Some day they grow up

One day the victims grow up. One day the survivors grow up and live to tell the tale. One day they conquer their fear and trauma and stand up to their assaulters and look them in the eye and tell them the power they had on them is gone.

There has been a rush of cases coming out in the open about sexual assault, incest and allegations of a rape culture from the Middle East, Hollywood, South Asia and growing. It seems the world is awakening to the epidemic which pundits, psychologists, sociologists and survivors have been crying out loud for years – that not much is being done about the abuse of kids, young adults and underage girls and boys in the care of authority and are then not listened to. While Hollywood and the West may have its own problems of the victims being listened to, but legal loopholes and counter-campaigns impeding serving of justice, in the East it is still at the stages of people accepting that incest, sexual abuse of kids, and years of mental and physical abuse is being carried out by those they hold to the highest pedestal.

Every new scandal or victim coming out with their story opens up the old wounds and I am stumped to think how widely this epidemic is and why it has been going on under wraps for so long. Could it have something to do with the advent of social media and technology in the last decade that now those who did not have a voice are beginning to speak up?

One hundred and fifty-six mothers, sisters, daughters and Olympians have come out and taken Larry Nassar, the former Team USA Gymnastics doctor to court and accused him of abusing them and taking advantage of his position. It was Kyle’s call to the police which ultimately pulled the plug on the years of abuse, her parents were friends with his family and when she initially told them about his exposure, masturbation and eventual abuse they forced her to apologise to him. She was a pre-teen then. Then on the day of the court hearing, she calmly asked for permission to address him directly and also waived her right to anonymity.

“Perhaps you have figured it out by now, but little girls don’t stay little forever. They grow into strong women who return to destroy your world.”

Yes, the little children under the protection of guardians, authority do someday grow up. In Nassar’s case, what is becoming a pattern is that victims knew what was happening but were powerless to do something about it, and in the event that they did they would not be believed. Often times the perpetrator builds a sort of reputation and women, people, in general, learn to avoid them; but if he happens to be the person who can make or mar your career, he can also get away with it in front of cameras and “public knowledge”. As happened in the Harvey Weinstein case and now the tumbling closet of skeletons as actors are named and shamed every week.

Though I have personal problems with the #MeToo campaign, and the direction it is taking – that of a wild witch hunt – it did what sort of open a deluge that had been kept bottled up in many ways and thrived in a culture of hypocrisy, secrecy, corruption and sleaze. Not very different from what happens when the pervert turns out to be a religious person. In 2016, several men in Iran came forward to allege that one of the country’s top Quran reciters had sexually abused them as children. These men between the ages of 12-14 as anonymous plaintiffs said they had written evidence and video recordings of Mr Toosi admitting to the allegations –including that he had offered the children massages as a pretext before attacking them – as a “mistake”. This seven-year long abuse was covered up and ignored by religious Revolutionary Guard authorities in order to protect the reputation of Iran’s religious institutions. Now in 2018, Saeed Toosi has been absolved of all blame and the young men labelled as liars. Not very different from what happened in Kashmir, India when a Sufi “peer” accused of raping girls was acquited.

The case (FIR 40/2015) was filed by police after four girls studying at Peer’s seminary at Shamasabad village had complained on May 19, 2013, that the accused has been raping them after calling them to his chamber on the pretext of religious teachings. The girls said while committing the crime, Peer would raise the volume of a tape recorder to drown their cries. They also alleged that he would render them unconscious by casting “magical spells” on them. Two years later, Gulzar and the other accused were acquitted by the Sessions Court Budgam, observing that prosecution failed to prove the guilt against them. Also, the court order releasing him from detention stated that just because he was considered as a case that the “separatists” would exploit for their agenda could not be grounds to detain him under the PSA (Public Safety Act). Gulzar’s appeal was filed and he is a free man today.

Across the border, in Pakistan, the media circus unfolds around little Zainab’s gruesome assault and murder, with her father first entering in the hypocrisy of asking for the removal of an Ahmadi heading the investigating team to taking credit for the arrest of the perp. Since it is religious classes, and religion and piety involved, we can be sure there will be more of passing the buck until justice is served. All this brought to mind my conversations with my late husband Arshid Malik, himself a survivor of incest until his personal trauma took over and he succumbed aged 41. Having had family members who had undergone similar trauma and never come out openly about it in a deeply religious, conservative and geopolitically insulated society, I urged him to self-therapist himself through writing now that he had so much to look forward to. Coming out gradually he started dealing with his inner demons and reached out to others who wanted to give voice to the years of injustice they had been forced to live in silence as the family members responsible for their pain went about with their lives.

The lack of a proper culture of psychotherapy, eventual burying of individual cases under the convenient “conflict zone” excuse (the Kashmir dispute between India and Pakistan unresolved since 70 years), and the shame/stigma of accusing elders, older members – or for that matter religious people – of abuse combines to drive them insane, schizophrenic or inevitably suicidal. The powerful moment in Arshid’s life was when at the age of 14 he was able to stand up to his older cousin and say, “No!” and end the years of abuse started at age eight. That power of conquering his shame, guilt and anxieties prodded him to have a fulfilling life and help others until his time ran out. Many are not able to do so. Until this practice of silence, denial, apologia and outright dismissal surrounding allegations of rape, incest, abuse and domestic violence is not dealt with there will be cases coming forth now and then in the media which will turn the course of a society (the US film industry) or will lead to splinters in its social fabric and bigger revolutions (the Iranian protests). Whatever trajectory common people after hearing this choose, there will be a tipping point when some daughter’s father, some sister’s brother or some son’s mother will not accept this malignant complacency of society and will take the law in their own hands.

Some countries lead in the handling of abuse cases, like the Scandinavians and Canada, where a lot of money is spent on researching the minds of perps and the childhood slights they must have undergone to twist their minds so. With all respect to Freud, there still cannot be an excuse for bad choices, and though millions are spent on understanding the behaviour, the social construct, and the economic models that enabled such behaviour, there are laws to be passed under the Child Safety Acts and the Protection of the Rights of the Child. Some countries are already there, some have yet to keep up. In the end, it boils down to the smallest and most important unit of society, the family. Are we doing enough to keep it safe for children to grow up in or are we through our own identity politics and insistence of conflict to resolve political issues enabling the Ted Bundys and Charles Mansons amidst us?

That is what we have to answer in the mirrors of our lives.

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