Many are aware of child sexual abuse, but seldom has any victim openly spoken about it and seldom has anyone provided a safe environment to do so!
The Last Word hosted an open mic event on Child Sexual Abuse where everyone was free to come up and share their experiences and views on the topic. It was part of a two-session event. The first session that was held in January was more of an informational event titled “Myth and Misconception about Child Sexual Abuse”.
Both the event and the discussion were facilitated by psychotherapist and psychologist Ayesha Iftikhar.
“We feel there is a great need for people to engage openly and personally with this taboo issue,” Ayesha said while talking to Pakistan Today. “As far as I know this is possibly the first event that has been specifically about adults sharing their experience(s) of the abuse that they suffered as children, openly in a safe environment,” she said.
During the session, several victims of the abuse shared their stories; spoke how it affected their entire life, personality and how the memories kept haunting them.
One of them also recited a poem that summarised “how children fall victim to the abuse when everyone stays silent and the life goes on”.
The session came upon the conclusion that child sexual abuse was prevalent everywhere, especially in places like schools and madrassas, where students are blackmailed by teachers and if they refuse to give in their grades are affected or they are treated badly.
Some pointed out that the abuse was also prevalent in the corporate sector where employees were offered higher salaries and promotions in return by their offender-bosses or else they ended up losing their jobs.
Through the discussion, parents were advised not to trust anyone with their children, even if it was a close relative or a sibling. They were also advised to keep a close check on tutors and asked not to leave their children alone or seat them for tuition in an open space where parents can keep an eye on them. Moreover, it was also said that children should be told not to hide anything from their parents.
Although those who wished to speak at the session had been asked to RSVP before the event, but at the end many people who hadn’t registered were also willing to speak up, as many of them shared incidents of abuse that happened to someone that they knew of.
“In order to get over it we need to get rid of this rape culture. We should also not tolerate rape jokes. Because this is how it starts,” said one of the attendees.
“I am surprised to see so many people coming up and openly talking about the issue. If Pakistan has come to this level, I am sure we are going in the right direction,” said another attendee at the end of the discussion.
Sexual abuse is generally thought to be gender specific: women or girls being sexually harassed by men. But, the surprising part about the talk was that there were a lot of men who shared their experience of being abused as a child. Some even had to face it as adults.
“Even within men abuse is quiet prevalent,” said Ayesha.
“A lot of international studies tell us that women are more victimised than men. But there are a lot of men victims too. The thing is that it is far more a taboo for men perhaps to report it because the stigma that boys get of an abuse is different. It becomes like oh you are not a man, or you are weak,” added Ayesha, who teaches and practices therapy works and primarily deals with adults.
“While dealing with adults I have seen that a long-term impact of abuse that they have suffered as children is very significant, far-reaching and it has so many implications for their relationships,” she said.
“So you know when we say that the experience happened in the childhood and then they got over it, what happens is that they may not be living the experience as adults but they will have depression, dysfunctional relationships, a poor sense of self and low self-esteem and there will be abusing substances and when we trace it back, a lot of it does come from the abuse that they had suffered,” added Ayesha.
The motivation to conduct the event, Ayesha said, was inspired by her husband and people she was close to who had shared their experience with her. “And primarily the biggest motivation was that she wanted to break the stigma of shame and self-blame attached to those that have experienced such an abuse.”
“When we hide things, we hide things because we are ashamed of them. But abuse shouldn’t be one of them because it should be absolutely very clear in our minds that it is never the victim’s or the child’s fault, whether the child is older or younger, whether he had or did not have awareness. This is something I really wanted to clarify. I have seen a bit of victim-blaming even with the kids. If the child was a bit older or we expect that kid slightly over or could have done something, then victim blaming starts happening there too. That was the most troubling thing for me,” said Ayesha.
Being aware of the fact that after one shares one’s story the wound is touched again, Ayesha Iftikhar will also be facilitating a free weekly support/process group as a follow-up sessions for those who feel the need.
“It may be the first time for many people that they completely or openly acknowledged what happened to them. I am very sensitive of the fact that it could cause them to get disturbed, leave them unsettled,” Ayesha said.
The group will provide a safe and supportive environment in which members can grow out of the trauma.
“We want to offer space. It shouldn’t be that they just share it and afterwards they are left hanging with no support. It is to help them look at their experience, look at how other people are also experiencing it, help them not feel alone and fully recognise the impact it had on their lives.”