the other will react. Family members are not told, and no one takes any action against the culprit by taking the matter to the police. We would rather be in denial than be angry enough to do something about it and get justice for a helpless child who was targeted because of their vulnerability and innocence.
What is the result? The family moves on, and so does the rapist. But does the child? No. Another child is raped or molested, and their family also stays quiet. The cycle is repeated in every home, community, society. What bright future are we expecting for our country when the youth has gone through such hell in their childhood?
What would happen if a #MeToo movement started in Pakistan? How many children would be allowed to speak out? Lot’s of prominent Pakistani’s celebrities have joined the movement and exposed their most hidden nightmares. That is worthy of praise. It’s sad to say we don’t even have any statistics for child sexual abuse. Vague numbers are given here and there but nothing concrete. Despite all this, we know that children are mostly molested or raped by someone in the family or someone close to it. Just like Zainab.
I wanted to share the story of a girl I read about back in University when I was doing a research project on child sexual abuse. Twelve-year-old Maha (names have been changed) was having problems in school. She told her workaholic parents that she needed help and asked them to get her a tutor. A close family friend, Asif, who was visiting at the time, heard the conversation and offered to help. Asif was a married man with two kids of his own. He was free for the time being and could come every day to teach the child. The family happily obliged and sighed with relief since Asif had saved them a lot of trouble of finding a suitable tutor for their daughter.
Maha was very excited since Asif was a fun person to be with and always made her laugh. She knew he would make things easier for her and help her improve. She had set up her books in the living room to start studying with him. But as soon as he entered, he asked her to take the books in her bedroom, that way there would be fewer distractions from her siblings. The child thought nothing of it. He asked her to close the door, and they got right to work.
Can you Keep a Secret?
A few days, this routine went on, and everything seemed fine until one day he asked Maha, “How good are you with keeping secrets?”. She said “I can keep a secret, why? Do you have one to tell me?” and Asif said, ” I have really good secrets, but it will be tough to keep them.” Maha insisted that she could keep any secret. Asif said, “Ok, then, I will test you with the small secrets first, and if you successfully keep it hidden from everybody, only then I will tell you the big secrets.”
The following day, he said to her “So are you ready for secret number one?” She answers with anticipation “Please tell me.” He asks her to sit in front of her and starts touching her inappropriately. When she hesitates, he says “What happened? Don’t you like it?”. This is the kind of secrets adults keep”. She asks not to be touched. Asif says “Wow, I guess you are still a baby but guess what? It’s ok. Let’s continue to study.”
Maha diverts the conversation to math. Sensing her discomfort, Asif decides to stop, but before leaving, he says “I hope everything stays a secret between us since you’re such an excellent secret keeper.” After he went, the fourteen-year-old Maha tried to make some sense of it all. What was he trying to do? Why did he do that? It didn’t feel right. What made him feel that he could touch her like that?
The next day she goes to school with her mind still revolving around it all. She couldn’t stop obsessing, but who should she ask? Her friends might make fun of her? They might think she is too immature or worse gossip about it to others in school. She confides in a friend who tells her; she probably misread the whole thing. Maha thought she might be obsessing over it too much. So she decides to go ahead with the tuitions.
Asif returns that afternoon and asks her “So did you keep my secret?” and Maha told him she mentioned something to her friend. This made Asif nervous, “What did she say?” he asked and she replied, “nothing,” trying to avoid talking about it at all. Asif took a sigh of relief and said: “That’s what I told you, it’s just what adults do, come here and sit next to me.” He puts his hand around her and hugs her and says “We are like best buddies, I wouldn’t hurt you ever. I love you. All of this is very normal, trust me. There is no need to tell anyone because you’re not doing anything wrong.”
Maha wasn’t sure but didn’t want to overcomplicate things. One tuition after the other, the molestation’s went from gentle patting to more prominent touching where there was no doubt what this man wanted from her and why he was here. She decided to go to her mom and tell her everything. Maha didn’t want to be alone with him ever again. Just watching him would make her nervous and sick to her stomach. She knew one day he would do something even more grievous than only touching.
A party was going on, and Maha couldn’t wait. She went up to her mother and said: “Ma, I need to tell you something.” Never been upfront with her mother before, she wasn’t sure, how her mother will react, but she knew she had to take a stand or risk being raped by Asif. She escorted her mother to the room who was very agitated by her daughter pulling her out of the party like that just for something that was bound to be nonsense.
Maha told her mom, “I don’t want to study with Asif anymore.” Mom gets astonished and asks “Why not? You love Asif Uncle. He is an excellent engineer. You will not find someone better to teach you Maths. He is very qualified and enjoys spending time with you. Besides your exams are close and its too late to find someone else for you. Do you want to fail? If something is going well, then let it go on. After the exams, we will find you someone else, Ok?” Maha says “Maah; I don’t want to study with him even if I fail. I don’t like him, and he touches me in a wrong way !”
The mother says “Oh come on! Now, what is that supposed to mean he touches you wrong?” Why do you exaggerate things like that? He is your uncle, and he loves children. We have known him for years. He was probably cuddling you too tight, and you misread the whole thing. No, stop being crazy. I can’t go around telling people, please don’t hug my child just because you don’t like it. You have to learn to accept that there are all kinds of people who display their emotions differently.”
“BUT MAAH, HE TOUCHES ME IN THE WRONG PLACES. HE TOUCHES ME ON MY CHEST AND MY LOWER PARTS, WHY ARE YOU NOT GETTING IT !!!. I DON’T WANT HIM, IN MY HOUSE, IN THIS FAMILY, IN MY LIFE !” says the child. The mother was taken aback by this outburst. Anything she says will only distress her daughter more and may provoke her to confide in another family member. Who knows what they will make out of it? It could tarnish Maha’s future with unverified gossip.
She asks her daughter again to show her which parts did Asif exactly touch, and asked her again “Are you sure? This is not something you can accuse someone of; it is very serious”. She added, “Maybe he wanted to pat your legs or arms, and his hand accidentally touched that area?” To her dismay, the daughter said that Asif continued to pat her in those areas even when she stopped him.
Bury the Secret Forever
The mother didn’t know what to do. Her husband was known to be an emotional man, especially regarding his daughters. If he found out, he will surely do something drastic. If the family found out, no one would want to marry her daughters. She had to be diplomatic. She decided she would ask Asif to stop teaching her daughter and that would be indication enough for him to know that now she is aware of what’s been going on. That night she went to alleviate her daughter’s fear (or so she thought). She told her ” Maha, I’m not sure what happened between you and Asif, but I want you to make sure you are never alone with him ever.”
Maha felt relieved and secured upon hearing such words. Now she would be protected, and Asif will never come near her again. Her mother continued and said ” We have to live in this family, and tomorrow you guys will have to get married. If you tell anyone about this, remember that you will be destroying your future. Keep this to yourself. He is like a member of this family now, and we cannot cut him off like that suddenly. You make sure you are always with somebody and always take the house helper when he takes you guys out.”
“Huh ?!?! What do you mean when he takes us out? Will you still allow him to come to our house???” Maha asked. The mom replied “So what do you want me to do? Cut him off and tell your father who will probably kill him. Why do you want a tamasha in front of the family? Keep it to yourself, and nothing will happen. No one should come to know about this, and if you tell them, they will laugh at you. They will think you are the one who is exaggerating. Asif is well respected in the family and community. No one will believe you”. Maha felt disappointed and let down by her mother. She thought she would never have to see his face again, but instead, she would be reminded of her ordeal every time Asif came.
Help from an unexpected person.
Despite her mother’s warning, she confided to the house helper. Ama was a middle-aged woman who already sensed the inappropriateness of Asif’s behavior since day one when he asked to study in the room alone. She noticed Maha in distress each time she came out of the place with Asif but thought she might be wrong about it all since she was studying for her exams.
A significant time had passed and Maha started to suffer in school. She could not concentrate in school or at home. What if Asif came to pick her up from school and then took her somewhere? The teachers would hand her over since he was on the emergency contact list. What if she went home and he sends Ama out to get something. He will surely try to take advantage of her then.
It was enough Maha could not sleep during the nights, but now she had to spend all her day worrying how Asif will plot to get to her. Ama had her worries as well. She could see Maha’s behavior was becoming erratic and beyond her control. The parents should know about this, but if she spoke to her bosses, they might get offended or worse not believe her and fire her. There will be no one to help Maha. She had to protect her in any way she can.
It relieved Maha when Ama cared about her so much and felt equally distressed about her own mother’s lack of action to protect her. A woman, who was not her mother was providing comfort and safety to her. Whenever she woke up kicking and screaming, it was Ama who gently stroked her hair and soothed her back to sleep. “Where is my mother? Doesn’t she hear me cry? Didn’t she hear me scream? She knows about everything and yet she is not here, Ama is.”
Something had to be done to keep Asif away from Maha so they devised a plan together. Every time Asif arrived, she was ready to drive him away with one excuse or another. Normally, she would send Maha away to the neighbors for a playdate or tell Asif at the door that no one was home. Even if the madam found out, she would know why Ama did it. At last, the visits became infrequent.
The story doesn’t end here folks.
Maha watched Asif become one of the most prominent and successful people in the community. She saw his children grow up to follow his footsteps. Maha heard people revere so highly about the kind of exemplary father and person Asif turned out to be. She listened to his daughter speak about her father like a hero. Maha could only think about, who would believe her if she told the truth about Asif? How was this fair? She grew up like a psycho, and he got more respected and rich even after what he did?
Maha grew up to be suspicious of men and vowed never to trust one. She also started to believe that people didn’t know how to judge anyone. Why didn’t anyone raise any concerns when they saw Asif take her into a room? Why didn’t anyone notice how much attention he paid to her and not her sister? It wasn’t like she favored him a lot or displayed any particular affection towards Asif. People are stupid, she believed, and even they are not worthy of her respect.
Psychologically Maha suffered. She always felt there was no rectification. That person got to live his life without facing any adversity from anyone about what he did to her or possibly did to other girls, and here she is sentenced to a lifetime of awful memories and unanswered questions like “Why me?”. Once exposed to this ugly and wretched dark side of a man, all her decisions regarding the men in her life were influenced by what happened to her. Maha wasn’t aware how she was filtering everything through that experience.
She always said, “If a person like Asif, who is so loved, trusted and respected in the family and community could have such a hideous side to him, then surely nobody can be trusted.” Maha had a hard time making friends or trust anyone. Asif’s antics never ended. He attempted several times to be with Maha alone, and when his efforts would go in vain, he would put her down in front of other people by building her reputation as an immature, irrational and overly emotional girl who could not tell the difference between right or wrong.
In her late 20’s, she finally agreed to marry but always wondered if she should tell her fiancé about what happened. Maha decided against it. Living with a secret after the marriage was very difficult and often she became suspicious and cynical about her husband, who also picked up on her behavior. It got to a point where he believed she was psychologically unstable and needed help. He didn’t want to live with her but didn’t want to divorce her either. But something needed to change, and it had to be her.
“Should I tell him?” she thinks. Her mother’s words echo in her mind. What if she tells him and he, in turn, becomes more firm in his decision to divorce her? She had two kids. Her mother would soon find out she acted against her advice. What will the family think? Asif would deny it all. She had a daughter, and maybe somebody might tell her an exaggerated version of the story when she grew up.
After going over it for many days. She decided to face it. She hid it and let it affect her all her life. Today she will let the truth out. She kept her faith strong and shed off all the baggage she was carrying these years. Maha didn’t care if, by the end of it all, she is the one standing alone. She owed her husband the truth for driving him mad and weakening their relationship. The husband and wife sat down to reconcile, and Maha told him everything. The husband didn’t say anything for the longest time but felt relieved after knowing the source of Maha’s behavior. Thankfully, he didn’t leave her.
Its simple folks, your kids, your responsibility. No child should have to go through such a chlidhood or lifetime. Their protection is in your hands, and you must ensure that they are safe and grow up to be healthy human beings. How? Wait for the next post. Take care of your children. Please.
Until next time. Take care.