Why won’t you let Ruwa Rehman Talk, dammit?
Shut up… shut up… shut up… just shut the f*** up…
That’s how it starts for many sex abuse survivors in Pakistan when they finally draw the strength to reach out from the void and tell their story.
“Chup hojao. Shhh. Bas ab tum nay mujhay bataya hay magar aur kis hee ko nahi batana.”
(Just keep quiet. You’ve told me, now don’t tell anyone else.)
If this fails, the angle of attack changes on the survivor.
“Apni izzat ka socho. Tum say kon shaadi karey ga?”
(Think of your reputation. Who will marry you?)
Sometimes, especially when the perpetrator is a close family member, in a sickening twist the survivor is asked to empathise with the attacker.
“Uska socho. Log kya kahengay? Uskee zindagee khatam hojaygee.”
(What about their reputation? You’ll ruin their life.)
When this fails, sometimes there is a final gambit. A gambit so depraved, it is almost as heinous as the original crime itself.
Usually after a whistle-blower stands up to speak against her former employers, everything from her reputation, her competence, her motivation, her intelligence, to her state of mind is called into question by the people who used to sign her pay checks. It is an attempt to discredit her.
In a family more concerned with their own well-being, this is exactly what happens to a sex abuse survivor who dares to reach out to the outside world.
“Yeh to pagal hay. Iska to dimagh kharab hay. Kuch khawab mein dekha hoga.”
(She is crazy. Must have seen it all in a dream.)
My personal favourite is,
“She’s making it up because she’s depressed.”
Yes, I wonder why she’s depressed.
Someone I knew spent her life married to a man who was nothing short of a sexual deviant. The word ‘izzat’ (respect) was used like some shield, when in actuality it was a noose around her neck, choking her soul little by little.
I’ve interviewed both local psychiatrists and survivors for articles I’ve written on the subject, and unfortunately, have found a similar pattern in the heartbreaking stories. In many, though not all cases, the survivor is told to silently bear the weight of abuse alone, so that others do not suffer the discomfort of sharing the burden.
It was a similar pattern on ‘Talk, dammit’, a Facebook page which has taken Pakistani social media by storm, and a page which sadly may not exist by the time this article is published. The page, created only to serve as a platform for survivors of sexual abuse to anonymously share their stories, reads like a long collection of horror stories.
In these crushing first-hand accounts, the victims are usually – though not always – girls, and the tales of abuse begin from the ages of six on to teen years and beyond. The perpetrators are fathers, brothers, cousins, servants, and neighbours, while the most common culprits are tutors and qari sahabs (Quran teachers).
Reading so many disturbing stories, I have to ask the mothers of this nation, what the hell sort of upbringing are you giving to your sons?
How do they have such little respect for another person’s body?
While the blame clearly lies with the culprits of these heinous acts, the parents are to blame as well. Only a few parents gave their children the space and confidence to express themselves, while even fewer reacted by giving their children the healing love and understanding they deserved after learning of the wrongdoings. On the contrary, most parents quite selfishly tried to sweep the stories under the rug using the broom of toxic shame.
It is selfish because these miserable excuses for parents would rather ignore the matter than make the emotional effort to help their families process the tragedy in a healthy manner.
This callousness resulted in a snowball effect. One girl gave herself to the first boyfriend who showed her sympathy, yet was also very abusive. Numerous survivors gained weight, probably in a subconscious attempt to divert attention from their bodies. Still, others suffered from depression, anger, and other behavioural issues, some of which led to substance abuse.
This chain of events which ruined their adulthood started from the point of abuse in their childhoods. It is a chain which could have been broken had their parents offered a healing hand when their children turned to them in their hour of need.
Syed Faizan Raza Rizvi, the young man running the page, shared a most harrowing story recently, from a survivor who revealed her identity as Ruwa Rehman.
“I was five and my brother 10. Being the ‘man of the house’, he had always gotten away with things. My well-educated parents loved him more than anything. Since both our parents were doctors – well known doctors – our status was considered to be higher. Bhai had broken an expensive vase. Mamma saw him break it but it was my fault. Daddy saw I was getting beaten up for something not my fault so he took me to his room and cuddled with me. That’s when it started. And it was our secret.
In return, I received what I thought was love. Plus daddy was just kissing me and touching me. And he loved me this way for three years. As soon as it struck midnight on my eighth birthday, daddy came into my room. I was giddy with joy. I would get my present now. That was the first night he raped me. Anally. I had to stay a virgin. But he took so much more. For years and years, he came into my room. I was battered and bruised. I knew it was wrong but I was too scared to say anything. I was sure my mother knew but she never heard my screams. She never came to rescue me from him. And his threats were never empty. He had always followed through. But I finally spoke up when I was 17. My entire family got involved and they tried to help me. My aunts and uncles intervened. But I had to stay inside the same house while they made decisions about my life. Conclusion? He shall never touch me again but I still should live with him because otherwise people would talk. And ‘my’ reputation was going to be at stake. In fact, my well-known family would have their status ruined. So it was decided that I’m going to live in my ‘home’. All this time, my mother threw it on my face that I had now tainted their reputation. And that I had been the whore tricking him into my room at night.
Eventually, my family backed out, my parents tricked me into going to a therapist who put me on 18 medications and all I did was sleep and eat. But I had my friends and their support. And then suddenly and beautifully I fell in love when I was 19. That person had been raped some time ago and we both just understood each other so well that somewhere down the road of amazing friendship, we both were in love. I finally had a little hope. A little light that had lit up. Then daddy found out that I was dating someone and threatened to rape that person – the person who made me believe in love and understood what I had been through. In despair, without giving any reason, I sent a heartless text, ‘I think we should break up’. Heartbroken and devastated, our friendship was ruined. The only person I had risked to love never understood why and I didn’t have the courage to explain – safety was so much more important. And whatever friendship we had was now all gone.
Six months later, daddy came into my room again. He mocked me. He told me how my family did not care about me. How no one had ever really loved me. How my ‘lover’ did not protect me. I was made to be used. My body was made to be used. And only he had the right to do so. I belonged to him. And then he raped me. He was more abusive than ever. All his rage and frustration had come out as a brutal force and had at times ended up with me having to get stitches around my genitals. I was so humiliated. And slowly I lost what little I had of me. I couldn’t even ask my family for help again. They didn’t care. All hell broke loose when I was 22 and had just found out I was pregnant. A baby was growing inside of me. At least I had thought it was a baby. A foetus, maybe? Was it mine? Am I supposed to keep it? Should I keep it? Will this baby be the first person who would love me? However, my (new and genuinely nice) therapist explained to me that I couldn’t keep the baby. I needed to get an abortion. And so I did. It was probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done. And I couldn’t risk it again. I ran away from Karachi all the way to America. With no money and no life. And I started over. That was two years ago. The agency that helped me made sure I survived. They took care of me like I was their family.
And I did survive. I’m here writing my story. Completely detached from what had happened. I only feel the pain when I sleep and still have those nightmares. I have suppressed memories which bring back new memories I had forgotten. I am broken and miserable and lonely. And I have scars that can never heal. I have pain I can never forget. I have lost everything I had ever loved. I have stopped believing in love. I am still depressed and suffering from a severe form of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). People tell me I’ll be okay. I’ll be okay? I don’t believe that. I had heard that for years. ‘I’ll be okay’ are hollow words for me. But I’m still here. I haven’t heard my abusive mother’s words in two years. My father hasn’t been able to rape me in two years. I am here. I am alive.”
Unfortunately, all hell broke loose for Syed Faizan Raza Rizvi after sharing the tale. The next day, he took down Ruwa Rehman’s story with the following message,
The reaction was mixed. While most of the ‘Talk, dammit’ followers were unhappy with the censorship, some took to the length of abusing the admin of the page, Faizan. The irony was that those claiming to stand up for victims of abuse were now abusing Faizan himself. Here, Ruwa’s champions failed to realise that they only knew of her plight because of the man they were attacking.
Meanwhile, a page launched in support of Ruwa, called ‘Ruwa Rehman, We Believe You’.
Before expanding on Ruwa’s case, I would like to say a few more things about Faizan – it is very clear that this young man has done a lot of good for the nation with ‘Talk, dammit’. Furthermore, his friends speak of his charitable and generous nature for other causes as well. If anything, he is guilty of naivety. It also seems that he was issued numerous legal threats by Ruwa’s family. Posts on various Facebook pages suggest that Ruwa’s father, whom she said brutally raped her for the better part of life, is highly connected, and holds a prominent position at a hospital – which happens to be currently under investigation.
What is bothersome, however, is how Faizan was quick to side with Ruwa’s family, going so far as to discredit her story. Had he remained neutral at the very least, it would have been understandable. But to quickly shift the blame on the victim was disappointing, especially considering those who Faizan had fought for previously had faced the same issues. When push came to shove, he was sadly laying blame on the survivor just like everyone else.
There are several reasons I believe Ruwa Rehman.
1. As explained above, to paint her as mentally ill seems like a tactic to discredit her. Moreover, what sort of a psychiatrist would tell Faizan that Ruwa is a delusional schizophrenic? Would that not break every rule of patient/client confidentiality?
2. Delusional Schizophrenia is a serious disease, a form of psychosis where a patient can’t tell the difference between imagination and reality. If Ruwa is truly delusional schizophrenic, then how has she composed such a lucid letter to Faizan. How is she so coherent on her Facebook updates? How was she pursuing a medical degree in Pakistan and is apparently continuing to do so in the United States? Most crucially, why are Ruwa’s friends confirming her story?
3. Her two Facebook pages also fit in with the timeline of her story. The first page seems to have stopped updating in March 2013, a time when she claims to have been relocated to the United States by an agency. Her second Facebook page seems to have been started a few months after her last update on her first page.
It is possible she lost access to her first Facebook page after fleeing to America, and her password was changed from her computer at home in Pakistan.
Here is a message Ruwa posted on Facebook from her second account,
From this second account, Ruwa also hit the ‘like’ button on the countless messages of support on the ‘Ruwa Rehman, We Believe You’ page.
4. The final reason is probably the creepiest. Here is a threat sent to Faizan from Ruwa’s first Facebook account. Remember, this account wasn’t updated since 2013.
Clearly, Ruwa is using a different account now. The question is, who used her old account to issue this threat? It is now increasingly obvious that there are elements who don’t want Ruwa to talk.
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.