Trigger warning: This article contains subject matter pertaining to childhood sexual abuse and rape.
Anyone’s first, second, even third cousins are considered potential suitors if you were raised in some Middle Eastern households. This does not particularly fall under “Islamic” practices only. Other religions, cultures, and upbringings practice this notion too. One must wonder why their cousin is such a good choice, and if the idea is even worth considering. Now, not everyone is going to have the same experience as myself. Having said that, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that decent few have shared my experience, but have not had the opportunity to share their story. Shall I begin?
As a young girl, I was always around boys. I just so happen to be blessed with male cousins rather than female ones. Not that that was an issue, at first. The age gap between my two cousins and I is 11 months and three years.
Growing up, you could say we were pretty close with one another. We basically did everything together. Most would think we were siblings. However, something changed one day, and that sibling feeling did not remain the same. My cousin, who is three years older than me, explored earlier than most would have expected. I was the only girl around. You get where I am going with this, I hope.
May of 1997, my grandmother witnessed my first time being molested. I was four years old and clueless. He was seven years old and curious. No one expects a four year old to know what being molested is. Of course, my grandmother removed me from the scene, and disciplined my cousin with whatever seemed fit, and forgot the encounter ever happened. What my grandmother thought was just a one-time incident, however, was a recurring nightmare.
My mother’s second eldest sister also witnessed my cousin molesting me at a later date, and repeated the same steps my grandmother once had. What they thought they were doing to held hinder the situation, in actuality, did nothing at all. The abuse continued.
As I grew older; so did he. His thirst for exploring just kept building up. The techniques he would use, and the mannerisms he would portray publicly ensured that no one suspected him to be a threat to me. Well, predators love to prey on the innocent, and he knew exactly how to do so. Family functions, birthday parties, barbecues, and holidays were the times he planned his attacks.
Perhaps Muslim families do not imagine that these incidents would occur because they instill in children that God sees everything. What you choose to do, good or bad, God sees. That reliance kept most children in check. So, of course, no one else witnessed these incidents occurring as time went on, and no one assumed they would happen because that’s not “how we were raised”.
My mother wasn’t an extremely religious person but she knew the important concepts of her faith and educated me on what is acceptable and not acceptable. So when I came out to my mother about the abuse I had faced up until the age of 14, you could only imagine the guilt she felt. She kept repeating to herself that she failed me as a mother who was supposed to protect her only daughter from monsters like my cousin. It is no secret that the abusers are commonly someone the victim knows.
After several years of my body being his playground, I realized that his behavior was not normal, or just innocent curiosity. At this point, he was 17 years old and had gone through health class and sex education in high school. I remember the day vividly, when I realized that for all those years, my cousin had abused me for his own pleasure. I watched a movie in health class, “The Accused,” and immediately panicked during the graphic scenes of a woman being gang-raped. I realized that any man, no matter what the circumstances are, should respect a woman’s body.
My cousin had knowingly and deliberately abused me for his own gratification. He did not care about the damage it would cause me later on in life. The hands that once touched me became a horrific memory that replayed in my head.
I met my husband at the age of 16. By the second day of June 2012, I was a married woman at the age of 19. I struggled to consummate my marriage because I was guarding every part of me against a man. Even the man I fell in love with. The man I trusted, and believed would help me overcome these traumatic experiences I once faced. The man who would change my outlook on all men. It took me five months to build up the strength and trust to give myself to my husband. Only a man who truly loves you would wait. Only a man who respects you would wait. Only a man who genuinely cares about your well-being, instead of his personal pleasure, would wait. I was fortunate to have that man in my life.
Not everyone gets lucky. Many women are forced to marry their abusers because it is easier for families to hide the truth. Many women remain silent because their abuser has taken ahold of their voice through threats of dishonor. Even so, I encourage all women to speak up if they are going through a similar situation. Your story and voice to end abuse could change someone’s life, just as I hope mine has done.