By Alveena Salim
Muslims seem to be uncomfortable discussing issues which ‘make Muslims look bad’ – others may even go as far as to deny that they actually happen. However, Allah (swt) has commanded Muslims to stand up for justice. It makes no difference if it affects one individual or thousands. We need to have the confidence and courage to admit our shortcomings and stand up for the oppressed. Even if the oppressors are Muslims.
Sexual abuse in the Muslim community can take place in many different forms. It can take place within the community where trusted, respectable figures take advantage of those in their care or it can take place within the family. In nearly all cases, sexual abuse is viewed as taboo which makes people brush this issue under the carpet.
What is sexual abuse?
Sexual abuse is any kind of non-consentual sexual contact forced upon another person. In other words any sexual act where a person is forced to do something they don’t want to. This can be anything from inappropriate touching to actual sexual intercourse. Children and women are more likely to be victims of this kind of abuse, but that is not to say that it doesn’t happen to adult males too. The abuse can be a one-off isolated incident or something which occurs regularly.
In most cases, the person who sexually abuses another is in a position of trust and authority. Studies have shown that often the perpetrator is someone known to the victim i.e. a family member or someone known to the victims such as a family friend, a neighbour or a teacher.
Sexual abuse is most likely to take place within the family, where a parent, sibling, cousin or relative may take advantage of their position of trust and exploit a young, vulnerable person under their care.
People who abuse children may come from any religious background, nationality or gender. It is not always adults that abuse children. It is possible for children or teenagers to behave in an abusive way.
Abdul from Nottingham talks about his nightmare ordeal:
“ I was 10 years old and my cousin who was about 18 took me for a spin in his car. I looked up to him and saw him as a big brother. After a bit he parked the car up and asked me to sit in the back. I didn’t think much of it. Next thing I knew was that he was touching me and trying to pull my trousers off. I was scared and kept telling him to stop but he tried kissing me and just wanted to take my pants off. I did enough to push him away and get out of the car. Fifteen years later it still haunts me and it has had a massive affect on my life. In a way I’m lucky he didn’t rape me as I found out later he also tried it on with several of my other cousins as well. This experience has made it difficult for me to trust anyone at all and I still have a lot of anger inside me.”
Adam from Bradford also speaks about how he was abused by his uncle when he was only 7 years old:
“I always played games with my uncle since he arrived from Pakistan. One day he was at my house and he told me to go upstairs so we could play there. He took me to my room and started wrestling with me and it was great fun. But then he started taking my clothes off. He took my trousers off and told me to turn around. Then he raped me. Then he went away. I just cried and couldn’t really understand what had happened. It’s been ten years now and only now have I started talking to certain people about it. I have tried to forget what happened but I just can’t. A lot of the time I just feel depressed but now some of my family members know and they have given me a lot of support and confidence.”
Haseena from Ipswich talks directly to others who may have been abused:
“It didn’t really affect me until my flashbacks started when I was about 14, then it changed me. I could never trust people, especially not men. ESPECIALLY Asian Muslim men. It drew me away from Islam completely. I don’t think you can ever ‘get over it’. I think you learn to deal with it. You learn that it wasn’t your fault and not everyone is like that. You learn to deal with the painful memories as just memories and realise that you have a life ahead of you. My advice would be to talk about it to someone who you can trust. Don’t make the mistake that I did and block it away trying not to think about it, because all you do is think about it and it slowly eats away at you. Once you can admit it happened and talk about it you can learn to deal with it and start to live the rest of your life.”
Sexual abuse by ‘religious’ teachers
There are numerous self-professed ‘religious’ teachers around these days. Many of them claim to make your problems go away for an unreasonable amount of money. In some cases, the ‘religious’ teacher may request to see their patient in a private setting away from the prying eyes of their family. They may even insist that they need to be totally secluded in order to do the job properly. This practise is wrong and completely un-Islamic. Parents and carers need to be careful about trusting strangers with their children and loved ones. If a ‘religious’ teacher was true to his faith, he would never seek to be alone with someone that he wasn’t related to.
Laila speaks of her experience:
“When I was fighting against my forced marriage my parents took me to see a holy man. He took me into a room and didn’t let my parents in. He made me lie on my back, uncover my stomach and scorched me with a burning hot sabre. He slapped me violently and systematically whilst shouting in Arabic. I was in severe pain. I had to play along because he wouldn’t stop hurting me. He told my parents to bring me back and informed them that someone had put a spell on me, and that’s why I was rejecting my marriage. He told them to slaughter a black cockerel and throw it over a bridge. My parents obliged. For the next five sessions, I was locked in a room with him on a bed whilst he forced me to drink bitter potions and rubbed himself against me like a pig and ogled me like the dirty old man he was. He did everything to me, except take my virginity. I never talked about this with anyone. This so-called religious man went to the mosque, led prayer and was officially a good Muslim. If I accused him, I would have placed myself in danger.”
People who abuse children may emotionally blackmail them, threaten them or give them presents or treats to silence them.
In some cases the abuser will often play on the child’s fear, embarrassment or guilt about what is happening; sometimes the abuser will make the child believe that he or she enjoyed it and wanted it to happen. This psychological blackmail and the fact that a child is not mentally prepared for physical stimulation can be confusing and emotionally traumatising for the child.
Sexual abuse can cause the child to behave in an unusual manner. The following are various signs to look out for:
• A child being overly affectionate or knowledgeable in a sexual way inappropriate to the child’s age.
• The development of medical problems such as chronic itching, pain in the genitals, venereal diseases.
• Self-mutilation, suicide attempts or running away from home.
• Personality changes such as having low self-esteem, being depressed, becoming insecure or clingy.
• Regressing to younger behaviour patterns such as thumb sucking or bringing out discarded cuddly toys.
• Sudden loss of appetite or compulsive eating, or the development of an eating disorder such as anorexia or bulimia.
• Being isolated or withdrawn.
• Inability to concentrate.
• Lack of trust or fear of someone they know well, for example not wanting to be alone with a babysitter/child minder or refusing to go to a particular place.
• Having flashbacks, bed-wetting, suffering from insomnia or having nightmares.
• Become worried about clothing being removed
• Suddenly drawing sexually explicit pictures
• Dramatic drop in achievement at school or mosque.
So why do people sexually abuse others?
Other than being sick in the head there are a number of factors that make people abusive. Abusers often pick up the habit after watching their own fathers/uncles etc. abuse the women/children in their family when they were growing up. In other instances, people who are unable to deal with the frustrations that are taking place in their life, i.e. economic hardships, work issues, insecurities etc, take it out on the vulnerable. Some people who sexually abuse children have psychological issues and don’t actually see anything wrong with their actions. Some abusers have been victims of sexual abuse themselves or have come from unhappy and or violent homes.
Effects of sexual abuse
The effect sexual abuse has on a person is phenomenal. Sexual abuse can leave deep emotional, physical and psychological scars. Children who have been abused can develop deep distrust in adults, have issues with commitment, develop a fear or an unnatural understanding of future sexual relationships and may even turn to drugs, crime or promiscuous behaviour to deal with the past.
Why don’t victims of sexual abuse speak out?
In most Muslim communities sexual abuse is seen as a taboo issue. Unfortunately this prevents Muslim victims from seeking the help needed to overcome it. A lot of people don’t speak out against the abuse because they are afraid to do so, thinking it might lead to it happening again. Suffering from low-esteem, some victims even blame themselves for the abuse or feel deeply embarrassed. Others don’t speak out because they are worried about the consequences it will have on their family. As Muslims it is essential that we speak up for victims of sexual abuse and encourage them to seek the variety of confidential help and support available to them.
Are you a victim of sexual abuse?
1. Know that you are not alone and you are not to blame
There are many others who have suffered in a similar way to you. It is important to remember that no one has the right to sexually assault, attack, harass or abuse another person. Did you cause it? Of course not! Are you a bad person because of it? Absolutely not! The abuser is to blame. The abuser is a sick person and the only one who is in the wrong. They alone are the ones who caused it.
2. Tell someone trustworthy about it
Telling someone else about your experience is a way of getting help. Understandably, it takes a lot of courage but if you have been keeping it hidden inside of you because of shame and fear, it’s time to break this wall. Confide in someone you can trust. You might find it easier to talk to someone you don’t know like a counsellor rather than open up to a friend or family member. If so there are plenty of organisations you can contact; these are people who care and will listen to you and help you overcome it.
3. Consider telling the police about it
You may save someone else from being similarly attacked or abused if the police know who your
4. Get counselling
There are professionals trained to help those who have been abused. You are simply getting proper assistance from someone who knows how to help you deal with this emotionally and psychologically. Don’t bottle up your emotions as it will just make it more difficult to overcome. Counselling and psychotherapy have been proven to be effective treatments for those who have been abused. This can be in the form of individual, group or family therapy.
5. Have dreams and set goals
When we stop dreaming we die inside. Dreaming is a wonderful outlet. Set goals that are realistic. Make sure they are specific and make sure you set time frames. These time frames and goals can be evaluated and updated and changed as the need arises.
6. Believe that anything is possible
Some people call this faith. Have faith that you will overcome the past. Have faith that you will have positive future relationships. You might think that you won’t ever recover from your dreadful experience or that it has damaged you forever but that isn’t likely to be the case. You might not be able to change what has happened but you can certainly, over time, make sense of what’s happened to you and minimise the effect it has on your life.
7. Put your trust in Allah (swt)
Ask Allah (swt) for help regularly. He (swt) is the source of strength and guidance, and can and WILL help you get through this. Turn to Him (swt) regularly in prayer and supplication when you feel overwhelmed with this situation or any other difficulty.
According to Islam, all life is sacred. No one has been given the power or right to harm others. As Muslims we have a duty to protect each other and those in our care. We MUST speak out against any known atrocities and should never try to cover them up.
HELP AND SUPPORT
If you have been affected by sexual abuse then the following are reliable and trusted organisations you can contact for confidential help and support in dealing with it.
Tel: 0808 800 5000
NSPCC Asian Helpline
Bengali 0800 096 7714
Gujarati 0800 096 7715
Hindi 0800 096 7716
Punjabi 0800 096 7717
Urdu 0800 096 7718
Asian/English 0800 096 7719
Sakinah (Muslim counseling service)
0870 005 3084
Muslim Youth Helpline
0808 808 2008
Free phone 0808 980 1958
Telephone advice, information and support for mothers and female carers of children who have been sexually abused.
01474 537 392
Helpline and counselling for children, adolescents and adults who have been victims of abuse. Services for non-abusing family members.
Tel: 0808 800 5000