I read with great interest earlier this week the story of Ruzwana Bashir, an educated and accomplished British-Pakistani woman who is the co-founder of peek.com http://www.peek.com/. Ms. Bashir, an Oxford and Harvard educated entrepreneur, recounts her story of childhood sexual abuse and the cultural obstacles and pressures from her own family when, as an adult, she was able gather the internal strength and fortitude to return to her childhood community, in Skipton, U.K to report and prosecute her abuser. http://www.theguardian.com/society/2014/aug/29/-sp-untold-story-culture-of-shame-ruzwana-bashir.
Ruzwana’ s fight for justice for herself and other victims as well as to protect other girls from meeting the same fate is truly inspiring. It shows one person can make a difference. But it also shows how the crime of child abuse thrives in secrecy and darkness. As Ms. Bashir recounts, when she finally disclosed her abuse, her own mother begged her not to go to the police because of the “shame” it would bring to the family. Keeping quiet about these crimes was more important in the familial and cultural context than prosecuting the offender.
As Ms. Bashir identifies sexual abuse is “systemically under-reported among Asian girls due to deeply entrenched cultural taboos – obscuring the reality that there is a similarly rampant problem of minority girls being abused by members of their own community.” Cultural shunning is a powerful tool used to silence victims, allowing child molesters to continue to abuse more children
During her quest to bring her perpetrator to justice, Ms. Bashir learned this hard fact that many survivors of sexual assault know all too well, other victims refuse to testify against the perpetrator because of the “indelible stigma” it would bring. Further, even though the larger community is aware or should have been aware of multiple red flags and rumours surrounding a perpetrator they choose to ignore victim outcries and remain silent. They simply don’t want to risk being ostracized by the community. Education, awareness and understanding is key to breaking these cultural taboos.
Ms. Bashir’s prosecution of her abuser with the help of other women who came forward following her report resulted in an eight year sentence. Unfortunately, Ms. Bashir reports even after this conviction victims who remained in Skipton were shunned by the community.
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