There are those of us with functional families, who indulge wholeheartedly and look forward to the fanfare of family dinners and gatherings. There are, still, those of us who take hours to work up the courage to leave our rooms, those of us who shudder at the thought of having to meet with overzealous family members who disregard personal space and pull you in for a celebratory hug – and maybe more.

A hand that strays from your waist a little lower to brush your hips, a ‘casual’ touch to the shoulder as they kiss each cheek, those hands that linger a little too long, but you think nothing of it. You and I, we’re adults now, we realize which touches are inappropriate. As a child, though, you might have felt odd and uncomfortable, but you wouldn’t quite have understood why it was wrong. How could you when your parents push you to accept affectionate hugs and kisses from relatives even when you frown and squirm and wail in protest.

Statistics by NAPCAN – the leading Australian Association for the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect – show that 90% of sexually abused children are molested by someone they know and trust, such as a parent or a relative. Of these, 30 – 50 % of the perpetrators are family members. Only 1 in 10 children who are abused speak up about it and only 1 in 3 adults will believe the child and take action.

With the topics of sex, abuse, rape, and molestation as taboo as they are in our society, we don’t teach our kids the difference between platonic touch and inappropriate touch, especially not when it comes to family.

Most of us grew up in big families, with lots of extended relatives and cousins, being told that family is precious, it is special.
Photography by: Varsha Yadav

While writing this, I took it upon myself to talk to a few people about their childhood abuse, and if they ever spoke up about it.

Here are a few examples; the victims’ names have been excluded and/or changed for their want of privacy and protection.

“I was six years old when he started touching me, he would brush back and forth across my vagina over my clothes, or ask me to take my shirt off so he could kiss me. I never told anyone about it because he said it was our little secret, and I was excited at the idea because he used to be my favorite Uncle, always bringing me toys and candies when he visited.

I was too young to realize there was anything wrong with it. I was nine years old when he asked me to touch his penis for the very first time. I remember being confused and scared, but I did as he said because he looked angry; nothing like the Uncle I had loved.
Artwork by: Christa Vega

It went on like this till I was 14 years of age and discovered what sex was, through biology books and the internet. I talked to my mother about it and she brushed me off, telling me I shouldn’t speak ill of my family. I haven’t brought it up again, but I did start keeping my distance from my Uncle, making sure he didn’t do to my younger sister and cousins what he did to me.”26 year old female, sexually exploited by her paternal uncle. (Lahore, Pakistan)

There are times still when I don’t feel safe in the shower because it requires me to strip naked in the bathroom. Adil, my cousin, would often take me into the bathroom under pretenses of having me bathe and have me strip naked as he touched me. When I was old enough to realize what he was doing, I made sure to be out of the house each time I knew his family would come to visit.” – 19 year old, molested by her second cousin. (Lahore, Pakistan)

I used to be a pretty child, and I was very shy. Both my parents used to work, so I spent a lot of time with relatives who babysat me. Of them, I was often with my mother’s youngest sister. My aunt used to like playing with me. She would take off my pants and underwear, shed her own clothes, and take me to her bedroom. My earliest memory of something like this was when I was five years old, I think.

She would lie down naked and have me sit on top of her. She would ask me to play with her breasts, and…I mean, I was a child, so I used to laugh because it was like playing with play dough or some silly toy. She would also have me kiss her and rub up against her privates.

This went on well into my teenage years, even after she was married and I had a girlfriend. She was insistent I stay quiet about it, telling me I was her favorite, even hitting me when I refused.

I don’t see her often, I stopped visiting her when my parents deemed me old enough to not need a babysitter. I only see her at family events now, and tend to avoid her as she still tends to get touchy.” – 27-year-old male, sexually abused by his maternal aunt. (Islamabad, Pakistan)

These three incidents were cherry-picked from a plethora of interviews I conducted because they hold some diversity amongst them. All three victims, when asked, reported to being uncomfortable when meeting these relatives at family gatherings.
Artist: Unknown

In our culture, there’s a lot of family visiting and it’s customary to greet each other with hugs and kisses on joyous occasions. What I’ve come to observe, however, is that parents tend to force their children into these traditions, scolding them and glaring at them for being ‘disrespectful’ to the family.

This is a problem because you are conditioning your child to accept any touches from ‘family’, to not speak out in protest when they feel uncomfortable; you are teaching your child their consent does not matter. This translates into later life as latent trauma, and it needs to be addressed.

I’m not asking you to educate your toddler about sex, but at least talk to them about inappropriate touching, and listen to them when they try to tell you their fears; do not force your children to (physically) interact with others when they’re clearly scared of doing so.

Also check out our original performance short on harassment and bodily anatomy


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