Hell in Disguise: A Reality Check for Those in Denial
By Maryam Yaghi
This article is the second part of the in-depth investigation “Intrafamilial Sexual Assault: Bitter and Longer,” and it includes shocking statements from the survivors of this disguised hell.
These are the stories of survivors who were harassed, raped or attempted to be raped inside their homes by a family member.
Like clutches on the coals of truth, they grasp their burning memories, silence, evasion, confession, and then a volcano of suppressed anger in the vaults of abused childhoods.
Here, in a disguised hell, a distance of doubt, anxiety, restlessness, fear, and even disgust, binds the necks of the survivors to the gallows of “kinship.”
One of the ِAyat from Surah Silat Al-Rahm states that a rotten child must be cut off.
“My brother asked me to take his pants off… I haven’t felt safe since then”
Twenty five years of trauma sleeping in the drawers of the soul.
“He’s my brother,” Maria, 34, muttered with trembling lips.
She swallowed her breath and continued her words in bewilderment while she talked about the pain that she feels amid that lack of safety in the place that is supposed to be the safest.
As she revisits the violence that she went through, despite time’s passing, it still affects her anxiety, insomnia, behavior, and social relationships.
“I was a 7-year-old, innocent and shy girl who came from a traditional environment. In our family, the brothers’ words are abided. My brother was still in his teens, only 6 years older than me, but to me he was my big brother and I had to obey him.”
While sharing her story with “Sharika Walaken” website, Maria got lost in listing the justifications that society has been planting in the victim/survivor’s head.
“He told me that he noticed the spread of moles on his body, and asked me to count them for him.”
She recounted the events of the trauma, whose consequences had still not subsided even at the moment of our conversation.
“Suddenly, he asked me to take his underwear off, and when I froze, he took them off himself. I cannot describe my feelings, it is true that I was only a child, and I didn’t know exactly what frightened me, but the scene terrified me, and I felt so weak, I couldn’t react.”
“When he lured me, my sister followed him and discovered it herself. She watched him from behind the door. She didn’t confront him, but she did tell me that my father might kill him for this. I got very worried and hid it in the drawers of my memories.”
Maria asserts that the incident made her shy and silent at first, but later and with time, her anxiety grew and she became very defensive against any boy’s attempt to get close to her, especially as a teenager.
When asked how it affected her life, Maria smiled sarcastically, revealing a deep impact that she tried to patch up with discreteness and fear.
“After I got married, my husband asked me to take off his underwear. I was in shock,” she said. I noticed that I felt disgust and an aversion to sexual intercourse. I involuntarily went back to that moment.”
With heartache that is difficult to disguise, she continued, “and by the way, my brother has always been religious; he still recites the Quran on religious holidays. Do you think I ever felt a sense of guilt from him? No, he lives as if he is a faultless male, and his beautiful voice in reciting the Quran is enough to exonerate himself. He lives nonchalantly, as they say, and he never thinks of the eternal wound he left in my soul.I haven’t felt safe since that time.”
Her brother tore her hymen
Ruba, 32, is also the victim of her own brother.
She says, revealing the pain of years of silence and trauma, “he raped me and tore my hymen.”
“I was only 8 years old, when he jumped on me, I thought he was hitting me, I didn’t even understand what he had done. I found myself covered in my blood, I was very scared. I remember that my parents were out, and my mother had to leave me, my sister, who is 3 years older than me, and my 18-year-old brother at home. He sent my sister over to her friend’s house in the next neighborhood, and did what he did in her absence.”
She was chosen among her sisters.
“I was not chosen at random; I was weak and shy. My sister had a stronger character, I suppose he didn’t even think of hurting her knowing that she would tell my parents. I wasn’t that aware or strong.”
Ruba went through an emotional trauma two years later, when her father passed away, and she found herself unable to express her feelings.
“I was his spoiled child, his baby, I don’t know what happened to me, I was silent at first. Later, I went through a state of denial and kept waiting for him on the balcony to come home.”
She did not know why her feelings froze, until she was over 20 years old and she told her sister about being raped by their brother.
“I was worried that no one would believe me, I lived with this fear and oppression for many years,” Ruba recounted how she decided to talk after a personal struggle with silence.
“The moment I started talking, it was like I rewound my childhood tape. I remembered my father’s death, and all my hidden feelings of sadness exploded out of me.”
At that time, Ruba began to monitor her body, and noticed that her sexual organ was not acting normally and she began to associate it with the rape. She said, “I visited a gynecologist, who assured me that my hymen was torn, and she offered to help me punish the perpetrator, but I refused completely.”
She explained that she was reluctant to expose her brother in front of the rest of the family, and in an attempt to pretend that she had been freed from the consequences of her trauma, she concluded.
“This page has been turned, and now we have a normal relationship, and there is no need for anyone to know.”
My uncle molested me
Marwa, 27 years old, another survivor, highlighted in her story the fear that girls experience as a result of being subjected to the trauma of harassment, and how their memories stood still at that painful moment.
“I even remember the scenes that were on TV at the time, even though I was not over 8 years old,” she said, recounting the details of the incident, revealing that the aggressor was her uncle!
She said, “He was a likable young man, who nobody would suspect,” justifying her fear at the time of exposing him. “I thought of our closeness when I was 8 years old, as just an uncle spoiling his niece. He would constantly ask me to sit on his lap, and sometimes he would give me money to persuade me to do it. “
While revisiting the incident and the details of the harassment, which she did not understand at the time she said he was kissing and caressing her. “I thought with my childish thinking that this was an expression of his great love for me. I, on the other hand, considered him one of my favorite relatives. Until the day he tried to rape me.”
Marwa says that her uncle was staying at their house that night when she fell asleep next to him in the living room and her parents were sleeping in their room. She described the details of the fateful night with a lot of anxiety. She is now the mother of a daughter whom she does not entrust to anyone.
“I was asleep when he came at me like a raging bull. I woke up to being touched in a way which I didn’t understand at the time. All I knew was that I was terrified, even though I honestly didn’t understand what was going on. I have no idea what happened to me for a moment; I didn’t scream, as if I had swallowed my tongue. I just got up quickly, told him I was going to the bathroom, then ran to my mom and started crying.”
Marwa’s young age, in addition to her ignorance of sexual education, did not help her understand what her uncle was trying to do. Instinct, simply, left her with a feeling of dread and fear that something bad had happened.
The trauma even prompted her to hide the issue.
To this day, “I still don’t know why I lied to my mother when she asked me why I cried. I was afraid to tell her the truth. I told her that I had a nightmare. I don’t know why I lied. I just know that I was very afraid.”
Marwa explained that she had an incomprehensible hesitation; “I was even afraid that my uncle would notice that I was aware of what he had done. I do not know why, but I felt powerless and frightened.”
Up until today, Marwa did not rule out the possibility that her uncle continued his heinous actions, “a dog’s tail is never straight,” as she put it.
As her memory clears up, Marwa continues her story: “He continued to try to harass me, but I became afraid of him and avoided him, and at the same time I was afraid to tell anyone. I never forgot about it, I became very worried after I gave birth to my only daughter. I do not trust anyone with her, not even my father, who is more affectionate with her than I!”
Her biggest worry, she says, was that she had always suffered from obsessive thoughts about her father’s affection for her daughter but that she constantly tried to detach these thoughts from her head.
She kept an eye on the situation and observed her daughter doing everything.
“It got out of my control. I am afraid that she’s just like I was in my childhood and so she’ll end up a fool,” revealing the extent of the self-blame and self-flagellation that accompanies anxiety and feelings of insecurity.”
“You believe your daughter’s delusions, but not your own brother?”
“I got so scared, my body started shivering, and I started screaming. He covered my mouth, trying to silence me, but my mother woke up, and my father came right away,” says Lubna, 31, who 21 years ago was the victim of her uncle’s harassment.
Lubna says that family, which “is supposed to be a source of trust and safety, may turn in a moment into a source of danger,” recollecting how her uncle dared to harass her while she was visiting her grandfather’s house with her family.
:He was drunk and I was 10 years old at the time, and my mother was constantly warning me about the privacy of the sensitive areas on my body and that I shouldn’t let anyone touch them. We were all sleeping. My mother, my brother, and I were in the same room when my uncle came in drunk and started kissing me. At first, he kissed my cheek. I woke up and thought it was an expression of his love for me. Then he started kissing my lips and put his hand on my genitals.”
Lubna emphasizes that her family’s supportive stance began even before the incident by raising her awareness and was consummated by their confronting and reprimanding the harassing uncle. Yet, this support did not protect her from being the victim of a crazed wolf.
“He tried to call me a liar, but my family believed me. My father beat him and kicked him out of the house, and from then on, we wouldn’t visit my grandfather’s house until we were sure that he wasn’t there.”
She spoke of the shamelessness of the harasser, who “did not even think to apologize for his behavior, did not regret it and kept accusing me of being delusional and imagining things, and he blamed my father for believing his little girl and not his brother.”
Lubna has not yet been freed from the fear that possessed her, as the consequences of that moment accompanied her throughout her life, she said.
“I can’t forget how I felt that night, how my body started trembling, how I screamed and cried, and how I was afraid to go to sleep for two months afterward, and if I did fall asleep, I would be terrified by nightmares.”
To this day, Lubna can still smell the alcohol that was on his breath.
“I cannot erase that smell from my head. To me, it has become a symbol of harassment, fear, and terror.”
She explained that she is involuntarily repulsed by her husband when he drinks any alcohol.
“I feel disgusted. I don’t allow him to come near me after drinking alcohol. Even though he drinks in moderation, I immediately remember the incident. This incident planted a fear of men in me. I became suspicious of anyone getting close to me, and I would feel like he wanted to rape or harass me.”
To those who blame the victim in these cases, Lubna says “I was a child, my chest wasn’t even protruding, and I didn’t have charms, yet he harassed me.”
“You are a harasser and I will expose you in front of everyone.”
Harassment cases that ring alarm bells in every home do not end. In light of the lack of awareness and the weak sexual education, at the age of 10, Roua was a victim of this crime, and she is a survivor of it today.
In her talk with the “Sharika Walaken” website, she recounted the incident after 40 years had passed since her first trauma.
“My mother had to visit the doctor, and she left me with her cousin. She would not leave me and my little sister alone at home, so she asked him to stay with us. Since we were close, he was a young man in his twenties. I remember how he followed me when I entered the bathroom, and surprised me while I was bent down to carry the bowl. He closed the door and tried to rape me from behind.”
Roua recalled that moment with great disgust.
“He asked me, do you want to see how I pee? I panicked, threw the bowl and ran to my little sister and hugged her while crying.”
Her reaction was no different from those prior to her; a strange silence fell over her, accompanied by the fear of revealing the truth. “The problem is that I didn’t tell my mom and I didn’t tell anyone, because I didn’t understand what happened to me until I grew up.”
What distinguishes Roua’s case is that she decided to confront her harassing relative when she grew up, after she kept falling ill whenever she met him, as she put it. “After I grew up and got married, I met up with him and confronted him.”
This time, the survivor managed to recover some justice from the harasser, albeit on a moral level only: “I told him, you harassed me when I was a child, you are a perverted and filthy person.”, she continued, “I asked him to stop visiting us, and I threatened him that I would expose him in front of everyone.”
And about her desire to actually expose him, she reiterated the control over our social norms by taboos: “I never dared to do that.”
She told her father, he said the scandal would be hers, not his.
She told her mother, she questioned her virginity
Mona’s experience with harassment is evidence that the concept of “concealment” in our society is nothing but a grip that tightens on a woman’s neck, stifling her voice and ensuring her silence.
“The scandal will be yours, not his.” Her father, who learned of his maternal uncle’s harassment of his daughter, forced her to remain silent.
Although he was unable to hide his pain, she said, “he wanted to convince me that I misunderstood him.”
Mona said that she was 12 years old, when her father’s maternal uncle took advantage of her father’s absence from home, her mother’s travel, and came to their house.
He knocked on the door and she opened it for him, and she told him that her father had gone to visit her, but he asked to enter anyway.
“I loved him very much, and I was always happy to see him ever since I was a kid because he used to play with me so much, it never occurred to me for a moment that he would do what he did to me.”
“I greeted him normally, and suddenly he hugged me in a strange way, kissed my mouth forcefully, touched my chest, and squeezed my body. I pushed him away, and I started screaming at him and telling him to get away from me. I pushed him to the door, and he walked out of the house, and I quickly closed the door behind him.”
Out of fear, Mona was unable to stay at home alone, so she ran to her neighbor, crying. When her father returned, he shocked her with his denial.
“He told me I misunderstood him, and that he loved me like his own daughter. However, I later learned that he had told my uncles to watch out for him,” and she continued with a sigh, “but none of them reacted.”
It did not stop at the father’s coverage of the crime and intimidation that his daughter was a victim of.
Mona’s shock continues as she tries to tell her mother what happened.
“She kept on asking me if he forced me to take off my clothes, and where exactly he touched me, what exactly he did.”
Mona was shocked that her mother was solely interested in her virginity.
“I felt like that was all that mattered to her. She didn’t even ask me about my feelings!”
Like many of her peers, Mona lost faith that her family would be a source of security and trust.
“At that moment, I felt that there was no safety. My parents couldn’t protect me, or even defend me,” she said, resenting that “all they cared about was avoiding scandal.”
One uncle molested her, and the other tried to rape her
Every girl’s body begins to mature at puberty, but not all girls expect that stage to imprint on them a memory of the worst moments of their lives.
Kawthar, 34, who came from Abu Dhabi with her siblings to live in their grandfather’s house twenty years ago, did not know that her two uncles would be the bane of her existence.
The first occasion, “my uncle only harassed me,” she said.
Kawthar had a problem with involuntary urination in her childhood, which accompanied her into her adolescence. She explained how her uncle used it to cover up his harassment of her.
“He was touching my genitals in a disgusting way, arguing that he was checking if I was wet or not.”
Her experience with the other uncle was the bigger trauma, which she still cannot get rid of until today. She’s waiting for the right time to explode in his face and expose him.
“He took me in his car, and when we got to a place I did not know, he got out of the car and put something on his penis. When I grew up I understood that it was a condom, and he threw himself on me trying to rape me. I screamed madly, so he was afraid of the scandal, and he took me home.”
She recounted the painful memory with much anger.
The uncle did not stop harassing her whenever he could, Kawthar said.
“One time he even waited until I fell asleep to sneak into my bed, and started touching me in a disgusting way.”
Like most of her peers, Kawthar insists her fear has been difficult to overcome.
“I became paralyzed, frightened, I didn’t know what to do. I never dared to talk about it. I even hesitated to tell my grandmother because she did not treat me and my siblings well. I was afraid she wouldn’t believe me.”
Kawthar believed the more appropriate solution would be to tell her brother, who surprised her with his denial, and told her that he had to verify it with his uncle, the rapist himself.
She took a deep breath mixed with regret, reproach, and strength.
“I didn’t blame him, it was difficult, too difficult to believe. Oh God, I can’t stand hearing so many stories of harassment, these stories exhaust me.”
What’s hidden is greater
In cases like these, it is difficult to obtain approximate numbers that show the extent of the infiltration of this phenomenon into our societies.
A descriptive survey may have to suffice.
The crime, despite its severity, and despite some people’s tendency to break the wall of silence, remains a “taboo” that many have not been able to crack. Even those who chose to speak up in hopes of getting rid of psychological harm preferred not to reveal their identities “because society is ruthless.”
Therefore, despite the increase in the number of women who have declared themselves as victims or survivors of intrafamilial abuse, it is not possible to talk about percentages of a phenomenon wherein victims or survivors are still captives of custom and fear.
Speaking of denial, psychology points out that if a patient is in denial, they try to protect themselves by refusing to accept the truth about what is happening.
This is not something that only victims and survivors of harassment suffer from. Societies that are sick with denial, and that blame victims or survivors beyond their fault, also rely on escaping the truth as a faster way to adapt to the infested reality.
How can sick societies produce a cure before admitting their illness?
Urging to confront denial, psychologists advise: “Think about the potential dire consequences if appropriate action is not taken.”
What was mentioned above is the best evidence of that, and what’s hidden is greater.