Intrafamilial Sexual Assault: Bitter and Longer
By Maryam Yaghi
For the often known as “survivors” of intrafamilial sexual abuse who have not yet overcome the trauma of the harassment, the injustice of their own families is always bitter, deeper, harsher, and longer-lasting.
I found them sleeping on the edge of insomnia so that their bitter memories would not wake up.
As soon as I knocked on the window of their “secret confessions,” they broke through the wall of silence that had afflicted them for so many years.
As if waiting for any opportunity to pull out a flaming bullet lodged in their throats, even with a blazing knife.
They are the ones who have suppressed their panic since betrayal destroyed their sleep and made them lose their security and confidence.
Suspended survivors: Victims of all kinds of injustice, fear, aggression, “covering up” and blaming the victim/survivor and acquitting the criminal.
They are the fugitives with fragile memories, the truth evaders who refused to admit to themselves that the family, the source of the first inspiration and the source of security and tranquility, may be the first to usurp confidence and assault safety, turning it into a disguised hell.
A rapist father, an abusive brother, and a silent, frightened victim
It is not easy for a victim of sexual harassment to come forward; when the aggressor is a relative, it becomes more complicated.
Embarrassment becomes fear, and between these feelings is the loss of security and confidence in the one who is supposed to be the source of safety and stability, whose walls are imprinted with talismans of terror and resentment.
“A rapist father, an abusive brother, a fraternal or maternal uncle, I’ve treated all these cases and more at my clinic,” Clinical Psychologist Hanan Nasr said in an exclusive interview with “Sharika Walaken” website.
She considered that “fear is one of the most common reasons that drive the victim/survivor to remain silent and conceal the matter, until it escalates and becomes more dangerous.”
Discussing sexual issues in our societies is considered taboo, many are reluctant to speak up, as confirmed by Nasr.
“Very few resort to revealing or exposing the perpetrator, and they often speak up after a long period of time, as it takes time to understand, especially if the victim/survivor is of a young age.”
“If security is lost, everything is lost… be honest with your children.”
To a large extent, this is related to the educational pattern followed, through which the boys and girls draw their behaviors and reactions. The fear that soon grips the victim/survivor’s entity is neither surprising nor arbitrary, according to Nasr.
In this context, Nasr pointed out that feeling threatened pushes the victim towards silence, and it does not necessarily have to be verbal threats, there’s also symbolic threats and violence. The victim must have experienced that form of symbolic violence before she was subjected to physical violence, which caused her to lose her sense of safety.
“Reprimanding and disciplinary looks from parents are one example.”
Nasr stressed that as long as the child does not feel safe with their parents, they will not turn to them when they feel afraid, pointing out that fear is a natural reaction to the harm suffered by the victim/survivor, and it may make them unable to explain and understand the matter, especially since they are unable to prevent it, nor to confront the aggressor, who is often older and physically stronger.
“The fact that the harasser is a relative and has family authority over the victim, exacerbates the state of fear. Fear not from disclosure itself, but from being disbelieved or blamed, or from being potentially threatened or harmed by the harasser.”
According to Nasr, security is one of the primary needs that must be available for children to live in peace and contentment, and therefore in a normal way, losing it within the supposed source of safety, the family, has serious psychological consequences.
“The victim of intrafamilial abuse feels unprotected, and this feeling may accompany her in every detail of her life, sometimes manifesting as a fear that no one will ever love her. Anxiety and tension become part of her life, and it may escalate to self-flagellation, guilt complexes, depression, isolation, and a permanent feeling of injustice.”
She said that if the victim is not followed up with from a young age, she may suffer from undesirable complications, the consequences of which appear on her behavior, and this affects building relationships, whether inside or outside the home.”
Given this perspective, Nasr said that the need for moderate follow-up by the parents, without stifling the children and making them feel overly anxious and afraid, must be a good example to them, because children develop in the early years on imitation and not memorization.
“In order to get the child to be honest, we must be honest with them, provide them with awareness, and address their concerns in a way that enhances their security and confidence.”
After being molested by their father, this is what happened to these three sisters
Nasr says that some of the most difficult cases that she’s had in her clinic share many similarities. Each case carries its own unique pain. She revealed that she once treated three teenage sisters, who were constantly harassed by their father, until they decided to run away from home.
“Unfortunately their circumstances did not get any better, as they fell victim to an older man who forced them into sex work and we tried very hard to psychologically rehabilitate them, but it was very difficult.”
The silent phenomenon: imaginary numbers and almost non-existent notifications
Despite the exacerbation of this dangerous scourge, a quick look at the statistical table of detainees from the Combating Trafficking in Persons and Protection of Morals offices reveals the extent of the accompanying fear that pushes the victims to be silent and to prefer not to report, especially considering the social stigma, family threats, and psychological disorders inherent to these victims.
This would deepen the danger of this affliction and make it difficult to limit its spread and punish the perpetrators.
An opinion poll, conducted by “Sharika Walaken” website, was able to reveal, within a few days, 80 cases of sexual assault by relatives, out of 111 girls and women surveyed.
Only 16.2% (of the 18 cases) reported the incident to a family member or friend, however the numbers revealed by the Internal Security Forces about intrafamilial assault between 2016 and 2020 were almost non-existent.
The highest numbers reached were in 2021 with 5 reports. While in 2019 and 2020 only two cases were reported.
It’s noteworthy that most of the rare reports came from men, which confirms that women and girls do not feel safe to report harassment.
A survey of 111 women and girls about being sexually assaulted by intimate relatives
Rita: “The humiliation of silence is easier than the danger of disclosure.”
“They say I will expose them, they would rather put my health, my psyche and my life at risk than have what they call a scandal or a disgrace,” said Rita, a pseudonym, 27 years old, who is being threatened by her family to deter her from considering reporting her sexually abusive brother.
Rita is one of the many who prefer the humiliation of silence, to the dangers of disclosure and the absence of protection mechanisms.
She talks about the extra physical and moral pressure that the survivors are subjected to, which forces them to remain silent for fear of what people might say, “I didn’t even dare to think about it.”
She explained in an exclusive interview with “Sharika Walaken” website, how her family subjected her to silence, revealing that her harassing brother was also physically abusing her.
“I live with my abuser in the same house.”
About the consequences of reporting and the role that the official authorities adopt in the event that she does report him, she questioned: “suppose I report him for harassing me, will the state provide me with a safe place? And will I be spared the looks of blame, shame and contempt that I face even though I haven’t even complained yet?!”
Rita’s concerns and questions were also reflected in the statements of 7 other cases, which will be presented in the second part of this investigation.
We note that these cases represent only the survivors who dared to come forward, and the ones who were able to reach the question posed in the post.
How big is this silent phenomenon and how many hidden voices, then?
This reality raises many questions about the social, psychological, legal, security and even economic justifications that are being employed to explain the scarcity and almost absence of reporting.
Although reporting may constitute a positive step to curb this scourge, but in the absence of mechanisms to deter the perpetrator and protect victims by official authorities, in a country where women and girls suffer from political, legal, economic and social marginalization, this issue becomes like walking into a minefield that could explode in the survivor’s face at any time.
Wait for live testimonies, with voice recordings of sexual assault survivors, in the second part of this investigation.