I do not remember when or how it started. Maybe when I was around four or five years old? All I remember was his fingers inside my vagina. As a little girl, I didn’t know how should I feel about it, I just that was not a pleasant feeling. It happened frequently and after every time he would shower me with candies and chocolates and ask me not to tell anyone; this was our little secret. Little did I know, this is not what fathers do to their daughters.
With family far away in the Middle East, my father had all the freedom in the world to do whatever he pleased. No one had the power to stop him from beating and abusing me, my siblings and my mom – in our culture, people do not like to interfere in a couples’ business. What happens behind closed doors stays there.
We moved back to our home country of Pakistan when I was eight years old. The sexual abuse stopped, but my father became more violent. He would beat us all for even the smallest things and no one stopped him. His brothers and sisters watched what was happening but did nothing; they would say we must have done something wrong or have said something to trigger him. This was my life for so many years: a daily cycle of verbal and physical abuse and mental torture. There was no escape. Life was hell, and to deal with the pain I started to self-harm. Today I bear the scars, and every time I look at them I’m reminded of my trauma, my past, my struggles. Of everything I have survived. As time passed, I tried to stay out of the house as much as possible, using my studies as an excuse. I started working after college and when at home, occupied myself with housework so I could interact with my father as little as possible.
My mother couldn’t reach out for help either. Even her own family didn’t believe her when she told them about the abuse. Instead, they told her, “This is what men are like; they are short-tempered. You mustn’t say or do anything to drive him crazy.” They told her that with little education and no proper degree it would be almost impossible to survive in this world without a husband. That she would never be accepted as a divorcee, that her daughter would never be able to marry.
When I was around 14 or 15, my mother, no longer able to deal with the abuse, suffered a nervous breakdown. From that day she stayed in the corner of her room for many years, eating and speaking very little. This meant my sisters and I had to juggle running the home and doing chores alongside our studies. I tried to spend as much time as possible with my mother, comforting her and telling her that she needed to give up on the hope that one day my father would become less gruesome.
I envied my friends’ parents and craved a love like that for myself. I used to make up stories in my head where I was adopted and one day my real parents would come to my rescue. What kind of world do we live in where a daughter is sexually violated by her father? What kind of life is this, where you can not rely on your parents for any support? This void of parental love is something I still carry within me. The worst thing was I couldn’t tell my friends or anyone else about it. I did not want to see sympathy or pity in their eyes, I didn’t want the “poor girl” stigma associated with me. Back then in our South-Asian society, we did not believe in sexual abuse so I knew no one would believe that my own father was abusing me. Nobody would dare to confront my father or call the police and there is no law or punishment for such an offence. I knew that if I contacted the police nothing would have happened. They either wouldn’t believe me or would have told me to resolve the matter by involving the elder members of the family.
Feeling helpless, I asked Allah many times, “Why me?”, “When will this life and my suffering end?”. To this day I do not have an answer. The only words of reassurance I was offered was that “He always rewards people for their sufferings in this world of hereafter”. I am not a totally devoutly religious person. There are days and weeks when I doubt my faith in Him. I try to remind myself that He will never burdened me beyond my limit and somehow He will fix things if I show some faith in Him. Sometimes that did happen, but not always how I wanted it to. I hope that all my suffering will not have been in vain.
In all honesty, I was never able to deal with the fact that the man who was responsible for my birth, the one who was supposed to protect me from the evils of this world could do what he did. I suppressed my emotions for many years because they are too hard to face, but not confronting what happened to me as a child has left me unable to enjoy life the way others do and with a lack of self-worth. My past haunts me. Out of nowhere, I will get upset and any reminder of that time pushes me back into depression. My experience has left me with trust issues, anxiety, and emotional imbalances.
Now I am married and a mother, but I have never been able to enjoy intimacy with my husband. For me, it is not an expression of love, simply a duty that I have to perform. I am happy and content with the life I have, but there are days when the demons of my past pull me into darkness. I try so hard to stay positive and happy for my daughter and when I’m struggling, I pretend. I’m very good at this because I’ve put on a show for others for so many years. When I see my husband caring for my daughter and the bond they have, I’m reminded of my damaged childhood.
In the end, you learn to be a survivor. It took me a long time but now I know that my past does not have to dictate my present and my future.