Emotional Healing for Sexual Abuse Victims

As the national news is all fired up these days on the issue of sexual abuse with the nominee for the Supreme Court, it sheds some light into the heavy emotional trauma that sexual abuse victims have to endure. Most sexual abuse experts agree sexual abuse is never only about sex. Instead, it is often an attempt to gain power over others.

 A young Muslim woman wrote about how she was sexually assaulted during Hajj. She said, “while my mother and I were performing tawaf, a local policeman told the men to step back and let the women to proceed. As I bent down to kiss the black stone of Kabba, the policeman fondled my breast. At 15 yrs old, all I could do was burst into tears. That such a violation was happening to me as we performed the fifth pillar of our religion at Islam’s holiest site traumatized and shamed me, even though I had obviously done nothing to be ashamed of.”

Sexual abuse is any form of sexual violence, including rape, child molestation, incest, and similar forms of non-consensual sexual contact. Within the Muslim community, victims of sexual abuse find it very difficult to speak to other people about it, even to their own family members. So they keep the pain and shame within themselves for years, sometimes decades. Unfortunately, this only further deepens their suffering and affects them emotionally and psychologically.

Homam Almahdi grew up in a Syrian-American family in West Los Angeles, the oldest of four children. Bookish and sensitive, he worked hard in school, and went to mosque. All the time, he kept a secret from the world: when he was 8, he says he was sexually abused by a family friend, another Muslim.

“Growing up, I kind of believed that sexual violence was, just in general, a Western concept, like it doesn’t happen to people who are Muslim,” Almahdi says. “If you are spiritual enough, God will protect you from evil.”

 He didn’t fully understand that he’d been assaulted until he took sexual health classes in middle school. And it wasn’t until his freshman year at the University of California, Irvine that he wrote out an account of what had happened. He left it on his computer, searing into his hard drive.

 Then, during his sophomore year, his life changed. He took a campus workshop on sexual abuse in the Muslim community, put on by a national organization called HEART Women & Girls. All its sexual abuse counselors are Muslims.

 “It was really emotional for me because I hadn’t ever experienced an event like that where somebody who was Muslim-identifying kind of knew what I had been through,” Almahdi says.

 The organization, which has been growing its reach online and through training workshops, puts sex education in a cultural context, recognizing that Muslim survivors of sexual abuse, especially women, face obstacles to reporting the crimes both within and outside the community.

Sahar Pirzada, program and outreach manager for HEART, leads a workshop at Peace Over Violence in downtown Los Angeles. HEART Women and Girls was founded by Nadiah Mohajir, a Pakistani-American-Muslim, mother of three, public health professional, reproductive justice activist, and anti-sexual assault advocate. For the last eight years, she has led the organization to provide sexual health education and sexual violence awareness programming and advocacy to thousands of individuals, organizations, and campuses across the country. All sexual abuse counselors of HEART are Muslims.

Sahar Pirzada, a HEART educator and graduate student in social work, leads workshops throughout southern California. She recognizes the trauma of abuse can be heightened in religious communities, where sex is not often openly discussed, and can lead to underreporting of sexual abuse.

Pirzada says that among Muslim survivors, women especially, there are fears about “who’s going to marry me or like what will people think? Is this going to bring shame to my family?”

To promote conversation about sex and sexuality, HEART has put out a series of videos on everything from Pap smears to HPV and sexual dysfunction.

Pirzada says she wants to debunk the notion that sex is a taboo topic, and she points out that the Quran and other Islamic texts contain language promoting female sexuality.

“Islam, as a religion, is very sex positive,” Pirzada says. “During the time of the Prophet (peace be upon him), they used to ask very specific and explicit questions about sex and about their bodies because it was part of their faith to be informed and to take care of themselves.”

HEART holds workshops around the country at mosques, rape crisis centers and college campuses. Not everyone has embraced their work. Pirzada says one mosque turned down her offer to run a workshop and then soon after held its own workshop on modesty.

Pirzada was drawn to outreach work because of her own difficulties getting proper attention for sexual health issues. She recalls how a white counselor saw her hijab and presumed her problems must have stemmed from Islam.

Shame and Guilt from Sexual Assault

Sexual assault survivors often report feelings such as shame, terror and guilt. Many blame themselves for the assault. Due to the trauma and negative emotions linked to sexual abuse, survivors may be at risk for emotional and mental health conditions. Survivors of sexual abuse may develop:

Depression: Sexual abuse It can create feelings of hopelessness or despair. It may also reduce one’s sense of self-worth. Depressive feelings may be mild and fleeting, or they can be intense and long-lasting.

Anxiety: Survivors of sexual abuse may fear the attack could happen again. Some may experience panic attacks. Others may develop agoraphobia and become afraid to leave their homes. In some cases, a survivor may develop a chronic fear of the type of person who harmed them. Someone who was raped by a tall, fair-haired man with blue eyes may instinctively dislike, mistrust, or fear all men who match that description.

Posttraumatic stress (PTSD): Someone who survived sexual assault may experience intense memories of the abuse. In some cases, flashbacks may be so disruptive they cause a survivor to lose track of surroundings.

Fear of Abandonment: Sexual abuse can sometimes result in personality disruptions such as fear of abandonment. That fear might not be adaptive in adulthood. Yet avoiding abandonment might have protected someone from sexual abuse as a child.   

Survivors of sexual abuse may develop depression, anxiety, posttraumatic stress (PTSD), fear of abandonment, attachment issues, addiction, sexual dysfunction and fertility issues. The important thing for recovering from sexual abuse is to speak out and let your feelings come out instead of keeping it inside yourself and negatively impacting your health. HijamaHerbs provides emotional counseling sessions to help you recover from sexual abuse trauma.

Attachment issues: Survivors may find it challenging to form healthy attachments with others. This is especially true among children who have been abused. Adults who were abused as children may have insecure attachment patterns. They could struggle with intimacy or be too eager to form close attachments.

Addiction: Research suggests abuse survivors are 26 times more likely to use drugs. Drugs and alcohol can help numb the pain of abuse. Yet substance abuse often leads to the development of different concerns. Sexual abuse does not only leave psychological scars. It can also have long-lasting health consequences. 

Sexual Dysfunction: Some survivors experience sexual dysfunction and fertility issues. Others may develop sexually transmitted infections.

HijamaHerbs takes an integrative, mind-body approach to healing. We provide treatments for physical, emotional and sihr/jinn afflictions. After a health evaluation is made, treatment is performed which can include hijama, herbs, rukyah and emotional healing.

For more information or to set up an appointment, contact Amin Shah at 617-787-5151 or email – aminshah@shahclan.net. We are based in Boston, MA – USA.

HijamaHerbs sessions for ladies is performed by Nusrat Shah. For children, we normally do not perform hijama, however herbs, homeopathic remedies and emotional healing is performed. Also available, emotional healing, counseling for married couples, counseling for young adults seeking their true career path.  

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