KARACHI: I am a rather private person when it comes to sharing things with my family. As ironic as it may sound, I feel like the people I live with know me the least. I don’t blame anyone for it, nor do I mind the dynamics of our house. Half of the things remain unsaid because some of us in the house don’t like to exchange in dialogue a lot, and the rest remain a secret because I don’t know how to tell them, or what good telling them would bring to any of us. So I say it with a lot of ease that my family does not know about my experience with sexual abuse as a child. Yes, I was sexually abused at the age of 10 in my own house.
It is a secret that I have been able to keep for over 16 years. My abuser was someone who lived in the same house as me. He was our tenant. As a kid, I would often visit his place to play with his nieces. Mind you, I rarely visited alone. My brother was often with me but he was also only a child. I was too young to understand the concept of abuse when it first happened but after a couple of times, I was able to tell that I was not comfortable. I did not tell my mother because I did not know what to tell her. I did not fully understand what was happening with me, but I did understand that it needed to stop. So I stopped visiting his house altogether.
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Why did I not tell anyone?
Perhaps ‘strong’ is the worst way to describe survivors of sexual abuse but I guess that is what I was as a child. It took me years to identify and realize that I had been made a target of child sexual abuse. And by the time I did, there was no point left in telling my family or anyone else. The abuser’s family had moved out of our house, his name had been erased from my mind entirely. The memory is 16 years old for me, but if I were to tell my family, they would have to start from day one. It might take my family 16 years to gather the courage that I seem to have now, and for me, that is not a gamble worth making.
I am now a 26-year-old woman living in Pakistan. My freedom is already very restricted because of the society I live in. What do you think is going to happen when my family realizes that their worst fear has already come to life?
Why am I writing this now?
This is not the first time that I have penned down my experience with sexual abuse. I wrote an essay a few years ago which my sister stumbled upon but not wanting her to go through the trauma that I did, I told her it was only fiction. But it’s not fiction. And I am not the only survivor out there. There are millions like me and this Sexual Assault Awareness Month, if even one adult can gather the courage to come forward, it might contribute towards something.
I am writing this now because today, I am an aunt to three beautiful children. I love them dearly but translating my love into physical acts is something that I am very cautious about. I immediately go into a sense of guilt when I ask one of the kids for a hug or a kiss that they do not want to give me. My past plays itself in front of my eyes each time I hug a kid longer than they wish. I hate telling them “I’ll give you what you want after you give me a kiss”. My stomach does a somersault whenever I see my brother kiss a girl child out of love. My heart breaks at the possibility of these children going through what I did regardless of how safe we try to keep them.
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My parents tried to keep me safe too. I was in my own house. I don’t remember what I was wearing but I’m sure my outfits had been picked out by my mother. I don’t even remember my abuser’s name but I remember every single minute that he was around me.
I do not know how we can keep our children safe because we never know who the abuser might be. But what we can do is teach our children the concept of consent. What we can do is teach our children the ability to say no. We can provide them a safe space where they are comfortable talking to us about any and everything that makes them uneasy. We can listen to our children better, and I’m not just talking about verbal cues. More importantly, we can teach our children, and ourselves, to live without guilt. Because it’s not your fault it happened. It’s only the abuser’s fault that it happened.