Breaking The Silence Of Abuse
By Fareeda Munir
I’ve written quite a lot about abuse, and then I keep them tucked away in the drive, saved – where I occasionally revise the articles. Then I add or take away sentences and ideas, trying to make the words more cohesive. I lost a bunch of notes, recovered a few, and then I rewrite based on new information and certain discussions. Abuse branches out in many ways. It’s hard to take it all in and put it out. There is also the helpless feeling that discourages me from sharing some of the writings, in knowing that even with the issue out there, there will be little done to prevent it or punish the perpetrators.
How does one get through to people who are convinced that only immodest dressing leads to sexual assault, or that marital rape does not exist? How does one explain that boys can be victims, that religious figures are not infallible, and that women can also be abusers? When the wealthy can get away with murder and influential people get sympathy from sicophants, how can victims feel safe? How can victims feel safe in a society that demands silence and strengthens stigma. When character assassination is reserved for the voiceless, who will be willing to risk their reputation?
Sexual assault is not walking alone, provocatively dressed in a dark alley at an ungodly hour, and getting attacked by a lunatic. Unfortunately it can be a young girl molested by a charismatic relative that everyone loves. It can be a boy who was wrongfully touched by a religious teacher that he trusted. It can also be a peer or a neighbor. It can be a superior at work or a domestic help in the home. In so many cases, the guilty are the law enforcers and law makers. Don’t count out the doctors and the teachers who take advantage of their patients and students. Because such abusers are in favorable positions, it is difficult to challenge them.
The blame usually weighs on the victim. If an adult can be reprimanded for provocative dressing or being at the wrong place, how will a child understand that his or her innocence aroused a predator? When a husband, who is friend to the world but foe to his wife, emotionally abuses and gaslights her to the brink of insanity, who does she seek to weigh her options and make the right decision? The good abusers are always the hardest to nail. They’re the ones who are popular, charitable, gregarious, and loved by all. Who would dare stand up to all that power and privilege?
Physical abuse is downplayed in our society. Perhaps because parents feel they “own” their children, which is really no different from spouses feeling they own their partners. It is also a way that teachers feel they should control their students. Exerting that kind of “power” through fear and injury in form of discipline is abuse. It is more or less channeling frustration and inflicting pain on those at their mercy. It is not tough love. Violently shaking a child or flogging the skin off is a far cry from slight spanking as reprimand. Bruising is not tough love. I know a lot will disagree with me, and that is why a child’s right bill won’t see the light of day. There are concerns that it will make our children go bad. But I know for a fact that our society’s religious role models, Prophets Isa (a.s Jesus) and Muhammad (s), never struck their disciples and family members, talk less a child. Their message was that of mercy, love, forgiveness and patience.
Marital rape has got to be the hardest to explain. Where is the satisfaction in forcing an unwilling person (who might have valid reasons)? Where’s the compassion in a union that’s suppose to be based on love and mercy? (Well, unless the marriage was contracted on other reasons. Still don’t make it right though.) In the vein of marital discord, financial frustration to control a person’s loyalty, character defamation, intimidation, abandonment, isolation, humiliation, insults, and imprisonment are all forms of abuse. Allow me to add infidelity to that list, and then have a deep conversation with your conscience.
Emotional abuse is the next hardest concept for people to grasp. It is dismissed it, but it’s the worse because the scars are internal. Some are better at hiding their pain than others. Victims save face and wither away behind a façade, or they snap and pose a threat to themselves or others. Mental health is overlooked and people suffering are ridiculed. “Man up”, “You’re a woman, put your home in order”, “Grow up”, “Have you no faith?” As if the person does not spend every single day dealing with a hidden enemy. This is why abusers think they are powerful and untouchable. The victims are silenced. They are blamed. They are shamed. They are ignored.
I recall stories and replay scenes in my head. I internalize and rationalize. After discussions, we brainstorm, share ideas, and try to come up with solutions. Then we all agree that our country needs qualified psychologists, psychiatrists, counselors, programs and massive awareness highlighting the many forms of abuse. We need those who are abused to have a safe space to speak up. They need a platform to speak out. They need collective voices to amplify their courage and help others face their fears. When they have the support to stand up, they can bring down their tormentors.
Silence empowers the abuser. We see the victims. We know the victims. We are the victims. We know the perpetrators. We see them. And I wonder how many people admit that they are perpetrators. The twists and turns of abuse is complex and such a challenge to untangle. I never know where to start writing about it. As long as it is a burden on its victims, I will not know when to stop.