Tuesday 7 December 2010

Sex abuse in Muslim families goes unreported

Four Dutch-Moroccan women, Rabea, Zohra, Ibtisam and Saïda, were all sexually abused by members of their families: their fathers, uncles, brothers or cousins.

After years of silence, they have decided to speak out because they know that many other Muslim women suffer the same fate. A care worker: “Taboos, secrecy, silence, shame and a closed community are almost a recipe for sexual abuse.”

The idea of ‘family honour’ meant that Rabea, Zohra, Ibtisam and Saïda kept their mouths shut. Now they are telling their stories to try and break the taboo surrounding sexual abuse in Muslim families. They no longer see themselves as victims. Their mission is to help other women who are in trouble now.

Young victims Their stories are individual but share much common ground. They were all around four or five when someone in their family started abusing them. The girls all kept silent because of threats, but also for fear of bringing ‘dishonour’ on the family. They didn’t even consider going to the police. Even now, they think that would be going too far.

Rabea was abused as a little girl by her father. She became caught up in herself and grew defiant.

“It’s so unnatural. If you’re beaten up at school or on the street, you go to your parents or your teacher. But this is your father. That goes against everything you believe in. I didn’t know how to talk about it and to whom I could turn. I was in danger of ending up in prostitution, but that didn’t happen luckily. Other people’s support and my belief in Jesus Christ helped to give me strength in the end.”

Robbed of everything Zohra kept her story to herself for years. She now tells of how she was raped by her cousin in Morocco when she was five:

“I was staying with my aunt and my cousin was looking after me. That day is engraved on my memory – he robbed me of everything. My aunt caught us. She said she’d deny everything if I told my parents. Nobody would believe me. I lost trust in everything. You’re damaged by sexual abuse, but I’ve learned that you can recover.”

Recipe for abuse

Kristina Aamand has heard lots of similar stories. She works at an emergency shelter for young women in Denmark which, like the Netherlands, has a large Islamic immigrant population.

“It goes on in immigrant and native Danish families. It’s just that we never look for it in the Muslim community. When I was being trained, I was told I didn’t need to learn anything about sex abuse in Islamic countries because incest was forbidden by Islam and didn’t happen. That was really naïve. Taboos, secrets, silence, shame and a closed community are almost a recipe for sexual abuse.”

Cast out of the family Ibtisam was abused by her brother almost daily between the age of six and 12. “If I told on him, he would blame me. I would be killed or cast out of the family. I felt dirty, unhappy and rejected by my own family. I was very lonely. I was a girl that wasn’t alive. I was breathing but that was all.” The abuse stopped a year after Ibtisam threatened to tell on her brother.

Saïda was the victim of several abusers. She still suffers from the consequences every day. “I was abused from the age of four to 20 by different people. It destroyed me both physically and mentally. I felt afraid. I am still unable to be intimate with men, or fall in love. I did not have a normal childhood.” The doctor said she was mad. A couple of years ago, Saïda set up a project for abused Islamic girls. She realised there are more girls like her who do not tell their stories.

Confide Zohra, Rabea, Ibtisam and Saïda are not alone. There are more indications of sexual abuse in Islamic families. A crisis centre in Friesland takes in victims of honour-related violence. Half of them turned out to be sexually abused by a relative. Most of them have a Moroccan or Turkish background, some of them are Iraqi, Afghan or Kurd.

Zohra, Ibtisam, Saïda and Rabea are older now and have got their lives back in order. They want women with similar problems to confide in someone they trust. “They are not alone. Telling your story gets easier. I hope victims can draw strength from our stories,” says Ibtisam.


1 comment:

  1. Thank you for this post. Such issues are surely under reported and under discussed in our communities. I write about an experience with a more subtle form of sexual coercion than those experienced by the women in this post. I think the more of us talk, the more we will realize this to be a significant problem in our communities that must be addressed immediately. May Allah strengthen us.