I recently wrote a personal and emotional piece on being sexually abused by an imam when I was a child. I was nervous when it was published, and was afraid there would be negative reaction from readers. However, it was relieving to see such an enormous outpour of support, encouragement and love from the community.
I also received many messages from women who bravely shared their stories of being sexually abused when they were young. Unsurprisingly, many were surprised that a religious leader would commit such a horrendous act and thanked me for raising awareness to such an important topic.
My story is not a rare or isolated incident.
Recently there was a story regarding a mosque in Queens where a teacher was met with charges of molesting a student.
Last year an imam was charged for sexually abusing a woman in Chicago.
There are countless other victims and stories like these in the Muslim community.
Yet, this topic remains taboo in our communities. We still use silly words for anything below the belt. We still act like penises and vaginas are shameful parts of our children’s bodies. And we still force our children to hug and kiss to aunties and uncles, despite any discomfort.
Here are some important steps for parents and community members to help prevent and address the issue of sexual violence within our communities:
1. Let’s ALL get serious about it.
Use proper names for penises and vaginas and testicles when your children are as young as two. It’s sad to know some of our daughters don’t even know their vagina and urethra are two separate holes for different functions. Tell them about their bodies!
2. Be open and honest with your child.
Tell them if anyone ever touches them in their private area to tell you immediately and that you WILL believe them.
3. Open your eyes and ears.
If your child tells you someone touched them inappropriately, believe them. This someone could be an imam, an uncle, aunt, grandpa, friend, teacher or coach.
4. Don’t force your child to hug or kiss someone.
It’s their body. They should choose who they want to kiss or hug. Teach them that they are the ones to control their own body. Yes, even that well-intentioned aunt at the masjid who makes a sad face because your sleepy toddler doesn’t want to give her a hug.
5. Educate others about this issue.
Unfortunately many people just don’t believe that Muslims, especially Muslim leaders like imams, will sexually abuse someone. Share statistics, share other people’s stories. Address these issues. Host an Anti-sexual Violence Training for Faith Communities by Heart Women and Girls.
6. Let’s Support Each Other.
Support organizations like Heart Women and Girls who promote “sexual health and sexual violence awareness in faith-based communities by developing culturally-sensitive health education, advocacy, research and training,” according to their website. Contact them for more resources and information.
I truly hope we take this issue seriously in our community and stop making it a taboo topic. And I ask God to always protect our children from facing the life-changing, horrible situation I went through as a child; something that will continue to affect me forever. And if it does occur, I ask God that justice be served and healing be abundant.
Photo by David Rosen