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A personal review of Askios' First Open Meeting held on 29 November 2003

Reem Khokkar was a guest at our First Open Meeting who obviously paid a lot of attention and absorbed a great deal! Thanks, Reem, for putting down in words your thoughts and feelings. We appreciate it.

Hi!

I've just recently joined the dreamer group and have unfortunately not been able to participate too actively as yet, but i hope to do so in the future. I did manage however to go for the open meeting held by ASKIOS with the speaker from RAHI and I thought i'd tell everyone how it was.  It was a very interesting and enlightening meeting in terms of learning.

It was a talk on incest in middle class families. Askios is a small self help group, which had organized this and had invited a speaker from RAHI (Recovering and Healing from Incest) in Delhi.

I had tried roping in more people to go for it, but it didn’t quite work out so I ended up going alone and I’m quite happy I did manage to go. A lot of people I told about this raised a few eye brows and said why…how can you contribute? or if I asked them to come along they said no, and basically an attitude where they felt that they had nothing to do with it and never would be exposed to it so not interested. Well to each his own really…I was asked why I was going and how I can contribute…well I went because I know this meeting was not only about people who had been directly involved in abuse, but also was held to create more awareness about incest which many of us believe is too far removed from our own
lives. However, I’ve always known that just because something is not talked about, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist…and incest exists in all it’s intensity in our immediate environment and is rampant in many households along various strata of society. Also I went perhaps because two people who I love so much have been through some very traumatic experiences. So to think that you have not been through it or will never be exposed to it is a little unrealistic. However, as I said to each his own and one of my friends even told me that she wasn’t sure how ready she was to hear about what people may talk about at the meeting…so I just feel a lot of people are not really ready to hear about how real and not so far removed this is from our own lives.


 
Anyways I arrived a bit late, but managed to hear most of what the speaker from RAHI had to say. It wasn’t earth-shattering information because a lot of it I was aware off or at least had assumed from the little I know about incest. But a lot of interesting and even chilling facts were talked about that make incest so horribly complex.

The most striking fact about incest was that it is not usually just a one-time incident and is a constant and prolonged abusive relationship. Since the “abuser” is someone who is extremely close to the “survivor”, ready access makes the perpetuation of the relationship very easy. The people who came to RAHI for help were adults whose abuse was not restricted to their childhood, but many had continued being abused through adulthood to as late as their 30s and 40s. What was particularly chilling was how the speaker brought out how all of this occurred within absolutely normal surroundings…for some children it would happen in the presence of others though the other family members would be asleep while he/she was being sexually abused, or at times it would happen in broad daylight in a certain room and after that the child came out to a scene of normal household activity. This return to normalcy confused them as to whether the abuse actually happened! Their attempts to tell someone if at all they chose to were either hushed up or denied and they were made to feel ashamed of “making up stories”. The sense of betrayal or guilt that followed was very difficult to deal with.

Another extremely complex emotion that many dealt with was shame and guilt not brought on solely by the nature of the relationship between the survivor and the close relative, but some of these women felt ashamed because they had been sexually stimulated / aroused and this tortured them mentally. Counselors have to try and make them understand that the human body is made to be stimulated sexually and this may be very different from sexual pleasure. It’s all so complicated.

She also talked about the different defense mechanisms that these women had used and most children try different things from pretending to be asleep, to  changing their sleeping locations or positions (a little girl who wedged a pillow between her and her brother because she thought this would prevent him from abusing her). Others try self-mutilation because the physical pain helps them to shift the focus from the mental anguish they were going through. It was also a cry for help, but many talked about it as a way of dealing with the situation. Yet others turned to substance abuse.. alcohol or drugs…and what was interesting was that this lady talked about how most alcoholics or druggies have been through some sort of abuse and if you know some people like this sometimes it is wise to probe to see where the source of their addiction lies. Some resorted to suicide.

The effect this has on one’s ability to be in any sort of relationship is varied. Some reacted by having an absolute inability to trust and be a part of intimate close relations. While others at another extreme trusted too easily and generally inappropriately. Actually all of them craved an intimate relationship but once in it they tended to recoil. Their attitudes to sex also varied….some absolutely hated it and avoided it…while others became sexually active at a very early stage and their self esteem was directly related to how much sex they had or having multiple partners.
Women who were able to hover between these two extremes managed to have sex, but experienced painful flashbacks, which completely ruined their relationships.

No one really talks about all this and most women who have been through it would not be able to come forward and seek help through organizations like RAHI. I asked whether the organization dealt with any male survivors and she told me that they did not because they catered specifically to women, but interestingly she had come across women who had come for help along with their boyfriends/ husbands and these men would ultimately reveal their experiences of sexual abuse! Also most men would never come out and reveal all this because it’s all tied into notions of masculinity and how it would portray them as weak and how women are supposed to be abused while men are supposed to abuse.

So it’s all a tangled web of feelings and emotions because for a lot of these women or men, the abuser is someone they still frequently interact with. Incest is not just sexual abuse by a blood relative, but could even involve someone who one has a very close emotional tie with the survivor, like a family friend. To cut off ties with these people was very difficult but to co exist with them after all that had happened was as difficult.
Some of course chose to just cut off ties completely.

There were many other things that came up and it was quite enlightening. Part of the whole discussion on how one can deal with this frightening phenomenon and prevent it from happening was cultivating a healthy attitude toward sex. The organization dealt with many critics who asked them why they did not work with children and chose to work with adults. The answer was that most children have no idea about what is happening really and would not be able to approach an organization like RAHI. Once they grow up and become independent and are able to voice their opinion it is easier for them to talk about their experience. Also many feel that prevention can come about largely through adults…you have to make your children feel that sex is not a taboo topic…because since a very young age you understand that this area is “bad” and a hush hush issue. Therefore if anything happens a child will be extremely hesitant to talk about it. Creating awareness is the key and helping parents and other influencers to develop a healthier attitude towards sex would help in some way. Most kids in fact would share their experiences with a friend rather than an adult because they would feel inhibited and friends are ill equipped to deal with the complexity and intensity of the situation.

Well it was quite a meeting and made me realize that there is so much out there that one has to protect oneself and one’s loved ones from. We all plan on having children someday and these are very actual realities that are not as far removed as we think them to be…

I thought i'd just "pen" down what was discussed and talked about at the meeting for anyone who might be interested in just knowing a little more....

Regards,

Reem

Breathe.