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The Archives 2004-2020

I Said No: Sexual Assault and Rape in the Desi Community

For Krithi*, life could not have been much sweeter during the summer of 1998. Turning 16 and finally losing the baby fat (along with the nickname “choti mothi” [“little fatty”]), she was coming into her own.

“Everything was really going well, I finally learned how to tame my hair, how to wear makeup, how to pick out the right clothes. The popular girls in school wanted to hang out with me, boys who weren’t on the chess team asked about me – finally!” she laughs. Her laugh is bubbly and infectious, making it hard to comprehend that there is pain behind it. She shifts her doe eyes, looking around, before leaning over to lower her voice and say, “I haven’t told anyone this…especially someone who’s Desi.” Her disclaimer would normally throw anyone off, but after listening to her, it is understandable.

Krithi spent that summer in New York, visiting her cousin. One night, after the rest of the household had gone to sleep, her cousin’s husband entered her room and slipped into her bed. “I was shocked, scared, confused; I just couldn’t believe that he was in bed with me; a man who was in his late 30’s at the time. I mean, not only that, but he saw me grow up.” She pretended to sleep while he kissed the back of her neck as his hands explored her young body. As Krithi tells the story, she closes her eyes and shakes her head with an interjection every now and then: “I just couldn’t believe it.” A couple of hours before dawn, he eventually left, but she was far from asleep…or being safe.

“You would think that with a house filled with family I would be safe, but he knew when his wife and my mom were out shopping, or when my dad was walking in the park.”

Over the next eight years, at every summer reunion, the same individual would push his boundaries. He had stopped waiting for Krithi to go to sleep and had moved on to cornering her around the house when family members were out or occupied somewhere else. “You would think that with a house filled with family I would be safe, but he knew when his wife and my mom were out shopping, or when my dad was walking in the park. He had everything calculated. I even tried to keep his children by me thinking he wouldn’t do anything in their presence, but he would send them out with the excuse that their mother was calling them.” He would try to kiss her, saying they were “lessons” while finding any opportunity to pat her behind. One night, when she was 21, after coming home early from an extended family party, he raped her. According to the Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network (RAINN), almost 2/3 of rapes were committed by someone known to the victim while 73% of sexual assaults were perpetrated by a non-stranger.

In 2006 the United States Department of Justice’s National Crime Victimization Survey reported that 272,350 cases of sexual assault had occurred. The Survey noted this meant that someone was sexually assaulted, in one form or another, every two minutes. Due to legal terminology, the term ‘sexual assault’ is defined as by Merriam-Webster dictionary as “illegal sexual contact that usually involves force upon a person without consent or is inflicted upon a person who is incapable of giving consent (as because of age or physical or mental incapacity) or who places the assailant (as a doctor) in a position of trust or authority.” Rape is considered “unlawful sexual activity and usually sexual intercourse carried out forcibly or under threat of injury against the will usually of a female or with a person who is beneath a certain age or incapable of valid consent.”

“Every time I’ve had a chance to sit down with my mom, dad, sister, or whoever, something just stops the words from leaving my mouth. It’s really the fear…”

After finishing her story, Krithi sinks back into her chair. It’s a secret that has eaten away at her for 10 years, but now at the age of 26, she is finally breaking her silence. Although she asked for her name and identity to be changed, Krithi was adamant about her ordeal being heard. “I refuse to believe that I’m the only one. It may not be the same story or same ending, but I know there’s another girl out there who feels or has felt alone, especially being Desi. I just want her to know that she’s not alone.” When pressed as to why she did not want her real name used and when she is asked why she has not told her family, she pauses to formulate her answer. “Every time I’ve had a chance to sit down with my mom, dad, sister, or whoever, something just stops the words from leaving my mouth. It’s really the fear, the fear that they might get angry. I mean, I’m not a virgin. How do you say that when talking about sex isn’t even heard of? I know it wasn’t my choice but still… there’s that fear that they might accuse me of ‘asking for it’. I was the girly girl, you know, the one who liked pink and looking cute.”

60% of sexual assault and rape cases go unreported, according to RAINN. It also reported that one out of every six Americans has been a victim of rape or attempted-rape in their lifetime. Out of the cases that have been reported, only 6.8% are amongst South Asian/Pacific Islanders. Our parents came to this country with a culture that found discussing sex and anything regarding it as “taboo,” and this may have preserved the morals and values for many, but it has lead to a cloak of secrecy for individuals from South Asian cultures to even report these cases. The most frightening factor to take in consideration is how well these secrets can be kept. Most individuals, whether it’s the predator or victim, usually don’t display signs of their nature. This is where counselors dealing with this subject stress how important the lines of open communication can be in these situations.

Although Krithi has not come out to her family, she did confide in her older brother last year. “It just broke him. Not just that he had loved my cousin’s husband, but that it happened to his sister, right under his nose. He kept apologizing for not protecting me, but I told him it wasn’t his fault. I can’t be mad at that. He just didn’t know.” That is when she realized that being sexually assaulted did not just affect her but also those who knew and loved her. Her attacks didn’t stop until after she spoke up to her brother, who promised to keep her secret and of course, support her when she was ready to tell the family. He began to keep a close eye on her in the presence of their cousin’s husband. “If it wasn’t for him, I don’t want to even imagine what my cousin’s husband would have done to me by now.”

“I have no qualms about telling other people, I want people, especially girls to know they aren’t alone. It’s just when it comes to Desi people, you tend to freak out…”

It was not until she moved away to attend college that she realized how important it was to speak out at campus events sponsored by RAINN. “I have no qualms about telling other people, I want people, especially girls to know they aren’t alone. It’s just when it comes to Desi people, you tend to freak out because someone might know someone who knows someone, like your dad’s business partner’s son, or something.” The speakers’ strength and perseverance touched her so much so that she immediately made an appointment to speak to a school counselor. “It was pretty liberating, just to have someone to talk to and not worrying about someone outside of the room knowing.”

Even though she is not ready to tell her family or confront her attacker right now, the most important element to remember is that Krithi is not alone and help is always available. South Asian American girls, unfortunately, are no less immune to being sexually assaulted or raped as any other race in the U.S. While it obviously is not necessary for any victim to publicly announce what has happened to them, it is vital to recognize that no one is alone. When asked if she thinks she will be able to speak up to those closest to her, she looked away wistfully and sighs, “I hope so, but right now I’m just taking it one day at a time.” — Salma Khan

If you or anyone you know has been sexually assaulted or raped, please

do not hesitate to speak to someone.

The Rape, Assault, and Incest National Network

Hotline: 1.800.656.HOPE

Online: http://online.rainn.org/

Both receive messages anonymously.

*The name and locations have been changed to protect the identity of the subject upon request.

12,592 thoughts on “I Said No: Sexual Assault and Rape in the Desi Community

  1. That was a cute article. I completely agree with your notion to stand up and realize that, when this stuff happens to us, we’re not alone. However, I don\’t understand why it is simply our responsibility to stand up and be strong. How can one expect a person whose been raped, sexually abused, or molested, to stand up and say they’ve been through something like that when we are still afraid to tell our parents that we are not going to do Pre-Med in college? Some girls aren’t even allowed to go to college away from home… how are they going to tell their parents, oh btw, “I’ve been raped” and “It was someone you know and respect.” At the end of the day, we need to realize that this is a much bigger problem than perverts walking around freely or girls having the strength to stand up. This is a problem in our relationships, in our confidence, in our status and roles as women, and in our families, and especially in our communication. If we develop a strong, healthy, open-communication relationship with our parents and peers, only then are we going to be able to stand up for such wrongdoings to ourselves.

  2. I agree that our culture has a lot to do with the victims\’ reluctance. Even without being Desi, rape victims feel alone, ashamed, and somehow like it was their fault. Add to that the pressure of \”being ruined\”, etc. and you have a very sad situation.

  3. It always takes one person to speak up for those in silence. MashaAllah Salma, this was a great article! I pray that Krithi remains a strong woman, and a positive influence to other girls in the desi community.

  4. Knew a desi family in the same situation, the victim confided in a friend, who voiced her concerns to a counselor, and they spoke to the victim\\\’s parents. It may be easier to get a third party to intervene. Although the parents were very hurt, they told the married daughter that they would accept her decision. The final result being that it had a profound negative affect on the perpetrator and his immediate family also (i.e the victim\\\’s sister and her kids). The sooner the victim reaches out for help, the better the outcome.
    Great piece Salma!

  5. I don’t know if the victims’ need to “stand up for a change.” It’s everyone else in society that not only need to stand up for victims when they are disempowered to stand up for themselves, but also to recognize the telltale signs of abuse and to acknowledge its presistent prevalence in society, across all cultures, religions, and socioeconomic groups. Because let’s face it, even if victims do “stand up” (and those victims are far and few in between) especially against perpetrators in their own families, they are seldom believed.

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  6. This article is great and hopefully encourages all victims to standup for a change! Help educate others! Great article Salma!!

  7. Salma! This is really good, I’m really glad you chose this topic. I know people who have been in that position, wanting to get the word out. This is inspiring. :)

  8. I was in a similar situation, and I feel for Kithri.. I haven’t been able to tell anyone in my family though, and when I brought it up with a friend, they just didn’t know what to say or how to react.
    I think this is something that should be talked about in the desi community. It was brought up in a movie, i forgot the name but Mira N. directed it.
    We have this notion of rape from our motherland, since it’s severely looked down upon over there.

  9. Wow, it takes real courage and strength to share something this personal. Thanks for writing this article!

  10. Discussion on sexual assault and rape is definitely very needed in the South Asian community – thank you for writing this article. I hope parents and elders everywhere talk to their children about this very important issue. And for such a sensitive topic, this article was beautifully written…great job.

  11. It’s amazing that this story has never been told. Bravo to Salma for sharing Krithi’s story and bravo to Krithi for sharing it.

  12. Though the topic of the article would normally be melancholy in nature, Kritha’s story is one that needs to be told. Her perseverance to continue is uplifting–thanks Kritha for being brave enough to tell your story.

  13. this story stopped me in my tracks…salma you should be proud of your work, and bringing this issue into the forefront

    my heart goes out to the girl behind kritha

  14. My good friend went through something similar. The truth ended up coming out, to her family and the abuser’s family, and the three women in the abuser’s family, his wife and two daughters, refused to accept the abuse and threatened to sue my friend. I think the older daughter with the legal background still thinks she’s a feminist.

    It’s truly sad, but I think we can give the larger community more credit. When everyone heard about the Lakireddy Bali Reddy case, many in the South Asian community rallied against him. If you as a sexual abuse survivor spoke up in my community, my traditional parents and I would rally to support you.

  15. Amazingly written article! I love the portrayal of the story with real statistics and facts. This was very needed, especially for the desi community. Articles like this make Sapna the powerful and progressive magazine that it is!

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