Enemy within the Gates
They were four colleagues who had become friends. They devoted their weekend to their families but Friday night was theirs. They finished work, touched up their lipstick and went to loll at their favourite restaurant. The ordering and initial burst of conversation over, the four sat back and sipped their drinks in a companionable silence.
Suddenly, the quietest of the four spoke out. “Did I tell you about the time when I was felt up by my favourite uncle?” she said. “Actually he wasn’t an uncle at all. He was a young colleague of my father’s and I hero-worshipped him. He was fun, dashing and generous to a fault. He plied me with presents, took me for piggy rides. When I was about 10, he brought home a bride. I saw less of him, but was happy whenever I did. Till one afternoon, when he came home to deliver a packet. I was 13 and alone. I let him into the house, delighted as always to see him. He came in and locked the door. I barely noticed: I was so busy chattering. But then he grabbed me by the shoulders, pinned me to a wall and started kissing and feeling me. I froze. I didn’t know what to do.”
The initial shock over; her friends burst into action. Two of them started hurling imprecations at the ‘uncle’; the third came over and put her arm around the speaker. “I know just how that feels, I’ve been there,” she said. “Except that mine was an old man. You know my father was in the Army. Well, he had a close friend who was a general. One day, he was over for dinner and I was escorting him to the washroom. There, he nabbed me and started fondling my breasts, telling me that I’d become a beautiful young woman. I pushed him away and ran to my room, where my sisters were. I told them everything and they were hopping mad. I’d never again be left alone with the creep, they promised, but said I couldn’t tell my father; he’d be heart-broken. The general was one of his closest friends, after all. They’d fought in the Bangladesh war together.”
One of the other girls burst in here. “But that’s most unfair, that man needed to be exposed,” she said. The two who had told their stories looked at her sadly. “Well, they weren’t. I didn’t tell anyone either,” said the first one. “I just made sure to avoid him after that. The funny thing was that no one even noticed. I heard he died in a violent accident last year. So many years had passed since that incident but still, I felt revenged.”
The papers carry horrific stories every day. Teenager gangraped in a moving car; infant sodomised by neighbour. But there are stories, just as chilling, that don’t make the news. Because the victims don’t report them. Because there, the enemy lies within. The National Study on Child Abuse says the perpetrator is a stranger in only one out of 10 child cases of sexual abuse. Six out of 10 abusers are family friends or neighbours, while three are real relatives. They could be fathers, uncles or cousins.
And so the abused child never speaks up. Unless, perhaps, 30 years later, she’s sitting with friends who make her feel safe.