Cases of sexual assault by relatives surfacing in Gaza

Psychologist suggests unemployment, boredom, oppression and life under siege contribute to drug use and depravity in Strip.

By OMER GHRAIEB / THE MEDIA LINE
May 20, 2010 13:17
A Palestinian girl.

palestinian girl 311. (photo credit: AP)

 
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Eighteen-year-old E.S. hides in the corner of her dark room, fearing the approach of a family member coming to prey on her flesh again. The nervous girl with deep green eyes and golden locks makes several grueling attempts at speech, eventually letting out in screams that she was being raped by her relatives, finally leading her to isolation.

S.G. is another such case. She is 25 years old, with blue eyes and short black hair. Even the manner in which she sits reflects her suffering. She, too, fell prey to her  father when he attacked her, trying to steal her virginity.

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The stories of E.S. and S.G. indicate a growing phenomenon in the Gaza Strip, in which many girls find themselves trapped by their parents, brothers and relatives.

Staring around her in a state of panic, E.S. whispers that she has been sexually assaulted by her father since age four, right in front of her mother.

“I was not aware of what he was doing," she told The Media Line. “When I reached to the stage of perception, only then I realized that what he is doing is totally forbidden,” she continued.

Her voice then drifted and tears started flowing down her cheeks.

“I went to my mother to complain about it, but she did nothing,” E.S. continued. "She was afraid of being fired by my father or divorced, so she threatened me not to say a word to anyone."



E.S. then turned to her only uncle, hoping that perhaps he would be able to help.

"When I recounted [to] my uncle what happened to me his eyes shone, and I was hit by a state of shock when I was asked to commit outrageous sexual acts with him,” E.S. explained after insisting that she be allowed to finish telling her story. 

Her uncle said he would prevent her from leaving the house until she complied, E.S. said. 

She has attempted to commit suicide several times throughout her young life, but found herself unable to go through with it at the last moment.

“I was aware of the punishment that awaits me in the hereafter, so I was reluctant, and wished for ‘Prince Charming’ to come on his white horse and save me from this mire of wolves [and enable me] to live my life somewhat in a normal way,” she explained. 

One of the most horrific cases of family rape is that of S.G., who strongly objected to speaking at first, but later agreed on condition of anonymity.

"In the beginning, my father was stalking me and watching my movements, taking advantage of the absence of all my family members from the house,” she explained.

During her father’s first attempt, only foreplay was involved, making S.G. think that it was a show of love and tenderness, just like any other parents would do with their daughters.

"When he went too far, crossing every red line, I tried to stop him, but he refused. I started screaming, [thinking] perhaps someone will hear my voice and answer me, but he quickly put his hand on my mouth and said: ‘I have the right to use you more than any stranger,'" S.G. continued, disgust taking over her face. 

“After finishing his unforgivable crime, he threatened to kill me if I disclosed the secret. I had to agree, believing that he would not repeat it again," she continued.

But some days later he tried again to assault her, so she told her mother and brother. Her mother was shocked and lost consciousness, while her brother confronted his father. The father justified his crime by saying it was his right to use his own daughter. So the young son told the police, leading to his father’s imprisonment. 

One of the S.G.’s relatives heard her story by accident, and decided to marry S.G. to preserve her dignity. When her father came out of prison, the husband wanted to open a new page by asking his wife to go visit her father because after all, he would always be her father. According to S.G., at the end of the visit her father prevented her from leaving and threw her husband out of the house.

"She is my daughter and I deserve to use her more than you, so I will rape her!” the father screamed.

This made her husband go mad, but in the end he managed to save her from her father’s brutality and bring her home safe - albeit traumatized.

The sad story continued with S.G.'s younger sister, who was also tormented by their father. In a particularly harsh move, the girls' brother finally murdered their father to save his younger sisters from the teeth of this beast, causing a crisis in the family.

Meeting with psychologist Zahia Qara at Gaza’s mental health center, S.G. confirmed that although it may shift sands to talk about them, cases of incest, adultery and rape do occur in the Gazan community. She added that the number of victims coming to the center for this reason was, in fact, increasing.

“In order to help him or her feel strong and be able to overcome the problem,” said Qara, the center provides psychological treatment through allowing the victim to talk about the tragedy.

The center also teaches victims how to defend themselves by confronting and threatening the aggressor and utilizing the sources of power available to them. 

“Psychotherapy reduces the psychosocial risks of the situation, but it does not eliminate it or get rid of it 100 percent, because the aggressor does not stop after one time, but repeats his repulsive actions several times, leaving a bad effect on the psychological status of the victim,” explained Qara.

Qara indicated that victims who fall prey to their family usually have vulnerable and immature personalities; they are fearful, shy and introverted; and they are unable to confront the situation and set borders between themselves and others. 


She added that most victims who have turned to the center have complained to their mothers but nevertheless they were left defenseless.

Qara pointed out that many reports are showing that drug consumption has increased drastically among Gazans, and that drugs like “tramal” (medically known as tramadol) have become very accessible and cheap. Not all pharmacies ask for a prescription before handing over such drugs, some of which are known to be sexual stimulants.

Qara believes that the siege, bad living conditions in Gaza, unemployment, oppression and lack of activities to fill youths’ free time are all motivations behind Gazans’ reckless recourse to drugs and sex.

To fight this, said Qara, people must spread awareness, give youth activities to keep them busy, decrease unemployment rates, put pharmacies and drug use under surveillance and lift the siege on Gaza for a better life.

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