Shhh… The secrets we keep…

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Alisya’s parents were divorced and she was seven years old when her mother married again. That was when everything went downhill for her. Her mother had to go to work, and as her stepfather work shifts, he was often around in the daytime. Sometimes, he would pick her up from school. As days went by, Alisya became more withdrawn. Her teacher asked her if anything was wrong, but she kept silent. Three years later, she revealed to her mother that her stepfather had been sexually abusing her. Her mother told her not to tell anyone.

We often hear of cases of child sexual abuse in Western countries. Child sexual abuse came to the spotlight when Oprah Winfrey interviewed Truddi Chase who developed 92 personalities after a particularly extreme case of sexual abuse since she was two. But are there child sexual abuse cases here? Statistics show a low incidence of child sexual abuse cases here, but the reality is, there may be cases which are not reported.

Living in Asian families, it is important to avoid shaming the family. From a young age, we learn that certain topics are taboo, not to be discussed. Ever. As a result, it becomes difficult for us sometimes to seek help, or take action. It is so important to keep up appearances, especially living at a place where a lot is expected of us. It is unsurprising then, when reports of child sexual abuse is met with great suspicion. Within the Muslim community, the survivor of the abuse may even be accused of shaming a fellow Muslim. Despite the difficulties in verifying abuse cases, it is important not to brush it aside.

Repentance and Forgiveness
The problem with keeping secrets in this case is that the perpetrator can continue to hurt other children. Child sexual abusers, most often, need to undergo treatment and therapy. In our community, we tend to think that child sexual abusers should be left alone once they repent. But is the utterance of repentance enough in their case? One scholar mentions that people with specific mental illnesses, such as pedophilia, should be separated from society. In today’s context, this usually means that they should be reported to the authorities. People often mistake forgiveness as forgetting the past, and moving on. Forgiveness becomes an easy way out of taking the necessary action. Forgiveness does not mean giving the abuser the opportunity to repeat his wrongdoing. Understandably though, reporting such cases is a difficult thing to do. Depending on the situation, the least a person should do is to ensure that the abuser is not left alone with another child, as a precaution.

It’s All in The Past
Children who were abused, either physically, emotionally or sexually, are at higher risk of developing several mental and physical illnesses in later life. They are more prone to depression, anxiety and attention-deficit disorder, among other illnesses. To tell the survivors of child abuse that, “It’s all in the past”, shows a lack of understanding. Although the abuse may happen in the past, the effects may last a lifetime. Do not tell them that they lack Iman (faith), or how a good Muslim can overcome all challenges. Sometimes, we tend to brush off the sufferings of others with statements like that. Be kind, and encourage them to seek help if they need it. With sufficient support, good companionship, Dhikr and self-reflection, survivors can heal spiritually and emotionally.