“I knew that there would be repercussions when I confessed to having been abused in my childhood,” tells celebrity and PR maven Frieha Altaf to Images.
“I knew that I would be asked questions about a topic that hurt me deeply and scarred me for life. But when the #metoo campaign went viral around the world, it made me realize that it was important to speak out. There is no shame to having been a victim of abuse. There is no shame in talking about it because it helps one address a topic that has long been considered a taboo and been shushed away by victims’ families.”
“In Pakistan, we shy away from any topic that makes us feel uncomfortable and our children sometimes end up suffering,” she continues. “It is important because by being vocal, I can tell parents to keep an eye on their children and to listen to their children if they complain about something.”
Frieha’s confessions on Twitter were made this weekend and around the same time, designer Maheen Khan and actress Nadia Jamil also admitted to having been victims of child abuse.
These admissions, made by women belonging to the country’s educated upper crust, undeniably did make many of us sit up and take notice. Abuse exists; on the streets, in poverty-stricken alleyways, but also within the homes of the educated and the privileged, often inflicted upon young children by trusted members of the family, domestic servants, tuition teachers or members of the religious clergy who parents believe can do no harm.
“It’s about time that we take a good look at ourselves as a society,” says Maheen Khan. “Children have gotten abused around us and we have quietly swept it under the covers, standing by and letting it happen, refusing to speak against it because we feel ashamed. These children get traumatised for life. They grow up into people who need psychiatric help. I know of parents whose children have come to them with complaints and they have refused to believe them because they can’t imagine that an old trusted domestic servant could be doing this.”
Maheen Khan, on her Twitter feed, spoke about being molested by the maulvi who came to teach her the Quran. In Frieha’s case, a domestic servant molested her at age six. “All I remember is that I was very scared because even at this young age, one knows that certain things are wrong. My parents had been away when the abuse began and it continued even after they returned. Finally, I told my mother. She fell apart and had a nervous breakdown.”
“My father immediately fired the servant, reported him to the police and had him deported. As a consequence of this, our neighbours realized that their own servant had also been doing the same thing to their daughter,” she says. “My father promptly hushed up the matter but at least he had listened to me. I am so relieved that my parents took me seriously when I told them what was happening and didn’t presume that I was imagining things.”
“It was only later that I realised the impact that the abuse made on my life. As a teenager, I was rebellious. I didn’t want to listen to my parents because deep down, I didn’t trust them anymore. They hadn’t been able to protect me. I got married thrice, to the wrong men, getting into abusive relationships and never knowing that I deserved better. At age 35, when I was on my own and needed to earn enough to support my two children, I finally began to feel better. I went for counseling and I decided to stop caring about what people would say. But I made so many mistakes because of that one traumatic experience that had eroded away my self-esteem.”
According to Frieha, she contemplated for a long time before speaking out. “I now want to work towards eradicating this abuse.”
Maheen Khan asserts, “Parents need to know: please listen to your children, take heed, teach them, warn them, talk to them openly about what is appropriate and what isn’t. There is a severe lack of education that is feeding this horrible defect in our society and we need to correct it.”