October 30, 2018 Abdul Haqq

Hear no evil, see no evil: Covering up sexual abuse while blaming the victim

My previous article examined endemic and historic sexual abuse in the Catholic Church.[1]The focus of this article will be on how some Muslim communities are failing to protect victims of sexual abuse but instead, cast aspersions on them and those who support them. The recent video of a US Imam, Nick Pelletier’s sermon has attracted attention due to him seizing the opportunity to confront local mosque management regarding child abuse claims that were deliberately ignored by them. In fact, the management went so far as to facilitate the perpetrator’s escape by providing him with tickets to flee the country.[2]Their subsequent admission in front of a packed congregation, about their failure to notify police, only served to exacerbate the rising tide of anger at the revelation of such shocking news.[3]

The type of dereliction of duty witnessed above no longer comes as a surprise in view of similar emerging stories. Indeed,  parallels can be drawn between the behaviour of these particular community leaders and those belonging to the Catholic Church. Apparently, following Imam Pelletier’s courageous stance, he was relieved of his duties for exposing these crimes. Herein lies the conundrum; victims are rarely supported when these devastating revelations are exposed. Instead, their claims are dismissed, ignored or at worse disparaged by the religious hierarchy. Also, those who stand up to represent the victims and, similar to Imam Pelletier, publicly condemn such crimes, are ostracised by the hierarchy in their attempt to retain authority and control. A vivid example of this type of behaviour is provided below.

The story of Child X

When a mother became aware of her child’s desperate pleas to rescue her from 5 years of sexual abuse by the stepfather, she sought immediate help from the local community and visited the imam. Excerpts from the family solicitor’s letter recount these desperate steps:

In the spring of xxxx [the mother] discovered that her then husband…had been sexually molesting [her] young daughter. She was both shocked and horrified when she learned of this from reading a letter that her daughter had written which her daughter then confirmed to be true…

 [The mother] was naturally in a terrible emotional state having discovered the appalling abuse that her child had suffered. She could not turn to anybody withinher family and so, understandably, sought the advice and support of [the] Imam at your mosque…The Imam was, and is still, regarded as being a person of great knowledge and learning. He is a person to whom members of the community will turn to in times of turmoil for guidance. [The mother] reposed her trust and confidence in the Imam that he would provide the appropriate advice to her in relation to the terrible issues that she had discovered, including supporting her when she reported this matter to the police.[4]

The imam’s subsequent response was surprising and perpetuated the mother’s distress:

The same day that [the mother] became aware of what XXX had done…she told [the] Imam…that she wanted to go to the police but that she needed his support to do so… Instead, to [her] astonishment, he advised [her] that she should not go to the police but instead she should just ‘wait’… The Imam continued that he would speak to ‘somebody of knowledge’ about this matter but reiterated that she should not go to the police until he has spoken to this person as to what she should do…[5]

Upon the imam’s failure to provide adequate counselling or support, the mother contacted a trustee. His response was equally disturbing, declining to assist as he was ‘not in position to make that decision’ for her, i.e. support her with contacting the police. Suffice it to mention she resorted to assistance from the wider community and their advice was resounding: to contact the police without any further delay. The perpetrator handed himself in to the police once he became aware of the community’s knowledge of his criminality. However, that was not before he visited the imam to confess and seek counsel.  What is important to observe at this juncture is that the imam did not deem this visit serious enough to warrant contacting the police, completing an incident report or even raising the matter with senior management. Nevertheless, the perpetrator was eventually sentenced to 10 years imprisonment and placed on the National Sexual Offenders Register.

A duty of care – Pastoral

The failings in this case are apparent. Pastoral care has been defined as being:

‘…an ancient model of emotional and spiritual support that can be found in all cultures and traditions. It has been described in our modern context as individual and corporate patience in which trained pastoral carers support people in their pain, loss and anxiety, and their triumphs, joys and victories.’[6]

The obligation to care – Legislation

The disregard for the law in this heavily legislated area of child protection and safety is palpable. The UK Charity Commission also provides clear guidelines regarding trustee and management obligations towards the vulnerable:

‘Trustees have a duty of care towards their charity, which means that those whose charities work with vulnerable beneficiaries must take steps to protect them from harm. This involves putting in place internal procedures and policies that act as safeguards against abuse.’ [7]

Back to the future

This is an historic case of sexual abuse that occurred more than 12 years ago. Despite this and, unsurprisingly, the victim and her family have faced challenges when attempting to find closure from their horrific ordeal. Part of the reason for this is due to the previous and existing managements’ refusal to acknowledge wrongdoing and/or gross negligence. When a simple apology would have sufficed, the hierarchy closed ranks to protect its members. The mother had little recourse except to seek legal advice. The hierarchy’s response to this letter was to conduct an internal investigation alongside interviews of former and existing members. Predictably, the final report was a foregone conclusion, both minimising the severity of the original incident and denying particular allegations:

There was indeed a meeting with him [the Imam]…during a week day as it was a quiet day with only him and Mr XXX [the perpetrator]…It was an unplanned meeting as Mr XXX just popped in and [the Imam] was alone in the office… He [the imam] then spoke briefly that he [the perpetrator] did several things which were wrong while married, of which one involved his wife’s daughter at that time under age[8]

Although benefit of the doubt should be given to the intended meaning behind the imam’s final underlined words, these comments were wholly inappropriate due to the intimation that had the victim been older, the crime would have been considered less severe.

Reported comments from the trustee who had been approached for help by the mother will not be reproduced here due to their offensive inference, suggesting the victim may have been culpable for her own abuse.  The remaining aspects of the report were – as highlighted at the beginning of this article – an attempt to cast aspersions on those steadfast in supporting the family.

Conclusion

Imam Pelletier is receiving accolade for directly confronting this pernicious issue. There should be no doubt about the courage required to take such a stance. Detractors are vociferous in their knee-jerk responses and criticism to any who pursue similar courses of action. They lament, claiming that the image of the religion has been tarnished by publicly rebuking such abuse, while they fail to even acknowledge the cause of the initial damage, i.e. the sexual abuse, (I have received similar backlash for supporting the family mentioned throughout this piece.) It is important to counter detractors’ attempts to obfuscate the real issue and distinguish between these abhorrent acts and religion. Islam does not endorse such criminality – in the same way that Christianity is absolved from them. The problem lies squarely at the feet of those entrusted with our religious and community welfare. Regrettably, they have chosen instead to become enamored with their own status and authority.

It is befitting to conclude by referring once again to the legal address cited throughout the article, as it provides a damning indictment that should echo across all communities failing to protect their most vulnerable members:

There could hardly be a more serious dereliction of duties for members of the congregation than a failure to support the reporting of a criminal offence by a member of that community against a child.

 It is the responsibility of the mosque i.e. its trustees, to ensure that the safety and support of members of the community are its number one priority. The very serious failings on the part of [the] Imam and the [trustee] are ones that demonstrate that they have fallen significantly below the minimum standard that is required of them. They potentially endangered [the mother’s] daughter and other children…by their advice and there is the plain and obvious risk they could do so again…[9]

Recommendations demanding the resignation of particular members of this hierarchy have been made but to date, many remain in position while others have assumed other unrelated roles elsewhere – some of them in educational institutions. In any event, the arduous process of change to remove the current administration is continuing. Other communities – irrespective of their religious affiliation – should also embark on a similar strategy of change if children and other vulnerable members cannot be guaranteed the security and pastoral care required by those who continue to cling to the vestiges of  power.

 

 

 

[1]https://abdulhaqqbaker.com/in-the-name-of-the-father-endemic-sexual-abuse-under-the-guise-of-religion/

[2]Pelletier, N: ‘Speaking against evil’, Friday Sermon, published 27thOctober 2018, Islamic Center of Irving, Texas, USA: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ObloqLRA4j8

[3]Ibid

[4]Solicitor’s letter on behalf of ‘the mother’ to the management and imam of mosque, 25thApril 2016 (for confidential reasons, specific details cannot be disclosed)

[5]Ibid

[6]Definition of Pastoral Care: https://www.google.com/search?q=pastoral+care&ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-8&hl=en-sa&client=safari

[7]Charity Commission: ‘Working with Children and Vulnerable Adults: https://www.charitycommissionni.org.uk/start-up-a-charity/things-to-consider-before-starting-a-charity/working-with-children-and-vulnerable-adults/

[8]Report of the investigation of the complaint made by [the mother] against the [Imam] and [the trustee], undated.

[9]Solicitor’s letter on behalf of ‘the mother’ to the management and imam of mosque, 25thApril 2016 (for confidential reasons, specific details cannot be disclosed)

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