A victim of child abuse narrates her ordeal, which lasted over two decades, here. Her name has not been revealed to protect her privacy.
The woman who gave birth to me was clearly not prepared for motherhood. My earliest memories with her are those of her voice berating me for my existence. This was while I was a toddler. I'm guessing that my existence was an issue for her because I wasn't born a boy. I don't refer to those two as my biological parents or my mother and father, because what they did to me is not what a mother or a father are supposed to do, and referring to them as such just seems insulting to the idea of decent parenthood.
From the time I was old enough to understand things, until 2012 when I cut her and her husband out of my life, she told me repeatedly that she cried at the hospital when the doctors told her that I was a girl, but she always added that she didn't let that colour her view of me and that, she brought me up ‘like a son’. To this day, I'm 30 years old now, I have no idea what that means.
We moved to a different country when I was two and a half years old to live with her husband. That's when the molestation began. I'm told that when we landed at the airport, I didn't recognise him, and started to bawl when she tried to hand me over to him. This, reportedly, ‘broke his heart’, and he never bonded with me as his daughter.
My earliest memory of him is of hiding under a bed, crying and trying to push myself against a wall, while he, face contorted with rage, mouth spewing nasty things, is trying to get a hold of me and pull me out.
For people outside, none of this was visible at the time. In public, I was dressed neatly like a little doll. I had an entire wardrobe full of clothes; each outfit had its own set of matching socks, shoes and hats. I was fed well.
Keeping up appearances has always been extremely important for them. From what I've learned in therapy, that's logical - they couldn't possibly be able to get away with half their crap if people didn't see them as ‘parents of the year’.
When I started going to school, her madness really started kicking in. I was a smart kid; I picked up ideas and concepts really quickly and did well academically. She latched on to that, made it all about herself, and made my life even more miserable.
Credit for anything that I did well went to her. She would say: ‘If it weren't for me...’ The blame for everything else fell squarely on my tiny shoulders.
Being sick and bedridden was no excuse for not taking tests, and not just taking tests, but acing them too. She would drag me off to school, shivering with high fevers, to take tests, and woe unto me if I didn't get full marks on them. (I was never vaccinated properly, so physical ill-health was something that I struggled with throughout my childhood. I got everything from tonsillitis to malaria to chicken pox to measles to Bell's Palsy and what-not.)
This is only one part of the madness that she inflicted on me; writing about all of it would require an entire book.
He, meanwhile, pulled his own nonsense with me, while pretending in public to be father of the year.
With all of this stress, I took to biting my nails and chewing on my cuticles very early on. She was horrified because this was an ‘imperfection’ that would reflect badly on her. She used to insist on bathing me, and after putting shampoo on my head so I couldn't open my eyes, she would make a show of checking my nails and cuticles, and then the horror would begin. Blows would rain down all over me, seemingly from every direction simultaneously.
Punches would land on me, some on my eyes, making me see stars. If I tried to open my eyes to see which direction the next blow would come, shampoo would make them sting even more, so most of the time, I'd just curl up in a ball and wait for the storm to pass.
Sometimes, I'd cry and scream, and that would enrage her even more. Sometimes, I'd silently wait for it to be over, and ‘that would enrage her. I just never knew which it would be that day.
To date, I am not able to take a shower without being intensely traumatised by flashbacks every single time. I use Johnson's Baby Shampoo now, so I can at least keep my eyes open.
Bath-time was also when she started molesting me. From there it just escalated. She groomed me into thinking that this was okay, and that, she was doing it because she loved me, and mommies who don't do this are lazy and negligent and just don't love their children enough.
It continued until I finally fought her off when I was around 15 years old. I don't know what prompted me to fight her off; it certainly wasn't because I thought I was being violated - that actually didn't register until very recently; I suppose I put a stop to it when I did because one fine day I'd just had enough. I don't know.
I'd lost hope of ‘deliverance’ very early on. One day, when I was in grade-4, she flew into another rage about my nail-biting. Her husband had recently bought her a cane to ‘discipline’ me. In her rage, she picked up a cane and started raining blows all over me - my head, shoulders, neck, back, legs, and arms. When I ran to escape the blows, it angered her even more, and the blows fell harder. So I curled up in a ball on the ground, and prayed for it to stop.
So I flew into my own little rage and screamed that if she continued this way, I would run away one fine day and none of them would know where I went. Well, that made it worse. So I said that I would kill myself and they would be sorry.
That made it even worse.
The cane broke on my back, and she picked up both pieces, and started hitting me with both of them. When those pieces broke, she picked up the biggest of those four pieces and continued hitting me with it. When ‘that’ broke, she found a thick plastic clothes hanger, and continued. I could see that she was out of breathe, but she didn't stop until the hanger also broke, thankfully injuring her hand.
That was the day I realised that she was completely out of her mind. The idea terrified the eight-year-old me. The places where I'd been hit quickly turned into deep purple welts, many of which were on my arms. The next day, she sent me off to school, ordering me to keep them covered, ‘or else’. I was angry, and now that I'd realised that she was completely crazy, I desperately wanted out.
So at school, I rolled up my sleeves, angry purple welts in full view, hoping that an adult would see them, ask about me, and get help. My class-teacher, whom I adored and who I'd thought was very fond of me, saw them.
She asked me what had happened. I said that my mother did it. Then my class-teacher, an adult who could have helped, turned her face away and told me to roll down and button up my sleeves. Part of my world imploded and went dark that day, and I realised that I was trapped forever.
As an adult, I tried to tell an ex-boyfriend, and he shut me down, telling me to respect my mother, and to stop saying nasty things about her when she was such a nice person. He had met her, and with him, as with everyone else, she pretended to be this bright sunny person and a caring, loving mother. She'd even shed tears on occasion to underscore her pretence at compassion. So I just stopped telling. I was trapped, it was my problem, and that was that. I'm not a liar and I didn't want to be called a liar by more people.
My clearest memory of molestation by her husband, one that I've always remembered, is from when I was 15 or 16 years old. On my days off from school, she and I would sleep till 9 or 10 in the morning. He would wake up early, make his breakfast and go off to work. On one such day, I woke up with a start.
He was fondling my private parts. My heart stopped. I didn't understand what was going on, just that I was terrified and he said: ‘Everything is fine, beta, go back to sleep.’
I'd repressed all other memories of sexual abuse by both of them (those memories started returning in 2012). Apart from being molested by the two of them, I was also sold off to other child molesters. I have no idea how they got away with it, or how I got away without lasting sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).
As a child, I did get some minor STDs, I didn't know what they were back then. I was taken to doctors, and those idiots didn't flag it either. Is it normal for a 10-year-old to be brought to a hospital with what is clearly a sexually transmitted disease? Was it normal for them? Why didn't they ask any questions? Why didn't they flag it with law-enforcement? It wasn't Pakistan; they could have taken action, and they didn't. They failed a child who was desperately in need of help.
I ran away one final time in December 2011, when I was 28 years old, and never went back. I moved in with my then-fiancé (now-husband) and started sleeping peacefully for the first in more than two decades.
By April/May 2012, my repressed memories of sexual abuse started returning, and well, my life fell apart. Until then, I'd remembered the physical, psychological and emotional abuse, and dealt with it as crap that I got from crazy parents. The memory of that man fondling my private parts had always lurked in my brain, but I'd always pushed it to the back of my head.
Now all those memories started pushing their way out. It was like a dam had broken, and I was drowning. The first person I told was my partner. He's an incredible, incredible man. He held me as I burst into a flood of tears that just wouldn't stop, and said to me, again and again, that I was safe now; that no one was going to harm me. I later found out that the poor guy had no idea what to do either, except that I needed support and he provided that as best as he could.
During this period, I went completely suicidal.
I had had suicide ideation for as long as I could remember, but during this period, it turned from passive ideation to active. I was in and out of psych wards, but nothing seemed to get better. I didn't want to live in a world where my own parents had done those things to me. Parents are supposed to be a child's primary protectors; what went wrong with mine? How could they have done this? Was I that unlovable?
My partner constantly reassured me that that wasn't true; that he loved me and so did my friends, all of whom formed a tight, protective circle around the two of us during this time. All of them helped us in whichever way they could -- some financially, some with contacts for therapists, some with places to stay when we went to visit therapists in their cities. Each of them will have my eternal gratitude because they saved my life even when I was bent on putting an end to it.
Once during this time, I expressed a desire to speak to the woman who gave birth to me. I supposed I wanted them to tell me what they'd done, that they were wrong, that they were sorry, and that, they'd now look after me like parents are supposed to look after a daughter. My partner emailed my younger sibling, telling her what was going on, and to ask her to liaise in case things went south with the people who gave birth to me. My younger sibling, whom I'd loved like I would love my own child, responded by telling him that I was a liar and a woman of bad character and to not involve her in matters that didn't concern her.
Aghast, my partner then called up the woman who gave birth to me, and told her what was going on, including my suicide attempts. He said that I needed them to be my parents now. That woman said, ‘acha’, and told him she'll call him back.
Fifteen minutes later, she called him, and said that she and her husband had discussed things, and had decided to inform the police about my suicide attempts, ‘taa k agr yeh mer meraa jaaey, toh humarey ooper naa aaey baat’ (so we are not blamed for her death.) My partner told her exactly what he thought of her and her husband, asked them never to contact us again, and put the phone down.
Therapy helped me get perspective, understand what had happened to me, and is now helping me move on. I was diagnosed with Dissociative Identity Disorder, and I'm learning to cope with it, and we are working on integrating all the memories and alters into one whole person again. I have a long way to go still, but improvement has been very rapid, and the prognosis is very good.
Bad things happened, I can't allow it to colour the rest of my life. I deserve a life free of abuse, a life lived on my own terms, sans unfair burdens that were chained to me by mentally unstable people who obviously had no business having a child.
Researched and produced by Mahnoor Sherazee
Videographer: Kurt Menezes
Masthead and infographic: Shameen Khan
Special Thanks: Taimur Sikander, Mahnoor Bari, Sana Malik, Gul Nayani