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.