Author: Najwa Awad
Recently, during my last psychotherapy session of the week, I listened to a Muslim woman talks about the details of being sexually abused as a child. She talked about how the perpetrator was a family friend and molested her in her own home. She also went on to say that when another family member found out, instead of rescuing her, joined in with the perpetrator. Being a psychotherapist for some time now, I’ve heard countless stories of sexual abuse from men, women and children. Each narrative is so different in terms of how the abuse started and stopped, and yet so many elements are the same- like the trauma, secrecy and shame.
Her story was not the most difficult one I’ve heard by any means, but something about her narrative caused me to reflect in a way I hadn’t before. Maybe it was her resiliency and resolve to protect her own children from this happening again. Perhaps it had something to do with this past year of non-stop sexual abuse allegations in the news. Or maybe it had to do with my 7-year old daughter who is now getting older and Allah-forbid could find herself in one of these situations.
As I locked up my office and headed to my car, I started to reflect on the clients I had seen over the years. I began to think about the similarities and differences between the victims, or survivors rather, and their families. What patterns did I see first-hand, and what conclusions could I pass on to other parents to help prevent sexual abuse within our community?
Let me share some of those observations from the past 10 years with you:
- Sexual abuse happens in Muslim communities, just as it does in other religious communities – We are not immune in any way.
- Most sexual abuse happened at home or in the home of a trusted family member.
- Most sexual abuse was not from strangers, it was by immediate family members, extended family members and family friends.
- Sexual abuse is not always about an adult molesting a child. Sexual abuse can be perpetrated by peers and siblings (children and teenagers). I have worked with families in which one sibling sexually assaulted (including raped) another sibling.
- Sexual abuse doesn’t just happen to girls, but boys as well. Perpetrators are also not always male.
- Most of the adults who were sexually abused as children did NOT tell their parents or another adult.
- Of the adults who reported the abuse as children to parents, many were not helped or were blamed for what happened.
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