“All these years, you kept quiet?” I exclaimed!
“ Yes, because I did not want his wife and children to be hurt. You know, we are family.” She tried to pacify me, but I already felt anger brewing inside me. This woman was molested by her sister’s husband when she was a young girl and her sister did not believe in her when she chose to confide. Instead, her sister chastised her for trying to create problems in her marital life and questioned the girl’s character. I was appalled! This incident happened more than 20 years ago, but the woman not only chose to act normal but she left no stones unturned in displaying respect towards her brother-in-law. She has taught her children also to respect their “uncle”, for he is a senior family member and he must be respected. Many family members have no clue whatsoever about this incident. He is a well-reputed government official and is respected in the whole clan. His children have no idea about him, and his sister-in-law never wishes to confront him because she does not want to hurt her sister. For her, her sister is like her mother. Her justification behind her choice broke my heart.
I have heard similar stories over and over again, of sexual abuse by a family member or a relative. And the victims never speak up. I know women who choose to live with this pain for decades, but never raise their voice for what was done to them. It does not matter who the family member is- it may be a brother-in-law, a cousin or even her father! Because if they do, they are vilified by the whole family, they are accused of trying to break the family apart!
In my culture, the family bond is of paramount importance. Senior members of the entire clan are put on the same pedestal as people would do to gods and goddesses(if they believe). Family is above everything in our culture. While family bonding is of crucial importance, I find this glorification or devotion quite problematic given the flip side of the issue. When a family member has abused someone, no matter what form of abuse it is- how can a person with a conscience be okay with burying the secret? If I know someone is a molester or a rapist, I cannot treat him with grand respect, I cannot do it even to show off. Not anymore. There was a time, I too was swayed with the emotions and cultural norms. But now I am starting to realize how dangerous this glorification is.
First of all, by protecting the abuser or not revealing him/her, we are allowing the person more opportunity to keep committing crimes. We may find ourselves being abused again, or there might be more victims.
Secondly, we are making ourselves disillusioned with the sense of pride that by covering up our pains and traumas, we have saved the family. No! If we choose to do this, we are only burying a skeleton inside the closet which will haunt us years later or come out and make us face the consequences.
Thirdly, by protecting the perpetrator, we are not doing ourselves any justice. We are only digging a grave for ourselves, and choosing to live our entire lives with haunted memories and traumas.
But when someone chooses to speak up against a family member who is the perpetrator of sexual violence, what happens? In most cases, it is the person who speaks up bears the wrath of family members and faces ostracization and isolation by family members. The person deals with the blame and guilt of creating havoc in the family. Because this is still the mindset of many people- if you faced abuse from a family member, be careful the next time but don’t you dare break apart your family!
This truly breaks my heart, for it has happened to many people and while I wonder if the society will ever change, but what I do know is if I ever have children, I will not feed this illusion into their minds. Yes, family matters and we must try to help our family. But a criminal is a criminal, before anything else!