Feature Friday: Break the Silence – Childhood Sexual Abuse in South Asian and Muslim Communities

Recently, the heartbreaking news of child victims of rape have been reported and spreading like wildfire. Just a mere few months ago, Zainab, a 6 year old Pakistani girl was kidnapped and raped. Her parents were at Umrah (performing the Islamic pilgrimage) and Zainab was on her way to her Quran (holy book) class when she was abducted, ripped of her innocence, and then her life.

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Zainab and her rapist/killer Imran Ali.

Asifa, an 8 year old Muslim girl, was kidnapped and raped for days in a Hindu temple in India. I just want to remind people that simply ‘being religious’ does not mean you are protected from this topic and don’t need to talk about it. Just because someone seems religious does not mean they are not capable of being a perpetrator. Similarly, being religious does not mean they are less vulnerable to being a victim.
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Asifa and the men who drugged, raped, and murdered her.

Lastly, just a few days ago, the body of 9 year old, Saima Jarwar, was found in a sewer in Pakistan. Her parents reported her missing to the police; the same police who are trying to cover for the men who raped, tortured, and strangled her to death. Six men were arrested as suspect, including a watchman, a shopkeeper and the owner of the house where the sniffer dog entered and sat. This story hasn’t been circulating around and I’ve had a tough time finding more news on it, but here are a few articles: Source 1, Source 2, Source 3.


The Responses

The news of Asifa has led India to implement the death penalty for anyone who rapes a child under 12 years old and increased the penalty to 20 years in prison for anyone who rapes a child under the age of 16 years old. However, the empirical evidence shows that changing the penalties of such heinous crimes has not reduced the number of rapes or sexual child abuse cases. Not only are there over 100,000 cases still unsolved, but there is little to no reinforcement of these new laws (read more on this here). Indeed, many activists are voicing that this change in the law is very reactionary and simply done to appease the angry citizens. There needs to be more done to prevent such crimes from happening again. 
Image result for asifa death penalty
On the other hand, in Pakistan there is uproar about the police not taking missing children seriously, not starting searches earlier, and not holding perpetrators accountable. Oftentimes perpetrators get away with little to no punishment. Now, Pakistan is trying to take more serious actions. Recently, a Pakistani man as jailed for 7 years and fined 1.2 million rupees for owning and selling child pornography – this is the first time Pakistan has convicted anyone for something like this (read more here). Pakistan has been moving toward criminalizing several types of child sexual abuse, beyond rape (see more).

The Results?

In 2012, when the gang rape of a college student in India was reported, there were severe measures taken in changing the law. Following that, there was a 60% increase in the number of incidents reported. I argue that this did not spark an increase in crime, but simply increased the number of victims who actually came forward with their stories. These numbers are particularly underreported in Pakistan, Bangladesh, and other Muslim countries due to stigma.
Clearly, these changes in law that have been enacted are not as effective as proposed. From recent reports, 4 children are victims of child abuse every hour… that is 1 every 15 minutes (BBC). What people need to realize is that these stories and happenings are not new, and not few in number. Social media movements have sparked an increase in reporting such crimes and bringing them to light worldwide. These movements are important because they validate victims’ experiences and make them feel more comfortable disclosing their stories. Here are some examples:

#BlackLivesMatter

Violence against African Americans in the U.S. has been going on for SEVERAL YEARS before this movement. We just did not hear about it as much because of the systematic and institutional racism that validated and covered up these atrocious crimes against black people. Until now. The acquittal of George Zimmerman in the murder of Trayvon Martin led an uprise among the black community to fight the injustice of this situation. This movement continues its fight.

#MeToo campaign

It took a few brave souls to expose some of the most powerful and well-renowned men, like Harvey Weinstein, to spark a movement that led several thousands of women to come forward and share their experiences on social media. This also started a movement among Muslim women with #MosqueMeToo. You can read more on that movement here (NPR).

What can we do now?

Don’t let the deaths and abuse of Zainab, Asifa, Saima, and the hundreds of thousands other children go untold. Spread their stories, the injustices, the clear violations of human rights. Speak up for them and their families. We can’t sit here and let this continue to happen.
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Here is a short but realistic list of courses of action to do in response to these child sexual abuse cases:

Post about it!

Contrary to popular belief, posting #JusticeFor_____, a post, or sharing a news article is greatly encouraged! We know that the media outlets can be biased and poor in covering such issues. Spread awareness, share their stories, don’t let their abuse go unknown.

 

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Do your research and avoid fake news.

Find out the facts about the situation and refer to trustworthy news stations. I found the most trustworthy sources for news include BBC, NPR, the Guardian, Reuters, The Washington Post, etc. Here are a few separate sources to determine reliability of a news network: source 1, source 2, source 3.

Start discussions about these issues with friends and family.

Increase in conversations about this, especially when it is taboo, will allow other victims to come forward and to increase awareness on how child sexual abuse is NOT ONLY morally wrong, BUT ALSO socially unacceptable. I realize having conversations around childhood sexual abuse can be uncomfortable, but think about the discomfort and pain the victims like Zainab and Asifa went through… if we could all get over the discomfort of breaking the silence about these events, we can work towards preventing further discomfort, pain, and trauma faced by victims.

Image result for #justiceforzainab

Hold the Perpetrators Accountable

I encourage you to shift the conversations from “the poor family and girl” to “those perpetrators did a terrible thing and they must be held accountable.” Shift the sadness for the victim to anger towards the perpetrator; because THAT will elicit more change in terms of preventative action instead of reactionary action. It is absolutely a tragic event that happened to these girls and we most definitely should grieve for them and their families, but WHO committed the crimes and why?

Let me give you another example: victims of child abuse – this phrase can be problematic because it removes the subject. We then focus on the victims and what we can do next. But wait. Who committed the abuse? Why are we not talking about them, what they did, how they are responsible, and whether they are being held accountable? Thus, I encourage you all to talk about the issues surrounding the perpetrators and how that is wrong; spread the word and make it increasingly shamed to discourage further acts. Let’s avoid stigmatizing and shaming victims, and work towards shaming and stigmatizing perpetrators. 

Call People Out

In conversations with friends and family, call people out when they make sexist or victim blaming comments that contribute toward the acceptance of perpetrating sexual violence. For example, anyone who says that someone dressed a certain way is “asking for it” or someone hanging out with the opposite gender has “loose character” or that some child walking to her school by herself makes it “her fault” etc. The way a person dresses or acts is NOT an invitation for unwanted sexual advances, and a victim should not be blamed for the actions of a perpetrator. Instead of telling our daughters, sisters, girlfriends to stay home to protect them from such men, we should be educating and socializing our men to respect women and not make such judgments. 

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Get help and help others!

If you, or anyone you know, has been a victim of childhood sexual abuse (or any abuse!) please refer to this list of resources I have compiled. There are steps you can take, numbers you can call, and people you can talk to online to get the help, support, and reassurance you need. You are not alone.

Take physical action – donate or volunteer!

Lastly, if you would like to do more, you can always take further action and donate, volunteer, or work with foundations that help develop prevention programs toward educating communities about sexual abuse and help victims in need. Here is a list of some ways you can get involved or donate to causes that help fight child abuse and sex trafficking:


If anyone is interested in writing about this topic or discussing this with me or the general public, do not hesitate to message me or comment on this post! Also, I’m looking for more organizations specifically working towards handling these issues among communities where sexual abuse is highly stigmatized. Please let me know of any charities, foundations, or movements that I can work with and mention here. Thanks.

– Zuni

Posted by

Hi, I'm the founder of The PhDream. I'm a second year doctoral student who wasn't satisfied with just sitting behind a desk and writing papers. While my research may have an indirect impact, I wanted to engage more directly with the community and provide a platform to discuss neglected and sensitive issues. Along with that, I try to stay sane in my program by stress baking, glamming up even when I'm down, and sharing my dad-joke captions on the gram -- if only that creativity could translate into my research... Anyways, I'm always looking for contributors, collaborations, and people to eat my zelicious creations, so don't hesitate to reach out or follow me @ZuniJilani :)

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