The Shroud of Shame


This week’s blog post is a very difficult one to write. It’s only Tuesday, but after the events of yesterday (the Orlando shootings) I feel as though I’m ready for the weekend and a long lie down in a darkened room.

I should also say that this blog post does contain some content which may upset or unsettle some readers because of the topic I’m discussing. It’s one that I’ve never really blogged about, probably because it’s so personal, and one that many people don’t talk about.

Last night, I took part in a Twitter chat, held by SayftyCom, about child sexual abuse (CSA). The thought of someone harming a child in any way is enough for me to feel physical pain. And that’s just the thought of it happening.

Statistics from the Crimes Against Children Research Centre show that 1 in 5 girls and 1 in 20 boys have been victims of child sexual abuse. In addition to this, an estimated 20% of adult women and 5-10% of adult men recalled an incident where they had experienced sexual abuse as a child.

When I read these statistics, and the stories of other people sharing their own stories of child sexual abuse, it felt like something had hit my heart hard enough to make me cry.

As a journalist, we’re exposed to some pretty horrible things (to put it lightly) and are expected to maintain a sense of professionalism and decorum while reporting or writing about horrific events. But this really got to me because of how close the topic is to me.

The discussion made me think deeply about this issue, and more importantly, how South Asians deal with incidents of child sexual abuse. It’s not something we hear, for rather obvious reasons, let alone discuss things like domestic violence,  in an open manner.

Dealing with something  as sensitive as child sexual abuse is understandably complex. For people who have experienced it, whenever they talk about it or think about it, it’s like reliving the trauma. What makes it even worse is when people don’t believe them, don’t take them seriously or shame them for happened.

And South Asians are notorious when it comes to shoving shame into each other, themselves and their children. Yes, that sounds harsh, but how many of us are overly familiar with the shroud of shame?

It’s one thing to shame someone for leading a double life, or having a secret partner – both of which are not valid reasons to shame someone, but it something quite altogether to shame someone for daring to speak about a trauma they faced as a child.

It is damaging on every level to shame someone  who dares to open their mouth and say: “I was raped as a child” and/or “I was sexually assaulted as a child in my own home by a relative.”

As a woman of South Asian descent, I can just about handle being shamed for not being slim enough, not being fair-skinned enough or having straight hair, but I draw the line at South Asians who shame/mock those who have been sexually abused.

On a superficial level, nearly every single person believes that they would never shame someone who’s experienced this. But shame manifests itself in different forms; some of which we aren’t even aware of. This includes asking why they didn’t fight back, why they didn’t tell someone straight away, not believing the victim, fearing that abused children will become abusers, saying things like: “Oh that sort of thing doesn’t happen in our culture” or asking them what type of clothing they wore when it happened.

When people think of sexual predators, paedophiles and abusers, they generally think of images of mad-eyed men with snarling faces, salivating jaws and deranged facial expressions.

We think of them as monsters; we categorise them as ‘the other’ so that it creates some sort of space between us and them. And we take refuge in that tiny bit of space and we sit in our ivory towers with a sense of smugness about ourselves. They are the monsters; we are the rational human beings.

But the truth is that within our human bodies, we have the choice to become monster, in the same way that we have the choice to listen with empathy  and to not judge to individuals when they speak up about childhood sexual abuse.







9 thoughts on “The Shroud of Shame

  1. In India 79% of girls/women have been abused by family members or relatives. That should tell you a lot. Parents look the other way and say nothing. Instead of taking the male members to task, they blame the girls. This, unfortunately, is what our society is and until and unless we change our mindset, there will never be any improvement in the thinking and behavior of people. Your generation has to take a stand. Unfortunately, there are very few (percentage wise) like you to make this change work.


    • Hi! Thanks for reading the blog and leaving a comment. I’ve had tech problems with WordPress and have been unable to reply to comments, look at notifications etc.
      79%!!? That statistic itself makes me physically sick: which report is this from? I’d very much like to read it and share it with my readers so that they get an idea of how big the scale is.
      Unfortunately, we hide behind shame and toxic behaviour patterns that almost everyone in our various communities mimics.
      I agree; we must stop blaming girls and we must stop blaming the victims. Abuse is never ever anyone’s fault – especially not the victim.
      I worry that many Asians, even in my generation, don’t seem to fully grasp this, don’t seem to understand the psychology of how abusers work, how shame works and the devastating impact that it has upon us. That stress also has a way of manifesting itself into our children, our younger cousins and grandchildren because everything is inter-connected.
      I don’t know how we can try to change our mindset, I really don’t. Before I felt optimistic that there were young, progressive and influential South Asians who could really make a stand. However, I’m realising that these people are merely drops in the ocean. I will be doing some soul searching in the coming weeks to try and think of something.


      • I read it in India. I’ll get it for you. Until and unless your generation changes its mindset, things would not change. We, as a society, are too invested in worrying about the community. Even today there is inequality between the sexes. Families, especially mothers, openly favor their sons over daughters. “Boys will be boys” is the excuse often used by these people. When a girl dares to report molestation by any male, the first reaction by parents is usually, “you are lying!” Then they start making excuses for the perpetrator and blaming the victim for having put herself in a situation where she made herself vulnerable. In the end they use emotional blackmail, which just shuts her up.
        Our generation, I am afraid, is not going to change. Yours can, but for that all of you have to be on board.


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