A Clergyman Molested Me
By Malaka Khanate
We walked on thorns through this investigation and we will continue to, to deter every patriarch who throws harsh accusations against women and hold them responsible for any harassment, and to expose all the painful details and their psychological effects on the survivors. And we answer all accusatory questions that can be asked.
In this investigation, we seek to highlight the frequency of this act, and the possibility of its occurrence with all the girls and women in their surroundings, and to pay attention to the fact that the harasser is present even in the safest and most sacred places, and under different names. We will speak with their tongues, we will see with their eyes what they faced, three brave survivors who broke the silence and spoke about the harassment of those who are supposed to represent “morals and religious and societal values.” We will see how clerics violated the soul and body of women and girls of different ages.
This crime constitutes a severe trauma for the survivors, and burdens them with psychological and physical consequences, so how about if the aggressor is a man who is not only given masculine authority by society, but also possesses a sacred authority and sanctifies its sanctity by an emotional and religious community, while the religious authorities are fierce in defending their members.
The first survivor… Nancy (30 years old)
“I was 15 years old and I was having problems with my husband, as I got married at a young age and I felt his feelings changing towards me. And because I grew up in a society and a sect that consults in all the details of its life religious references in general and its Sheikhs in particular, my husband was a follower of a Sheikh who was about 50 years old at the time, from a family that included Sheikhs, and it is said that the “the secrets and proofs of the world have been revealed to them. People turned their graves into shrines where they went to seek blessings. This Sheikh was like my husband’s spiritual father and his religious reference, and we must respect and honor him, as he is God’s representative on earth. While our fathers planted in us the fear of disobeying men like him, as it is considered an unforgivable sin that inflicts great divine wrath on us.”
This is how Nancy (a pseudonym) began telling her story to the “Sharika Walaken” website, about the sexual harassment she was subjected to at the hands of a clergyman. One whom she resorted to and begged him to help her solve her problems with her husband, so he reassured her that he would stand by her side and would go to their house personally to fix the situation. She thanked him very kindly and believed that he would restore her married life to what it was and better.
She said that he asked to let him know the time when her husband was away from the house so that he could visit the house and fix things between them without telling anyone, “so I naively agreed. The naivety of a child will not expect evil from someone who is supposed to be a symbol of morality.”
Nancy added, “I informed him of the day my husband was going to Beirut. When he arrived, I gave him a huge welcome, only to be shocked by what he said to me. As he confirmed that things will not improve unless I have sex with someone who’s not my husband, provided that what comes out of my vagina is tied with a thread and placed in a plant pot at home! My mind could not comprehend this. I could not believe it, but it came from a Sheik whom we’re forbidden from disbelieving or even from arguing with him.”
Nancy was not the only one who was convinced of these principles, but her family, her surroundings, and her entire community believed in it, this small community about which she said: “I was confined to it, thinking that the world captured it.” Nancy strongly opposed this shocking proposal and told him that she would not accept a solution that required her to betray her husband, so he told her that he would be helping her by offering to do this as if he was offering her a “favor”! “So he started pushing me towards the bedroom, repeating the words ‘don’t be afraid of me’, and threw me towards the bed and pounced on me like a beast,” Nancy said in her interview with our website. She added: “I could not move, my body spasmed, I did not understand what was happening. And when he finished, he completed his charade to the end, so he brought the thread and told me that my husband would return to the way he was before, and that all matters would be resolved, and he left.”
After 10 minutes, Nancy’s husband arrived at the house to find her having a nervous breakdown and crying on the floor with scattered items around her and a tissue woven napkin next to her. And about his reaction, she said, “He started screaming, ‘What happened here?’ When I told him, he did not believe me, and he started beating me and breaking what was left around me. He went to his big brother’s house and told him what I told him, so his brother denounced the exposure to sheik Ali’s position, and the men of the family gathered and came to my house, and my husband’s brother started beating me and accusing me of lying. And she added, “His tiny mind could not bear the idea of demolishing what they believed in and striking the sanctity of their venerable sheik. When my husband told my family about the matter and his intention to divorce me, my brother came and beat me and quarreled with my husband in the street, so the news spread and people called me a liar.”
Nancy’s suffering did not end with the beatings and abuse she was subjected to by all the men in the family, as her parents and brothers prevented her from visiting them. She was subjected to continuous insults from all those around her whenever she walked in the street. “People on the street, young and old, spit on me and called me the worst names. Then the men of my husband’s family informed me that they would take me to a religious site in Syria that would expose lies so that I would swear before it! Yes, there are several sects that believe in the credibility of this shrine, so I went with the right side of my body paralyzed and unable to even speak from the shock.”
Regarding the details of this unbelievable practice, she indicated that “the site showed that I was not lying, that I had not seduced him and that he had actually raped me, so my husband filmed me with proof and copied the video on CDs and distributed it on the street so that people would be sure of my innocence! Can you believe the surreal scene! But, they were not convinced that I was wronged. My female companions cut off contact with me, my sisters’ husbands denied them from speaking to me, and when I encountered them in my family’s house, they would leave immediately. When I go shopping, I notice the women’s whispers saying: Isn’t this the one who slept with the sheik? When I pay my bill, the accountant makes sexual gestures, they point at me in the streets, and young men harass me on the corners.”
Nancy tried to commit suicide 3 times, and the reaction of those around her was that this proved to them more that she was bad and a liar. “I have not previously told the details of this crime, and no one knows what happened in detail, even to my mother and brothers. I did not have the opportunity to defend myself or even speak. I was a weak person and no one wanted to listen to me, but their prejudices were ready,” Nancy said in her interview with our website.
The young survivor of sexual violence at the hands of a clergyman considers that she has been wronged a lot. She said that her view of herself changed, and she became absorbed in their projections and believed that she was a bad person and hated herself. “Anywhere I work, I become afraid of the men around me. I was only able to go back to my life after a long journey of psychological treatment, and after I left everything in this unclean region and traveled outside of Lebanon. I became a successful woman at work, now my family is proud of me, but I do not expect any encouragement from them, as I have not forgiven them yet. I do not need them now, for whoever was not with me in my ordeal, I do not want to share in my joy,” she added.
Nancy concluded her story by saying: “I did not go to that area for 11 years, and perhaps my leaving the sect in which I was born was a reaction to the incident. In the end, I am strong and proud of myself and strive to develop and advance. While those who wronged me still live at the bottom. Therefore, I encourage girls, despite my bad experience, to take this heavy burden off their shoulders and at least talk to a specialist to help them, and they should not participate in torturing themselves, because they never made a mistake, and their lives are not over yet and it can be fixed.”
The second survivor… Amira (30 years old)
“I was eleven and he was thirty. I had not yet reached puberty, I had the body of a child. My sister and I were returning from school. We knocked on the door of our house, but no one opened it for us. We were surprised because my mother did not go out of the house without informing us, and we did not have the key, but we remembered that she would want us to go to the neighbors’ house if she was not at home, because they were like family to us.” .
“The house of sheiks”: This is how people used to describe the house of Amira’s neighbors (a pseudonym) because their deceased father was a sheik and his male children followed in his footsteps. The young woman in her thirties remembers that day well, and she said in an interview with “Sharika Walaken”: “We used to go to their house to play with their brothers who were older than us. I vividly remember that fateful day when we waited at their house for our mother to return. They were all friendly except for him as usual, always grimacing, bossy, nervous, not joking, not talking to us, yelling at us if we played and were being loud, and just like me his sisters were afraid of him too. He also had his own corner in the house where he usually sat to read his religious books.”
About half an hour after her and her sister’s arrival, one of his male brothers asked one of them to go to the store to buy something. So Amira came down from their house on the second floor and brought what they asked for. She added: “I still remember the item that I bought that day, a white sticky tape. When I returned, I met his two older brothers at the entrance of the building, and they told me that Muhammad was waiting for me on the stairs. I was surprised, and asked myself why they didn’t buy it if they were out of the house? Because I justify people’s actions, I said in private, perhaps because they are sheiks their position does not allow them to buy such things. I was a child who did not know anything.”
Amira climbed the stairs and met him, and gave him the sticky tape, so he started arguing that he wanted a different color. And she continued: “He began to speak, but I could no longer hear him, because with his huge body he covered all the light behind him, and darkened my soul with kisses on my mouth and neck. I remember seeing nothing but darkness and feeling nothing but numbness, a shock that made my small, skinny body an immobile plank. I could no longer move, until he stopped when he heard the footsteps of a man who lived in the building. Here I woke up from what I am in, and found it an opportunity to escape, so I climbed several stairs and told him that there are no other colors. I looked at the passing man begging him to save me or at least slow down so I could escape but he didn’t see my looks. And when I felt that the man had disappeared from my sight, I shouted at the sheik that there are no other colors! And it’s a translation of words I couldn’t say. And I ran upstairs to their house in order to get my sister out and leave for any place other than the sheiks’ house, which is not safe for us.”
And Amira continued her story and explained: “When we returned home and my mother opened the door, I told her with a burning heart, ‘Where have you been!’ As if I blame her for what happened to me. Ironically, my mother was at home and didn’t hear our knocking. I didn’t tell anyone what happened to me, I was afraid, but I no longer went to their house. Even my mother, the next day, sent me to fetch water from their house. I stood at the door. He looked at me from his usual angle and said ‘come in, Mimo. Why are you so shy?’ I wanted to yell at him in front of everyone, to say ‘you know why’, but I couldn’t. I felt helpless all that time, and I avoided meeting him even on the street. When I saw him, I crossed the road to the other side, my heart trembled and I felt sick.”
A long time has passed since the incident, during which Amira changed and her thoughts changed. She explained: “I am now agnostic. I do not respect or trust clergymen. I suffer from depression and frequent panic attacks, but I am active in my community. He is a member of the religious council and works with non-governmental organizations to spread religious tolerance, and he still preaches to people.”
After 13 years, she gathered her strength and told her mother, in shame, because she believed that she had done nothing to stop him that day. “Now I gather my strength and tell you. Although fate provided me with an opportunity to expose him through the association in whose activities he participates, I did not succeed in that because I had no evidence. I do not have the strength to confront an entire society, and I do not want to be known as the girl who was harassed by the sheik.”
The third survivor.. Zeina (29 years old)
“I had finished my university studies, a young girl full of enthusiasm and impulsiveness, working as a journalist in a media outlet. One day, one of my acquaintances told me that there is a priest who runs an association that he exploits for suspicious financial purposes, so I went with my hidden camera, which is my savior and my weapon in many situations, accompanied by a person who works there, to investigate a case of financial corruption. I wasn’t interested in any other topic. During the meeting with this elderly priest under the pretext of requesting a job for me at the association, he offered me to leave my university residence and live with him in the association’s center, provided that he gives me a room next to his office. I became suspicious and then he began to show me the money collected from aid, indicating that he had bought his “Range Rover” car this way. And when the worker in the association left for only a few minutes, father Anton was able to be alone with me!”
He began to preface with sexual terms, telling her that what she wanted, he wanted, too, and pulled out his penis, even though the office door was open. She didn’t know what to do, should she keep filming? Should she run away from the situation?
“I laughed a laugh of shock stifled with fear. And I wondered: What is happening?! I tried to pretend that this was not the right time and place, and that there are people around us in the association, so that he would calm down and I can go out, but he soon turned around behind me and locked the door, and started to get close to me physically and try to touch and kiss me while saying, ‘Give me one kiss, let it be a rehearsal to see if we fit together.” .
Here I started to shiver and my breath was shaky until I was able to open the door and get out,” Zeina, the young survivor, remembers that day.
Speaking to our website, she indicated, “Many people blamed me for not slapping or hitting him, but no one can predict their reaction in these situations. I felt that the biggest slap would be to expose him and put him in front of the public after documenting his act in a video to refute suspicion or interpretation, but despite that, the fingers of accusation pointed at me for seducing him! And that I may have known him before or tempted him with immodest clothes or a sexual offer despite the entire video broadcast on the media! Imagine that I blamed myself for not binding my winter clothes that covered my whole body. After the video went viral, I had problems that hurt me a lot with my family. My father kicked me out of the house, and I could not return until a week later. My family did not forgive me for a long time, and the same applies to my surroundings and society. Everyone stood against me, as did many media outlets and fellow journalists!”
Zeina added that she was subjected to threats from clergymen, and all types of psychological and physical threats were practiced on her! She explained: “No one showed mercy to me, I was very disappointed because I logically expected them to stand with the victim/survivor, especially the strong victim, who dared to speak and publish such content and was able – with her strength – to turn the tables and break the chain of harassment in which any woman could be a victim of, by filming and documenting the harasser who has religious authority through which he can frighten his victims with it, especially since our society is closed and does not accept this situation in all its aspects. In those days, I was in dire need of help and support from individuals and women’s associations, but they were not as effective then as they are today.”
She says that “this incident did not leave me until recently, when I committed to my fiance and his family, so the story came to the forefront again in order to disturb my joy and my right to overcome what happened and escape from its psychological and social effects. Society was waiting for me to be silent under the banner of shame, and they considered that I should be ashamed of it as a victim, not to speak out about it.”
She also confirmed that she does not forget the injustice she was subjected to by the media and society, which was more severe than the incident itself. The accusations against her were much more than solidarity. Many Arab and Lebanese media outlets even titled their articles as “The Correspondence of Agut The Pastor.”
Zeina concluded her story to our site by saying: “What shame and disgust I feel when I remember the reactions. If the incident had occurred now, after having matured and in the existence of current women’s associations, I would have defended myself vigorously by raising my head high and saying that you are the wrong ones and you are at fault. I documented the subject better after my career in investigative journalism. I took into account all the questions and accusations of the male community to defend myself and dispel their twisted beliefs about the appearance, speech and attitude of the victim. But I am proud of myself despite everything that happened because at that time I broke a taboo and encouraged others to talk about it.”
This article was published in a special file on the “Sharika Walaken” website entitled #عنف_رجال_دين The Violence f Clergymen, which tells the stories of women and their suffering in their confrontations with clerics and religious courts, from crimes of assault and violence in all its forms, from sexual, verbal and unspoken of psychological abuse, to exploitation and oppression in the corridors of religious courts based on unjust and discriminatory laws. .