I always knew that sexual abuse existed, preying on girls and boys of all ages, a predator that along with physically, mentally and emotionally hurting its victims, silenced them into carrying the burden of a secret that keeps them in a spiral of shame for years at end; a shame that never belonged to them to begin with.

Five years ago, I started learning about the complexity of sexual abuse as many of my clients shared stories of being abused as children, teenagers or adults by family members, teachers and trusted friends, and the most common theme that ran was how it was in therapy that they shared it for the first time.

It would take session after session as they would share what happened, overwhelmed with grief and exhaustion of carrying the pain and most importantly, the shame of not being able to tell anyone. They believed that their silence meant they were party to this heinous act and as a therapist, I tried my best to reassure the adult sitting in front of me that it was the abused child within them who was silenced into fear and submission. I tried my best to comfort that child who is so convinced that he or she made it happen.

For healing to begin, that’s where my work started. Peeling away layers after layers of shame that they inherited, unpacking their memories so they can remember how they were threatened into silence, how they waited for their parents to notice why suddenly they are losing their appetite and are withdrawn, hoping for someone to check on them as they sit alone with a Qaari saab or tuition teacher. That’s the beginning of healing as they start remembering the anguish, the fear of wanting to share what was going on but could not. They suffer from chronic symptoms that include anxiety, depression or post-traumatic stress disorder.

I choose to write about this as a day before I read about how a teacher who ran the Model United Circuit (MUN) in Lahore at the esteemed Lahore Grammar School is allegedly involved in sexually harassment of A Level students for years to end. Some of the students have come forward with sharing texts sent out by this teacher and protesting and expressing how in spite of sharing this with the school administration, no action was taken until now, where the principal has expelled the alleged perpetrators. Simply expelled, claiming they have nothing to do with them, saving their school reputation and enabling more abuse as those men will continue in other spaces as sooner than later this event will be forgotten. That man should have been held accountable so justice could be served as well as a lesson for other perpetrators.

The point I am trying to raise here is that this is the dark and dynamic nature of sexual abuse. Most will keep it a secret for years and don’t you wonder why that is? Most often it remains hidden due to a combination of denial, manipulation, and confusion. The victim is manipulated into silence and a state of confusion that they are responsible for making it happen and that leads to the victim staying in denial that it ever really happened and becoming a secret keeper.

Unfortunately others that include their families do not believe some who get the courage to share or in this case as per the students claim the administration did not pay heed to their complaints. Only a rare few get the chance to heal from the trauma of abuse by being heard and validated by others.

Many of you who are reading this have been victims of sexual abuse. You are still keeping it silent believing that you asked for it and feeling shame for what was done to you and not by you. It is very hard to tell someone about it, isn’t it? And then you also believe what’s the point now? And how can just talking about it make it better? I have moved on. I no longer think about it. But that’s where you are wrong. That abuse is still part of your life and might be coming out in the depression and anxiety you face and you believe it’s because of a job failure or sickness. You might be getting physically ill too, whether it’s a migraine or a chronic muscular pain that refuses to get better.

Remember that it’s not your fault. Speaking up is the first step and the most difficult. Reach out to a professional. A trusted friend! Anyone! Talk about it and take the power away from your abuser who silenced you into shame for years. Today can be the day you don’t have to silently survive!!