Dear Professor Nadine,
I am a 19-year-old girl. My problem is that as a child I was abused by my older cousin, J, who is the only son of my maternal aunt. J is from a village and had come to stay with us for higher studies at my father’s insistence. I was seven at that time and J did not go beyond touching me inappropriately, but from a very young age I learned to fear him. I told my mother about it but she hushed me. She said no one would believe me including my own father, and it would only create a conflict between the two families. She told me not to tell a soul about this, because I would be considered tainted by the family if it got out. My mother told me to be careful and made sure that I was not alone with J after that, but his presence still frightens me.
The other thing that seems to be bothering me is that I told about my problem to a cousin. I did it because at that time my mother’s reaction had disappointed me, and I needed to vent out. Now, this cousin of mine is a very good friend and has kept my secret so far, but this might change. You see, her parents have proposed me for their son, and I know my parents mean to accept the proposal because his is the only proposal from within our family. The other two proposals are good, too, but they have come through a marriage bureau. My cousin is good looking, well educated and decent, and I would have been the happiest girl if I had not shared my secret with his sister a long time ago. If my cousin spread this thing, I won’t be able to face anyone and I’d kill myself, as my family is very conservative. I have attempted suicide four times already! Please tell me what to do.
Dear Troubled Soul,
First of all, what happened was not your fault. You were only seven and this should not really be an issue but, unfortunately, our narrow-minded society makes this non issue a problem. Your mother should have told your father. Her belief that he would not believe it and you would be considered ‘tainted’ by the family is the reason why abusers get away. There was no need to shout it from rooftops but the matter could have been taken care of quietly. A word from your father to J could have worked. Telling your cousin was a mistake, but your trust in her does not seem to be misplaced as she has kept your secret all this while. It’s possible that she will keep your secret, but that is a risk. Have you spoken to her about her brother’s proposal? Has she told you how she feels about it? A lot depends on her, because in case your relationship becomes bad, she will have a sword hanging over your head. Remember, you were only seven at that time, and your mother made sure you were protected once you told her what was happening. So nothing actually happened, but it’s the perception of a person that makes things look good or bad.
Loose lips can indeed sink ships, which was the reason your mom told you to stay mum. Your best option is to come clean and tell your mother what you did. It would be a mistake to accept the proposal with the way things stand right now. Or, do you think you can talk to your cousin and tell him about the whole thing and keep it confidential? If he is a decent and sensible person, he will tell you there is nothing to be afraid of and you will not have to live in fear that his sister would spill at some future date. However, if he is not a decent person, you will have handed him a weapon by telling him about this thing. So, the best thing would be to decline the proposal and marry someone else. Tell your mother what you are going through and ask her to find a reason to refuse the proposal and accept one of the other proposals that you have received.
Also, you need to get professional help if you have made four attempts at suicide. Don’t delay it; get an appointment from a psychologist at your earliest. Best of luck!
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