I want to share my story before I die. This is my story of how abuse impacted and shattered my life. I am a survivor of domestic violence and a survivor of breast cancer. This is my story about empowerment, healing, and resilience, although I am still battling with sickness because of this abuse. Violence, coercion, and oppression were used as tools of control in our home.
Hi, I’m Reshma
My name is Reshma, and I am a survivor of physical abuse perpetrated against me by my family – my mother, brothers, and sisters. The violence lasted for many years and shattered my life. Following the abuse, I got very sick with breast cancer and had a heart attack. My suffering never seems to end.
I am looking for peace and closure.
The issue in this story is the painful and harsh reality of my life. My abuse story defines these family members’ moral values as Muslims.
My English is not very good, but I believe abuse and violence do not need fancy words to explain them. It will forever be part of my life as emotional scars.
A Family from Pakistan
In 1988, I came to the Southeastern United States from Pakistan with my family. Back in Pakistan, my family had always been physically and verbally abusive toward me. They often threatened to kill me, and always treated me as their scapegoat. All the work in the home was my responsibility. I was treated as a slave rather than a daughter or sister. I never felt part of the family; just a slave, always working in the kitchen, cleaning the house, or taking care of their needs.
I was subjected to humiliation by my mother, sister *Sahar, and other family members, who would make fun of me or my personality.
Nights of Fear
I have been suffering from this pain for many years, wanting to reveal this secret from my chest, this constant physical abuse, and mental torture. I have stayed awake at night, scared, shivering with fear and nightmares about my older brother *Faraz and younger sister Sahar attacking me. Faraz has always been a violent person with a short temper and has behaved hatefully toward me. My mother and sister instigated situations to make him angry and hostile toward me; then he would brutally beat me up. My mother and Sahar always praise and encourage his brutality.
History of Assault
Many times, Faraz has threatened to kill me or bury me alive. I have always been terrified of him, ever feeling as though my life is in danger; I will never overcome it.
Faraz and Sahar have controlled my life. They kept my passport and documents from me to prevent me from applying for citizenship.
Sahar is my younger sister. She is treated like an important person and given much power. My mother and sisters treat her like a princess. She has significant influence and authority over my mother and siblings and has always hated me.
Sahar and other siblings assaulted me many times between 1988 and 1993. The assaults included kicking, punching, choking, pulling my hair, slapping my face, verbally abusing me, blaming me, emotionally torturing me, calling me names, and telling me I look bad. She would say to me that nobody loved me, that I deserved the abuse I was getting, and nobody could rescue me. She told me that if I reported the abuse, I would be dead.
In 1988, I experienced a very traumatic assault by my family. It was a gang-type attack by my brother Faraz, my brother *Bashir, my sister Sahar, and my sister *Aminah. My mother also took part in the assault and even encouraged the others. They kicked me, shoved me, and beat me. Faraz grabbed me by my neck with both hands and choked me. He dragged me by my hair across the kitchen floor. Because of this, I still suffer from neck pain. Faraz threatened to kill me and bury me in the backyard if I reported the assault. Following the assault, I was locked in a room as a means to keep me quiet.
Power and Control
They always reminded me that they had the power to do whatever they wanted to me. For this reason, I am still terrified of Faraz and Sahar and live in fear. I feel like what happened to me then is still happening.
In 1989, my mother, other brothers, and sister moved, and Sahar insisted that I not be allowed to go, and my mother agreed.
They made me stay with my older sister *Komal to serve her family. I was expected to stay home all the time. I was not allowed the opportunity to establish my own life and gain independence. Unlike my siblings, I was not allowed to go to school, and I was never taught how to drive.
A Life to Serve
According to my family, my life’s purpose was to serve my family and my in-laws like a slave. If I protested or said anything about working all the time, I would be harassed and abused by my family, while my mother encouraged their actions.
Being forced into this way of life with no ability to adjust to living in America, speak the language, or learn to drive caused considerable damage to my life. The assaults and constant torment from family members impacted my self-esteem as well as my personality. At one point, the constant pain and shame led me to try to take my life. I tried unsuccessfully to commit suicide; I did not want to live.
I could not live with my family, but they brought me there to clean. I cleaned the bathrooms and toilet, scrubbed the old vinyl floors in the kitchen and hallway, cooked, babysat, and waited on their guests.
I did not refuse or resist because I feared abuse. I withdrew and felt dead inside.
In 1989, Sahar was furious and was yelling at me. My mother and brother Faraz dragged me to the basement to apologize to Sahar. I had said harsh words to her because I was not allowed to take the test for the driver’s permit like my siblings. When I said this, my brothers, sisters, and mother started beating me. I tried to escape by running up the stairs, but they blocked the way. I told them I would report them to community people. They told me that if I did, they would beat me more. They laughed and told me nobody would believe me anyway because I was crazy.
In 1989, my family went to the beach for a vacation. They forcefully took me with them to be their servant. In the apartment, they rented I did the cooking, the laundry, and bed-making like a servant.
In 1990, after being verbally abused and beaten, I was in an emotional crisis. I decided I would do anything to escape the abuse and being treated like an animal, so I tried to run away. I escaped through the garage while everyone was in the living room. Once outside, I walked very quickly and quietly. I was shivering due to being nervous about what would happen if they caught me. I got a half a block away when I saw them coming my way in a car, and I tried to hide in the bushes. My brother Faraz and brother-in-law *Habib found me, grabbed me by the arms, and pushed me into the car.
They warned me that if I ever tried to run away again, they would teach me a lesson I would not forget. The same would happen if I ever reported them to any authority or said anything to a Muslim community member. They were very much concerned about having an image as the perfect Muslim Pakistani family.
My mother and sisters regularly made fun of me together. When I cried, they would claim I was crazy.
When I lived with my older sister Komal, I was her housekeeper. I cleaned, cooked, babysat, and raised the youngest child, but I never spoke to anyone. I would prepare meals for her big gatherings, but I hid from the guests. My family treated me like they were ashamed of me, so I was careful not to embarrass them.
I Was a Slave
To my sister, I was a slave. I remember feeling very bad because I had a fever. My sister was not concerned and insisted that I prepare meals. While making the meal, I was rushing so that my brother-in-law’s dinner would not be late. I cut my finger and was bleeding a lot. My sister insisted I finish preparing the meal; by the time my work was done, the bleeding was worse. My sister finally took me to the hospital, where I got three stitches.
My sister had a party in 1990. I served the guests without talking. My sisters were concerned that I did not reveal their abusive behavior to anyone, so they always watched me to prevent me from having discussions. A guest started a conversation with me. I did the best I could to be cordial using my broken English. Sahar was observing the conversation, and she eventually broke it up by making fun of my broken English. I was humiliated. I went to hide in the garage; I felt like garbage.
When Sahar got married, her husband’s family stayed at her home. They stayed for two weeks. I had to serve them around the clock, and I was not allowed to talk with the visitors. They were told I was unable to hold a conversation because of extreme shyness.
The wedding had many guests, I prepared most of the dishes by myself, even though I felt very weak. I was angry and frustrated, but I did not complain out of fear of being verbally abused. If I did, I knew that after guests were gone, the abuse would be more than verbal.
In 1992, when the family was preparing for a vacation in Florida, I told my mother and sister, I did not want to go. They responded that I could not be left alone and that I was needed to do the cooking. I protested. They responded by threatening me with physical harm, I was fearful, so I went with them and served them for a week.
In 1990 they arranged my marriage in Pakistan. I went with my mother and brother Bashir and got married in Pakistan, but they sent me back to America within 15 days. I wanted to stay with my husband as any bride would, but my brother forced and threatened me, “Don’t you dare to tell your husband you have to go back. We bought you a return ticket.” It was decided, and then he slapped me on the face. After returning to America, I never had permission to talk to my husband on the phone. After these incidents, I felt so helpless I decided to write to my husband about the situation. Still, my brother in law stopped the letter at the post office and warned me I could not write to him anymore if they found out the situation could be dangerous for me.
In 1993, on the day my husband-to-be arrived at the airport, they refused to let me go with them. When I protested, Sahar started yelling at me. My mother, brothers, and sisters began shoving, hitting, and kicking me. My older sister and her husband stood by and did nothing. Everyone left, leaving me locked in a room crying, very frightened, and ashamed of myself.
Mentally I was very disturbed, embarrassed, and humiliated. My big night turned into a nightmare. I was strictly warned and threatened if I told anything about this abuse to my husband, I would be punished.
When I moved out of their home, they never helped me. They made my life miserable by putting me down and used their influence to degrade me in the local Pakistani community. I had to get away from my family.
The constant abuse and torture permanently damaged my life. I have always felt worthless. After so many years, I still suffer from the trauma of the abuse. I have never been able to overcome it.
Abuse Manifesting in Physical Health
I believe that the trauma’s stress has caused my breast cancer, heart problems, bone density loss, lung fibrosis, and a stroke. Even after so many years, I have nightmares about those assaults I wake up sweating with my heart racing.
I am living with my own family now, but I am still afraid of my brothers and sisters. Now I wish I had known how to speak English well enough to inform the police back then, or had found the courage to tell someone else. As a human being, I never deserved that inhumane treatment and cruelty, and all I want is justice.
Sharing my story, I feel empowered that the truth is finally revealed. My family never had the right to abuse me; they should be held accountable for their illegal actions. God give me strength and courage in this healing journey and closure.