“When I used to think of a pedophile, I pictured an old bald white loner-type. But I was actually harbouring a pedophile in my own home, in my bed, under the facade of marriage, and I was the last to know. Make no mistake about it — pedophilia, incest, and sexual abuse do exist in our community!”
I was twenty-six years old and it was time to get married, just as South Asian tradition calls for once your career is set. I was born and raised in Canada, had a great family, and had experienced healthy relationships in the past but none with the one that I felt was ‘the one’. As usual, every auntie I knew was harassing my mother about me getting married and suggesting some eligible lawyer, doctor or MBA. I was very reluctant to meet someone through my family. My parents had raised us very liberally and were open to me dating someone to bring home to marry. But eventually, I thought why not? I had known many friends who did the same, and they turned out to be very happy. I didn’t think it mattered how I would meet the person, as long as we were happy together and could eventually fall in love.
My parents came to this country from Pakistan as young single immigrants in the 60s to pursue their studies. They were very loving, humble, and progressive-minded. They embedded in us a strong sense of family, strong work ethic, as well as a strong value of giving back to the community. We had all kinds of friends growing up, white, black, Jewish, Hindu and so on. I had never known of abuse or divorce in my immediate or extended family. I knew about these issues only through my education as well as policies at work of sexual harassment, violence against women, and child pornography concerns with company computers.
I met my husband through a mutual auntie friend of the family. She had never met him she told us, but knew of his mother through the mosque she attended. The auntie assured me that although the parents are very religious and traditional, their needs are being met by the older son’s wife, his cousin from their village back home. So for this son, they won’t mind having an educated, pretty and ‘modern’ girl. “You can live on your own with the guy because the other daughter in-law doesn’t speak English, is not the career-educated-type, she is dark-skinned and not that beautiful or social, so she meets all of their other needs living with them.”
The guy was thirty-one, an accountant and owned his own home not too far from that of his parents in Mississauga, where there is a large Pakistani community. After a few phone calls we went on our first date. I had told him about volunteer work I was doing at a shelter for homeless families. He seemed to appreciate this. He also asked me a few times if he could volunteer with me at the shelter to play sports with the kids.
I wasn’t all that impressed with him at first, neither was my family. He was a chain-smoker, seemed too quiet at times, and often appeared sluggish and slow. He was passive-aggressive in his approach with most people. The friends he introduced me to when he took me to a bar to watch a UFC fight (one of his hobbies and not something I was in favour of) indicated jokingly that he is the kind of guy that can explode any time. There was also something a bit off about him that I just could not put my finger on. However, we were told by our mutual family-friends that he is very normal for a ‘desi’ guy and is just a bit “shy” with girls, especially out-spoken and confident ones like me. They insisted that most guys like him smarten-up after marriage. There was growing pressure from his parents and mutual family-friends for the two of us to get married, and get married soon.
During our courtship, I once attempted to break up with him because he was avoiding answering a question I asked him. He became very angry and emotional. He said that he didn’t have the upbringing I did so he doesn’t know how to effectively communicate or have a healthy relationship. He fell to my feet crying in the foetal position and said that he would die if I left him. He threatened to cut himself and drive his car over a bridge. He begged me to just give him a chance and that he would never let me down. I felt very sorry for him and apologized for getting so upset. I had never seen a grown man cry so much.
His family lived in a small bungalow in the older run-down part of old Mississauga. This was the same house they bought in the 70s when they arrived in this country. Going to their home felt like going right back to the 70s with the orange and lime coloured old and stained carpets and worn-out furniture. They only had about five family-friends, all of which were Pakistani and Muslim, which seemed odd for a family who had lived in Canada so long. His mother wore the hijab and so did all five of her auntie friends. They were not very educated, or very well-off, but seemed to be passive and kind people. They were very quiet people, often expressionless, and they prayed a lot and attended the mosque regularly. They had no pictures up, they didn’t believe in pictures. They rarely made eye-contact with each other, kept the genders apart even within the home, and didn’t seem much connected with the outside world. The father (significantly underweight) seemed distant, withdrawn and depressed, while the mother (significantly overweight) seemed overly nervous and anxious. When I was with them, I felt a sense of emptiness. Their home seemed bare and lonely, but they said that’s what God preferred. This was all very strange for someone like me who came from a happy lively family life with parents who encouraged us to be ambitious and to live to the fullest.
My parents were not impressed that his parents were from a much lower socio-economic background, that they didn’t believe in personal growth, and that they were not progressive in their views on women. Their other daughter-in-law was treated like an “indentured slave” my mother noted. Their daughter, who was married and divorced by then, seemed very jealous, insecure and immature. She kept asking my sister if my sister drank and my sister kept saying no. It was clear that their daughter was living a double-life and was fearful of her parents. However, his parents seemed to accept that their second son was more progressive and would marry someone like himself. My ex’s mother indicated to my parents that they are very happy he has found a girl like me from a respectable family who will smarten him up, and she promised that they will not interfere in our married life. My ex also promised my dad that he would take care of me as I had always been taken care of by my family. He also requested that we not judge him based on his family as he was trying to start a new path. We had known many people who had changed their life for the better and far excelled compared to their families of origin, so we did not think this was too far of a stretch. I used to feel quite sorry for him and truly believed he was a nice guy who was determined to overcome the odds.
My ex had admitted to me that he was very different from his orthodox religious brother and parents. He liked to gamble and drink (“every now and then with the boys”), and that he had even dabbled in drugs in the past. He claimed that as soon as he gets a wife, he planned to clean all that up. He said that his parents were very strict and abusive growing up, which led him to many of his unhealthy behaviours and to make friends with other unhealthy people. His family even called him ugly and said he was weird openly in front of their friends. He wanted to break the cycle and marrying me, someone from a healthy background, would help him achieve his goals for a better family life. I appreciated his honesty and his desire to work on cleaning up his life. He also professed his intense love for me. He would cook for me, buy me lots of gifts, and did anything and everything I asked. This, I noticed, made his mother, sister and sister-in-law feel very jealous, but he said that that is just the way his family is and to just ignore them like he has always done. In the months leading up to our wedding, we had a lot of fun together and he started dressing better, smelling better and sounding better.
We were already married when I realized he has regular severe anxiety attacks, especially at night, to the point where he would be trembling and drenched in sweat. He would often vomit in the mornings and a few times he fainted. I also knew him sexually at this point. He wanted me to perform anal sex on him, to insert things inside his anus. I refused. He then had trouble keeping an erection or would ejaculate too quickly. I would often catch him masturbating in front of his laptop, which he quickly closed when I entered the room. Every night, he would smoke-up (marijuana), snort-up (cocaine), and often combine it with alcohol. He would then sit and stare at the wall for hours, and then pass out on the floor. He would wake-up late in the mornings in high panic to rush off to work, often without showering. Eventually, six months into our marriage, I felt our sex life and romance was practically non-existent. More importantly, there was no intimacy being developed between us like all the aunties told me it would when everything settles after the wedding. I asked him if he would be willing to see a therapist with me. He refused.
Meanwhile, there were many other issues piling up. Bills were not getting paid on time, he would always be out of cash, he changed jobs three times, and after we moved in to our new home, he wanted to move again. Even after a year of being in our new home, we were still not properly settled in or fully unpacked, and he showed little interest in this. Almost everything he did was sloppy and inconsistent, he would always forget things, his personal hygiene took a down-turn, and his overall appearance was getting worse. I urged him to see a family doctor and even booked an appointment for him to have a physical done, which he forgot to attend. Even though he was an accountant, he hadn’t filed his own tax returns in a few years. I insisted he at least do mine, which he did but with mistakes, which even I, a lay person, knew not to make. Every day there was some issue or crisis to manage, which I felt alone in addressing. I did not understand any of this at the time. I would often wondered if he was doing this because he was too ignorant to know any better or if he really was doing it on purpose to hurt me. But I was not able to think through things as I can now as then, I was so busy and stressed-out just trying to put out fires and preserving some sense of normalcy. On top of all of this, his parents would call us every second day to come over and to enforce various Quranic rules on our new life. At this point, my family was also concerned because they noticed that I was becoming drained and less and less of the bubbly girl they knew. At the time, it was not clear to me that much of the problem was rooted in the effects of his four-times-per-day marijuana-use (an addiction he denied). What was clear to me, however, was that once the wedding was over, so were all of his promises.
The older brother of my ex had four kids. He never let my ex alone with them. My ex seemed to love the kids and seemed sad by this. So being a caring wife and determined to find a way to effectively merge myself into his family, I made it a point to make a place for myself through my relationship with his nieces and nephews. I even used the money my parents had given us as a gift for Eid to buy a bunk bed in our spare bedroom so the kids could sleep over.
During one visit with the kids, his youngest nephew of about three years of age, was sitting on my husband’s lap, and I got a very eerie feeling. Seeing his face with his nephew sitting directly on his crotch, I knew something was wrong. I immediately picked up the nephew and got his attention on to something else. I didn’t know what to make of this situation. I tried to ask my husband and he fainted. When he came back to consciousness, I let the issue go because I was worried about his well-being. Then, about a month later another one of his nephews and him were play fighting and somehow the nephew’s pants came off in the process. At this point I knew something was seriously wrong and I confronted him. He refused to talk. I added my complaints about his drug use and overspending. I wanted him to go for counselling. I wanted him to enrol in a detox program. I wouldn’t let it go. I was highly disturbed by what I saw and felt. I needed answers. He told me to shut-up. I kept chasing him around the house and yelling at him to tell me the truth and deal with these issues. I was outraged at his dismissal of my concerns. He became violent. I left. I never went back.
Leaving him wasn’t hard. Leaving the family kids in that situation was.
After our separation, I was going through my things and found his journal. I discovered that he was raped by his older brother, who was raped by their father. When they lived in Saudi Arabia, my ex was sexually abused again by their Quran teacher. The mother of the boys apparently blamed my ex for the rapes, and she would physically abuse him when he acted out sexually (which is normal behaviour for sexually abused children). This information was later confirmed by a few of their family-friends.
They had a younger sister, who was considerably overweight and was married-off at a very early age. She quickly divorced. The story I was first told was that her husband cheated on her. When the news of my separation got out, I got many phone calls. One of these was from her ex-husband who told me that they actually separated because she had strange sexual behaviour.
During our marriage, my husband had taken a manual labour weekend job at a warehouse. I could not understand why he would do this since he made good money as an accountant. He said it was because he wanted to provide me a good life. He grew up poor and didn’t want our future kids growing up like him. I told him that I would rather spend quality time with him in our new home. He did everything but spend time with me. The weekend job kept him out all night for shift work. I learned that instead of working the night shifts, he was actually hanging out all night doing marijuana and cocaine, as well as looking at pictures of naked boys. When I confronted him, he said that he lied about the night job to protect me. He felt that this would save me from getting angry, as I would get angry whenever I knew he was doing drugs in the house. I later came to learn that this type of response is common for the passive-aggressive personality.
So basically, I was harbouring a pedophile in my home, in my bed, under the facade of marriage, and I was the last to know. It was only after we got married did the brother let the kids over alone and that my ex finally got to volunteer with me to help vulnerable kids. He even suggested that we bring them home. I felt betrayed and even more so, absolutely disgusted.
When I confronted his parents, they denied everything and said that the problem was that I should have been giving my new husband lots of sex. “This is what our elder daughter in-law does and they have no problems!” I later learned that his parent’s response is very common as South Asian parents are usually very quick to cover these things up or pretend there is no problem. It was also very sad to discover that his parents and a couple of their family-friends are fully aware of his and his brother’s sexually inappropriate behaviour with children, yet they never told me or ever reported the abuse.
Pedophilia in South Asian and Muslim communities is highly unheard of. I don’t even know if there is a Hindi, Urdu, or Punjabi term for it. In a culture in which anything related to sex is taboo, Muslim women can be left very unsuspecting and unaware of what is normal sexual behaviour and what is not. My ex-husband was considered a kind and nice guy. He was good with kids, liked to cook, and didn’t appear controlling to the outside world, and so, the aunties loved him. As in our community, men who appear more passive, more domesticated, and love to spend time with kids, are considered a rare find. The signs, however, that he displayed (listed below) are consistent with pedophilia according to ‘Victims of Violence’, a Canadian charitable organization:
- He was a loner, an introvert, not social, even socially awkward
- He really tried to show himself as a nice guy and would often act overly complacent
- He was sexually assaulted as a boy
- He questioned his own sexual orientation
- He had very low self-esteem and was often very nervous around other adults
- He felt threatened by strong males of his own age group, and only got along with men if they were significantly lower in socio-economic status, under educated or under employed, or that he could somehow overpower them
- He liked to spend alone time with kids and got seriously jealous when the kids in our family preferred to spend time with me, to the point where he would not talk to me or the kids
- He abused various forms of drugs and alcohol to cover up his own guilt or numb his sexual urges
- He had bouts of depression, anxiety and other mental health issues
- He would always sleep against a wall, saying he did not feel safe otherwise
- He often acted like a kid, bought a lot of kids toys (even though we didn’t have kids), and he wanted to invite any and all kids over to our home every chance he got
- He sought out people who had kids or had access to vulnerable kids, and sought to have relationships with single mothers
- He pretended to be highly masculine by driving a motorcycle, getting into wrestling, and pretending to have lots of girlfriends
- Even though he was a newly-wed, he seemed depressed, spoke often about suicide, and wanted to spend little time with his wife
Many experts believe that pedophilia is one of the few crimes un-rehabilitatable, and this is why there is a public sex-offender list. But my ex is not on it.
Although still difficult, it is only now after years of therapy and much support from my family and friends that I can talk and write about this. I want to share my story so other young women can become aware of this issue. Often within our culture, we take behaviour for granted and we certainly have a myth that problems like these only occur in white families.
Make no mistake about it — pedophilia, incest, and sexual abuse do exist in our community! In fact, we can be more at risk due to gender segregation, repression of sexuality, and the need to hide and cover-up family secrets. Similar to issues in the Roman Catholic faith, I would hope that our Mosque leaders learn about this and address these issues in their sermons. As a community we need to take an honest look at ourselves; acknowledging the problem is the first step.