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Experiences Shared

Hema

All names and identifying details have been changed.

Participants have given us permission to share their experiences.

Religious leaders in the Sikh temple Hema’s family attended were revered by the community, and this made it impossible for her to tell her family that one of the religious leaders was sexually abusing her.

Hema explains that her parents would sometimes leave her and her sibling in the care of religious leaders at their temple. One of these men would offer Hema sweets, and ask her to hug him in return. She was six or seven years old when this began, and she remembers that the ‘hugs’ seemed to last longer and longer, and feel quite forceful.

One day, he asked Hema to go upstairs with him to a quiet room. The religious leaders sometimes slept in the temple, so there were beds in there. He started to kiss her, and ‘grope’ her. Then he showed her some pictures of naked females which she describes as ‘page 3-type’ images. He asked her if she liked them, and if she would pose like that.

Hema remembers that even though she was such a young child, she felt it was her responsibility because she had put herself in that situation. As well as being highly respected in the close-knit community, he had a reputation for loving children and she did not feel able to tell her family or anyone what he had done. 

Some time later, Hema says she was ‘stalked’ by a boy at school, and when she told her parents, they blamed her. This confirmed her feeling that she could not tell anyone that the religious leader had abused her.

When Hema got married, she told her husband she had been sexually abused at the temple. After this, the marriage deteriorated. For years after their marriage she says, ‘he used it against me’. She adds that he made her feel ‘dirty’; he raped her and called her a ‘slag’.  

Despite strong disapproval from the community, Hema found the courage to leave her husband.

When the religious leader died his funeral was very well attended, and Hema’s family and others reminisced about what a good man he was. She found this very difficult.

Recently, Hema wrote a letter to the current leader at the temple and told him about the abuse. She was invited to the temple, supposedly to talk about what had happened, but when she got there, the religious leader tore up her letter. She says, ‘These men are like gods’.

Hema’s life has been significantly affected by the abuse she suffered. As well as being abused further by her husband, she has depression and anxiety, finds sexual relationships difficult and is unable to challenge inappropriate behaviour by men.

For a time she abandoned her religion and was shunned by her family. She has now returned to the temple but feels the community is still hostile to her because she left her marriage. She adds that she knows she would receive death threats if it became known she had spoken out about the abuse.

She had counselling, and found this helpful. 

Hema suggests that people in authority in all religions should be thoroughly checked to ensure that children are not at risk of being harmed and subjected to sexual abuse. 

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