Ruzwana Bashir is upset about the media focus on the abuse of white girls while under-reporting the abuse of Asian girls by Asian adult men. She shares her story in hopes of tearing down the wall of silence and encouraging others to do the same.
She was abused by a neighbor in Skipton at the age of 10; she felt too much shame to say anything. Years later she went back to testify against him.
When I first told my mother about the abuse I’d suffered, she was absolutely devastated. The root of her anger was clear: I was heaping unbound shame on to my family by trying to bring the perpetrator to justice. In trying to stop him from exploiting more children, I was ensuring my parents and my siblings would be ostracised. She begged me not to go to the police station.
How appalling is that? The shame would have been on them, so she should have kept quiet and let him go on abusing other children.
If I’d still been living in Skipton, surrounded by a community who would either blame me for the abuse or label me a liar, I’m not sure I could have rejected her demands.
Once the police began the investigation another victim came forward. Sohail described how he too had been abused almost 20 years before I was. Due to our combined testimony, the perpetrator was jailed for eight years.
So that’s some children who had time to grow up in his absence, free of abuse.
Within a few weeks another young woman in the community, emboldened by the conviction, told the police that a relative had raped her for several years. It had started before Sara was in her teens. We have supported her through the process of taking this to court.
Although Sohail and I had removed a proven paedophile from the community and helped empower another woman to end her torture, we were not celebrated. On the contrary, we were shunned.
She found out that some people had known about the neighbor all along, and done nothing. His many victims had refused to testify against him.
Much has been made about the religious background of the offenders in the Rotherham report. But this problem isn’t about religion race: it’s about a culture where notions of shame result in the blaming of victims rather than perpetrators.
Although painful to read, the Rotherham report presents an opportunity. It’s an opportunity for leaders in the British-Pakistani community to stand up and speak out about the sexual and physical abuse in their midst. The Asian community isn’t unique in having evil-doers, and the overwhelming majority of its men and women are good people who care about protecting others.
I am and always will be proud of my Pakistani heritage, but I firmly believe community leaders must take responsibility for the fact that the taboos that prevent others from identifying perpetrators and supporting victims enable further abuse. And those taboos must be challenged.
She has suggestions of things that need doing in the future.
The biggest risk of this terrible situation is that once the shock of this report dissipates, it will get swept under the rug, just like three previous reports in Rotherham. We cannot let that happen. We don’t need any further reports: we need system-wide change in the way we approach fighting sexual abuse against children of all backgrounds. This is not a problem in Rotherham or a problem in Oxford or a problem in Rochdale. This is a problem in the United Kingdom. And we need to tackle it together.
Tackle means tackle, not bury.