It feels strange to be writing anonymously, first because as an experienced journalist I have always taken full responsibility for my work. Second, although I am now in my forties and a mother myself, it makes me feel, once more, like an abused, invisible child.
My experience of incestuous paedophilia – and the way that my outwardly respectable and highly educated Muslim family ignored it – is painful to confront, but I want the fact that my abuser was successfully prosecuted to give hope to other victims. I also want to shed light on the legal process involved in being a witness for the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS)...
It was an ordinary day, when Detective M (hereon M), of Scotland Yard's Child Protection Team, called me. I was in Sainsbury's when my mobile rang and the ordinariness, the routine of the life I had created living in a bubble quite separately from my birth family, burst.
M said that a complaint had been made by my elder sister, to whom I hadn't spoken for at least a year at that point, about my uncle X – mum's younger brother. M didn't say what it was about but I knew instantly. I also knew that I would have to support my sister because I knew that she was telling the truth.
Contact between me and my three sisters had been fraught and fractured since I was 16 and had first told my family about how X had been sexually abusing me. I remember the night of my disclosure so clearly: my mother slapping my face repeatedly, screaming that I was mentally unstable and was enjoying the "drama" of my revelation, arguing that as I had not "actually been raped", ie that my virginity was still intact (vital for all unmarried Pakistani girls), that I should forget about it because "these things happen" and threatening to tell the police that I was mad if I approached them; my eldest sister agreeing to support her in this, shouting hysterically at me, "You just want an excuse to live in a flat and have lovers" ; my youngest sister howling in distress, having overheard everything; and me, shocked and confused, being forced to apologise and to reassure my little sister that I was OK. My elder sister saying quite calmly as she peeled pistachio nuts that she, too, had been abused by our uncle, and had told my mother about this some 10 years before. Our mother in complete denial about the significance – as she was until the day she died.
Six days after M's call, I went to make my statement at the police station where my elder sister had made her report. My video statement (later in court referred to as evidence), was so intricate and forensic: on which side was I lying when, aged five, my uncle tried to force me into oral sex? What were we wearing? Was I 11 when he forced me on to his marital bed and gave me a French kiss, forcing his hand painfully down the front of my new drainpipe jeans? Or the time when I was 13 and he pulled off my trainer bra, slapping me around the head and sucking so desperately on my developing nipples that it hurt – what did the floor in that room look like? I didn't understand then why I was being asked to be so specific. It all became clear in court, as these details were examined microscopically by the defence barrister.
I was shaking as I faced the jury and took my oath, partly out of resurgent fear because my abuser was sitting behind a glass screen glaring angrily at me for the first time in some 25 years. Trembling because I was angry, too. Once more, I felt that I was the only person in the room telling the truth and wondering if I would be believed.
The court watched my video evidence. I felt humiliated by the detail. I felt that the defence was trying to sidetrack me into blaming my mother for protecting the family izzat, or honour, instead of me, her child.
The defence barrister put it to me that I was lying. He suggested that I had left home "to party with white boys" and "needed an excuse to leave home". He accused me of colluding with my sisters to bring the case to trial – an absurd accusation on every level, not least because I had not seen my sisters for three years by the time the case came to court.
Because of my whistle-blowing about my uncle and the repercussive noise, our ears are still ringing. My sisters and I are fractured, dysfunctional, angry and traumatised in our own ways. We often go through periods of total estrangement because we cannot cope with the guilt, shame, blame and grief of the abuse and its legacy: five years here; three years there; six months intermittently. I have no idea why my elder sister suddenly felt able to report our uncle to the police. Perhaps my mother's death freed her. Or perhaps the recent media coverage of high-profile cases such as that of Jimmy Savile gave her strength, as the launch of Esther Rantzen's Childline did for me back in the 1980s when I told my family about the abuse. There is, though, despite our estrangement, something positive about finally being on the same side as my sisters.
I responded plainly: my mother was not on trial. I left home because I was being sexually and physically abused by my uncle and, though the family all knew, no one did anything to stop it. All I did when I left was complete my studies. I referred him to my CV.
The defence counsel seemed taken aback by my robust response and I realised then that I needed to be assertive and clear in my answers. I found out later that both the defence and the prosecution had gone through my sexual history, looking at medical and school records and talking to former boyfriends, two of whom had, without my knowledge, been called in to give evidence in court. I'm not in touch with either of them but am deeply grateful to them both for verifying the truth.
I explained to the court that X began molesting me when he moved to England from Pakistan and came to live with us in our new council flat. He was in his mid-twenties and I was five.
My earliest years had been traumatic. My mother was coerced into marrying my father, her wealthy first cousin, in Pakistan. The marriage was violent. My father's work brought us to England in 1975, and it was then, following a particularly vicious beating, that our neighbours called the police, who took us to live in a Women's Aid refuge. We were a vulnerable family, my mother, my sisters and I, but we were getting stronger.
During our year at the refuge, the trauma of our experiences began to fade – my mother's fractured arm, her bruises, the cigarette burns on her body, healed. The emotional and mental scars, though, never did. My mother was unaffectionate, even resentful towards us, and was desperate to claw back her reputation as a respectable woman – things that had been lost to her as a result of the divorce, which carried so much stigma within and beyond our tight-knit Pakistani, Muslim community. I think perhaps that this is why she overlooked the sexual abuse; she just could not deal with any more shame.
After I made my disclosure to my family, I was told that X's wife had been informed about the abuse and had decided that she could not cope with the disgrace of divorce, so everyone just carried on as usual. X continued to come to our house with his family each Wednesday and Friday, where he would be served the best food as my mother and sisters played with his children. They celebrated Eid together, attended weddings, marked birthdays and even worked together at the local Muslim community centre, while I just stayed in my room, refusing to back down from my insistence that mother should cut him out of the family and support me in going to the police.
This is where the estrangement from my sisters really began. I knew that they were protecting their normality, but, for me, all normality was gone. I stopped interacting with them, save for screaming rows over their refusal to cut contact with my uncle, surviving on whatever I could afford from the wages of my Saturday job. This continued for a little over a year. When I was 17, I fell in love with a boy in my class, in whom I confided everything. His parents took pity on me, inviting me to stay at their house where I could complete my A‑Levels in peace. So I left home, never to return. The next few years were spent in and out of loving relationships with good men, but I could never really make those relationships work. I was too damaged. I slept in homeless hostels, on friends' sofas and, once or twice, on a bench by the Thames. When I finally made it to university, I was given a grant and accommodation, and life seemed to settle down.
In court, I was asked why I did not avoid being alone with X. A home video from X's archive was screened of me, aged 10, playing with my uncle, who was "pretending" to be a monster out to get me. X's barrister looked triumphant as the camera followed us around my childhood living room, zooming in and out. I turned to the barrister and said: "But we are not alone. Who is filming this?" Titters from the jury. A nod from my friend in the public gallery, who later told me that I had "embarrassed the bowler by knocking back a six".
There was no response from his defence on this. He moved back to discuss some detail in my video evidence – a description of my uncle masturbating in front of me when I was about six years old. He misquoted something I had said but I was quick to pick up on his mistake. "Who said that?" I asked, leaning in to the microphone. He said that he was quoting me back, from a few minutes ago in court. If I had forgotten what I had only just said, then how could anyone be sure I was a reliable witness? I asked the judge if we could check the court records. The judge agreed and, a few minutes later, he confirmed that I had indeed been misquoted. The defence counsel spat out an angry apology for his mistake and my confidence in being a grown woman, able to assert the truth, grew. The defence barrister said that he found it hard to believe that someone as "assertive" and "rebellious" as me would have put up with the assaults. I explained that I, as a young child, was frightened. I recalled an incident where X beat me mercilessly, shouting, "I will keep hitting you until you stop crying." I was only six years old yet, somehow, I managed to stop crying. That was the day my mind and body were split in two – it no longer mattered what he did to "me", because "I" was not there.
There were various other curveballs thrown at me during my four hours in the witness box, including an extract from my mother's diary, describing me as "malicious" in insisting that she should cut contact with X and questioning my sanity once more in being "so angry".
I had, by the end of my cross examination, not met or spoken with the CPS barrister at all. She then stood up and asked me to do one thing: "Describe your mother."
My answer: "Damaged."
The trial ran for a month. When I received M's last call, it was to tell me that my uncle had been found guilty of 25 counts of indecent assault. Four remaining counts were undecided due to a hung jury. I am not sure how I feel about it all. I think I'm still in shock that, finally, after all these years, what happened to me has been taken seriously by the police and the courts.
X is out on bail and won't be sentenced until next month – a family friend informs me that X and his wife are telling the relatives in Pakistan that my sisters and I made the whole thing up to get financial compensation.
He, in an attempt to be derogatory, argues that we sisters, the UK-based daughters of a divorced woman, are "Westernised" and that we are bringing disrepute to the whole Muslim community. I would argue the opposite – the blame and shame of what happened belongs to X. The Muslim community should turn its back on him and welcome in instead my sisters and me – four strong Pakistani women who managed to have a prolific paedophile convicted. I would, though, agree that I am Westernised, in the sense that my main faith lies in the perspectives and procedures of British justice.Reuse content