Following the publication of Tameena Hussain’s post
on her experience of child sexual abuse, we have decided to write a short note on the issue of sexual violence within Muslim and South Asian communities, in the UK.
Our heartfelt thanks to Tameena for writing this post on her experiences of childhood sexual abuse, and raising much needed awareness of a very difficult issue. Talking about sex is still very much taboo within most parts of the South Asian Muslim communities, and very little is done to raise awareness of sexual abuse and violence. Child sexual abuse has affected many of the women, we have had the privilege of working with at SSWH. These women are more than victim survivors, they are amazingly resilient and strong women who have had their lives forever impacted by sexual violence, some of them often dealing with lifelong consequences on their health and relationships.
Unfortunately for various complex reasons such as stigma, shame, and lack of education, despite this prevalence, we rarely hear the words “sexual violence” or “sexual abuse”, within community settings and spaces. More often than not victim survivors are victim blamed by family, friends or community members. To compound this victim blaming, with recent high profile child sexual exploitation cases, the discourse on sexual violence has become so toxic that many Muslim women feel scared to reveal or speak up about their experiences, for fear that their experiences and stories will be hijacked. And used as a tool to further demonise Muslims.
This fear arises from mainstream public discourse within media which portrays sexual violence as a phenomenon that is conducted mostly by Muslim men of South Asian or Pakistani heritage, against young white women and children. The experiences of young South Asian and/or Muslim girls and children is completely erased. As are the violent sexual crimes of perpetrators who are white or European. This perception also exists within political circles and Westminster, as one former government official relayed to us.
So not only are Muslim women being silenced by specific harmful cultural practices within their own communities, they are also being systematically silenced by pervasive public discourse which dehumanises Muslims, and paints them as perpetrators only. This discourse leaks into the psyche of teachers, social workers and mental health practitioners, albeit mostly unconsciously, creating a bias that impacts in the way they detect, and respond to victim survivors who are from a Muslim and/or South Asian background. Meaning Muslim girls and young women victims, remain largely undetected. And Muslim women who experience PTSD as a result of sexual violence, are often misdiagnosed, with a psychotic disorder or personality disorder.
We all need to do more to break down the taboo around talking about sex and relationships, and raise awareness of the prevalence of sexual abuse violence within minority and faith communities. Despite the #MeToo and #TimesUP campaigns, media organisations and politicians still have a greater responsibility to discuss this specific type of sexual violence, responsibly, without demonising entire faith/minority groups. Practitioners need to be mindful of stereotypes whilst dealing with South Asian and Muslim communities. A first step to doing this is to step back and listen meaningfully to the stories and experiences of young women like Tameena. Muslim women’s voices should be put at heart and forefront of discussions and debates on sexual violence within Muslim communities.
If you or anyone you know, has experienced or been impacted by any of the issues identified in this blog post please get help by contacting any of the organisations below.