Editor’s Note: This piece contains triggering context and language. If you have a sensitivity to stories of sexual abuse or physical abuse of any sort, we strongly encourage you to protect your mind and choose something different to read.
I grew up during a time when walking to school alone was not considered dangerous, children played outside until the street lamps came on, $1 would buy chips, juice, a Spice Girls lollipop and a small pack of Oreo cookies, parents did not hover over their children and scrapes and scratches were worn like badges of honor.
My parents never warned me about stranger danger or where I was not allowed to be touched. They never explained that private parts were off limits and to tell them if anyone “handled” me in a way that was inappropriate. I was 7-years-old when I was raped in the alley behind my apartment building. It has been 13 years and I have never told my story or processed my emotions. Now, I am going to share my story so that Muslim parents reading this, can hopefully understand that speaking to your children about things that make you uncomfortable might end up saving their lives.
There was this guy in my neighborhood that always hung around us kids. We never thought anything of it because he was Muslim. My parents always told me Muslims were good people so I just assumed he was good as well. A few older kids in the neighborhood started to call him a “perv” and said he was mentally disabled. Seeing as Muslim parents really don’t like to cover anything that isn’t “normal” in regards to topics they discuss, I didn’t know what that meant and I just thought he needed a friend. One day, he started to pay extra special attention to me. He would see me sitting on my stoop and cross the street to hug me or give me candy. I liked him because he would buy me cookies and chips and tell me I was beautiful. No one had ever told me I was beautiful before and I liked hearing it.
One day, he started to pay extra special attention to me.
One day after school, no one wanted to play with me so I decided to go outside and entertain myself. I grabbed some sidewalk chalk and decided to draw some pictures; I thought I was an artist back then. I was off to the side by myself while the other neighborhood kids were playing basketball. I remember looking up and suddenly everyone was gone and I was alone. I didn’t think to run inside to our apartment because it wasn’t unusual for me to play outside by myself – I had done it before.
I remember a shadow hovering over my drawing before I looked up. There he was, my new best friend with a Honey Bun and a bottle of Mystic Juice in hand. I was so excited to see him. He asked me if I was by myself and I said “yes” and explained that it was because no one wanted to play with me. He told me everyone was crazy because they should be begging to play with me and it was OK because he had a new game he wanted to play. He told me I would love the game but that I couldn’t tell anyone about it. He said that it would be “our little secret.” 7 year old me was so excited to have a secret and a grown up best friend.
He pulled me into the alley behind my building and sat down on a crate. He sat me on his lap and began caressing my face. I remember feeling a tightness in my stomach, almost like a stomach ache, and something in my head was yelling for me to run inside. I did not listen to the voice in my head – but every day I wish I had.
He stood me up so that I was now face-to-face with him. He started playing with my pigtails and he asked me if I had ever kissed a boy before. “NO WAY!” I said, “Plus that is haram!”. He told me best friends could kiss and God would not be mad. He told me he wanted me to be the best kisser in my class so that when I grow up and find a nice boy, I would have experience. He took my hand and placed it over his groin and I felt something hard and immediately pulled away. He was upset and told me he would stop buying me snacks if I made him mad and didn’t play his game. I didn’t want him to be mad at me but I did not want to play this game either. I felt the tears trickle down my cheeks and knew in my gut that something bad was going to happen.
He placed my hand over his groin again and began to move it back and forth, stroking his genitalia with my small infant like left hand. He put his lips on mine. He tasted like cigarettes and something else I could not identify until later in life; alcohol. He started to tug at my overalls and slid them down passed my knees. I was half naked and crying when he placed me on a pile of dirty garbage. He pulled my underwear down and I felt his finger inside me. I screamed because it hurt. And then he put his hand over my mouth to keep me quiet. He pulled out his penis and shoved it inside me – 7 year old me felt like I was being ripped in half. I shut my eyes so tight and told God that I did not want to die because I would miss my mom. He started to moan in my ear and told me I was a beautiful woman. I was not a woman. I was a little girl; but I was no longer an innocent child.
He tasted like cigarettes…
I felt something wet on my leg and opened my eyes to see him licking between my legs. He got up, looked down at me and smiled like he was proud of what he did. He helped me up and cleaned the blood off me and then redressed me. He told me he loved me and that he would never hurt me. He pulled me close to him and said, “This is very important habibty (my love). Don’t tell anyone because if you do, I will not love you anymore”.
I wanted him to love me. I wanted him to be my friend. I wanted to tell my mom what happened. I wanted to hit him because he hurt me. I wanted him to keep buying me cookies and chips. I was so confused and I didn’t know what was right or wrong. No one ever taught me about what had just happened. He started to walk away and before he turned the corned he looked at me and said, “Shh… Don’t tell“.
I went home that night and my mom started to yell at me because it was dark outside. I started to tell her about what happened but she continued to scream at me and told me she would tell my dad when he got home. I asked her if she could give me a bath and she told me to just go to bed. I could not sleep that night and I kept thinking about everything that happened. I started to cry so I got up and ran to the bathroom. I gave myself a bath and I scrubbed between my legs so hard that it began to hurt.
A couple of days later I began to feel a burn between by legs. I could not sit down comfortably and it burned when I peed. I told my mother and she took me to emergency care who ended up admitting me to the hospital when they found ‘vaginal tearing and bruising’. I had no idea what that meant as a 7 year old and I did not want to be in the hospital. I started hearing words like ‘sexual assault‘ and ‘molestation‘ and ‘rape’. Doctors would ask me questions like, “Has anyone touched you between your legs?” and I was too scared to answer because it seemed serious and I did not want to get in trouble. I remember a volunteer would come to my room every day and play UNO with me. She would ask me if I loved to play games and asked who I played with. I told her I liked to play with Barbies and she brought me one the next day.
She and I played Barbies every day I was in the hospital and she would just talk to me. I remember one day she put the Barbie on the bed. She started asking me if anyone touched me in certain spots. She pointed to areas on Barbie while asking me and I began to cry. I pulled the blanket over my head and told her to go away. The next visit I received was from the police.
My parents were in the room when the police started asking me the same questions the doctors and the volunteer asked. Only, I later found out she was not a volunteer at all. She was a Social Worker with DYFS. I looked at my parents every time the police asked me questions and I was scared to answer. I remember my mother getting so frustrated that she grabbed me and started to shake me while screaming, “Who touched you?! Why did you let someone touch you?! What is wrong with you?!”. It was my fault and I knew I would get in trouble if I said something. So, I remained quiet.
I was in the hospital for 11 days and when I was released back into my parents custody and taken home, my mother beat me with a wooden spoon. While she was hitting me she kept shouting, “What did you do?!”. Looking back on it today, I do not blame her or “hate her” for anything. She didn’t beat me out of malice. I grew up in what can be perceived as a broken home, with my father always in and out of the house so my mother was essentially alone – raising me alone. I don’t think she knew how to process her feelings in any other way other than anger. After all, I don’t think any parent ever prepares for their reaction to learning that their 7 year old was raped. But I knew then that if I ever said anything, it would just be bad news for me.
It has been 13 years since this incident and I never saw him again. I do not know what happened to him or whether he did this to another little girl after me or before me. I forgot about it for such a long time until I was triggered with a memory about a year ago. Someone posted a meme on Facebook with a bottle of Mystic on it and something tightened in my chest. The memory crashed into me like a wave and I suddenly felt like I was drowning. I dreamt of him that night and everything felt so real. Every now and then I’ll have a nightmare and wake up to the sound of his voice in my ear whispering ‘Shh…don’t tell’.
Well, guess what asshole – I finally told.
Parents: Teach your children about how they should be treated – especially how they should be treated by adults. Be clear in telling them what areas are appropriate on their bodies for others to touch – and make sure they understand that no one is allowed to touch them (anywhere – including a hug or handshake) without their permission.
If you feel that your child has been sexually harassed or assaulted – contact the police immediately. If your child is telling you that something made them uncomfortable, or if they are trying to tell you about something that happened to them – listen. Let them know that it is not their fault and that you are there for them.
For help in coping after sexual abuse – call the number below…