When children are abused by adults who are supposed to protect them from harm, their ability to trust and rely on adults may be shattered. In this case, Nabila feared no one would believe her if she told of the abuse, and that her family, especially her mother, would be “furious” with her for “speaking against a holy man. ” She also believed that disclosing the abuse would destroy and bring shame on her family. And so, she remained silent about her abuse for years – thinking that it would be best to keep quiet. Furthermore, Knowing that the Imam was well-loved and admired by members of the Muslim community, made telling others about the abuse even more difficult for her as a child. After all, who would believe the words of a child against the words of a respected Muslim leader in the community?
She felt confused as to why she was singled out by the Imam, and felt a deep sense of betrayal by her family after they learnt of the abuse but did nothing about it to stand up to nor confront the Imam. Nabila’s self-esteem and self – worth were affected. She began hating herself and became depressed and rebellious. And eventually resorted to self-harm as her way of coping with the abuse. And then later ended up living with a man who emotionally and physically abused her for over 10 years. In addition, she had huge intimacy and trust issues.
I was disappointed, but not surprised by Nabila’s parents’ reaction after they learnt of the abuse. They could have sought professional help to support and help her to deal with the abuse but instead, they choose to remain silent to save face. I was especially upset and disappointed by her dad, who as the man of the home did not confront the Imam nor reported the abuse. In fact, all the men in Nabila’s life never stood up for her, men she loved-men she admired-men she trusted.
“My secret was out. I’d always longed to tell my parents but I’d never dreamt they would find out like this. For all those years I’d desperately hoped that someone would come along and rescue me, but they hadn’t. Now Mum knew everything and she blamed me, just as I had always feared she would. If only Wafa could have kept my secret then everything would have been okay. Would Mum tell Dad? What would he think of his beautiful little girl doing horrible, disgusting things with the imam? I’d brought shame on the family. I’d be cast out. No one would want me any more. Distraught, I ran into the house and bolted straight upstairs to my bedroom, where I buried my face in the pillow and began to cry bitterly. Downstairs I could hear my parents’ raised voices. Dad was shouting and Mum was wailing. Of course she would tell him. She told him everything. I tried to imagine what she was saying about me. I’d seen that look of disgust on her face. I only hoped that my brothers were out so that they wouldn’t hear this too. I wanted to die of shame. A couple of hours later Mum called me for dinner and I trudged warily downstairs. My brothers were round the table and I didn’t know who knew and who didn’t, which made things even worse. As soon as I walked into the dining room I wanted the ground to swallow me up. I felt all eyes on me, even though when I finally looked up Dad was staring straight ahead. My face was flushed as I took my place. Mum walked briskly into the room and slammed the plates in front of us. She looked red-eyed, as if she’d been crying…
I felt sick to the stomach that my secret was out. Mum took her place at the dinner table and we began to eat in silence. I sneaked a look at Dad and his face was tired and old, with sadness in his eyes – sadness and disappointment. I was the one who had caused that disappointment. I wondered whether they would talk to the imam about this. Surely I wasn’t the only one to blame? I was a child while he was the adult. The meal was excruciating. I hardly touched a scrap of food on my plate. Instead I pushed it around with my fork until it was all messed up. Suddenly Dad’s voice broke the silence. ‘Nabila, go to your room.’ I couldn’t wait to get out of there. Keeping my head bowed I left the room, but I hung around in the hall outside to listen to what was being said. ‘From now on, I don’t want you to wrestle with your sister any more,’ I heard Dad saying to my brothers. ‘She’s too old for it.’ We’d always enjoyed tussling, rolling around the ground, and Dad often joined in, so surely they would think it odd that he had banned it so suddenly? I waited for them to ask why, but no one said a word. Did that mean they knew? The silence made me feel worse. From now on I’d be treated differently by my own family, and I hated it. They were ashamed of me even though they probably only knew a small fraction of the story…
Although Dad was head of the household, it was Mum who was in charge. Dad was a typical Muslim husband – he went out to work so that he could provide for his family, but it was Mum’s job to keep us children under control. Dad only ever got involved when we’d done something really bad. But this was something really bad and now he knew. I despised the imam for what he’d done to me and my family. I wished he could be punished for it, but I would never tell anyone else if this was the kind of reaction I could expect. Without the support of my parents I would never be able to bring him to justice on my own. Far from taking my side, my parents felt I had brought shame on them and stained the family name. They wanted it swept under the carpet and kept quiet. I’d disgraced myself. This was my fault. It was all my doing and now I was going to be punished. I would be forever alone with my secret…
my parents looked at me in a different way. I wasn’t their little girl any more and they treated me with a coldness that was palpable. I had wondered whether they might go to the imam and confront him, at least tell him what they thought of him, but they didn’t. Instead they did nothing at all. They couldn’t live with the shame. From now on, this would be a family secret. It had gone from being my secret to one the whole family shared. It was so unfair. I hadn’t asked to be chosen by the imam. It wasn’t my fault, yet I was being treated as if it was.
I wanted Dad to storm into the mosque and punch the imam in the face. But he didn’t. His little girl was soiled goods. Now they’d have to keep the imam’s dirty secret for him because otherwise everyone would find out about me and then they’d never be able to marry me off. Fajr’s brother would run a mile. I would remain unmarriageable, like a lead weight hanging around their necks for the rest of their lives. Mum seemed to want me out of the house, out of her sight. I wondered if it was because I disgusted her, or because having me around was a constant reminder of what had happened. I didn’t know why she was acting the way she was but it made me feel much worse. Sometimes I felt like trying to explain to her that I had been a victim, and asking her what I could have done differently, but I was too embarrassed to bring it up. I felt angry with her as well because it was as if she was punishing me, as if I hadn’t been punished enough by what I’d been through. There was nothing I could do to make amends. Well, maybe only one thing: I upped the self-harm to the next level. I’d stopped washing myself obsessively the day I left the mosque but now I began slashing myself with razors again. The torment never stopped. I shredded my legs to ribbons, being careful to cut where no one would see the scars…”
- What was your reaction /feelings towards Nabila’s parents when they found out she was sexual abused?
- Did you agree with them to keep the abuse a secret or did you feel strongly that they should have reported the abuse and or confronted the Imam?