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Forced to Live with My Stepfather After Sexual Abuse

06 April, 2017
Q I am a 19-year-old girl. My mother has recently got remarried, Alhamdulillah. My mother is very happy, but I don't like living with another man. To give some background, this is my mother's third marriage. I am her child from her first husband when she was a Muslim. Her second husband was Muslim, but a very bad person. He sexually abused me; because of this, I told my mother that if she ever got remarried, I would want to leave the family house rather than being forced to submit to the will of another man. My mother's husband is now telling me that if I leave (I want to move into university accommodation), I will not be allowed back into the family home. Since being abused, I have had a sexual relationship, and they are using this to threaten me that if I leave, I am a whore and cannot come back. I have been to therapy because having a man in the house has caused me insomnia, nightmares, and panic attacks. I feel like an intruder in my own home and on edge all the time, but if I leave, I will lose my family. I understand that usually, a Muslim would move in with the other when they get married, but this is not possible since my father doesn't want me to live with him. All my other family members live far away, and they don't want me to stay with anyone outside of the family. I am trapped in a home, under the will of a man I don't know or trust.



As-Salaamu `Alaikum dear sister,

Thank you for your question. My sincere sympathies for the pain and hardship you have experienced and continue to endure. Have you talked to your mother alone, without your step-father, about how you feel and what is upsetting you? Did you make your feelings clear to her before she remarried so that she was made aware of your trauma and how this would impact your living situation in the same household with your stepfather? If so, what was the outcome? If not, why?

You are a survivor of sexual abuse, and it is very important that you seek therapy. It is possible that you may have been in therapy when the sexual abuse first occurred (I hope so), but it is obvious that you are still experiencing a significant amount of pain and anger. I would highly recommend that you immediately find a qualified mental health professional who specializes in sexual abuse and trauma. If indeed, you are having panic attacks, it may help you to have medication (even temporarily) to transition into your new living environment.

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I would highly encourage you to learn as much as you can about the dynamics of sexual abuse. Do you know that oftentimes victims of sexual abuse become promiscuous as a way to cope with having being violated? Oprah Winfrey, for example, has publicly talked about how she acted out sexually due to the sexual abuse she experienced.

Victims of sexual abuse also tend to have low-esteem because of what was done against them by a pervert. Are you behaving in ways that are sexually promiscuous and/or indicate low self-esteem? Are any of these things making life more challenging for you? What can you do to empower yourself so that you’re not a victim but a survivor who triumphs over her adversity? I would highly recommend that you read as much as you can on sexual abuse and conflict resolution.

My advice is that you tell your mum that you need to talk with her alone. Talk to her in a calm and clear manner about how you feel and what is most scary for you about being at home. Make no demands, but listen to her when she expresses her concerns.

It is important that you both strive to understand and value each other’s perspective. Often times, in these situations individuals feel the need to be right or think that their side is the only one that has merit. Good conflict resolution skills warrant that you recognize the other person’s position, express yours in clear terms, and then find a middle ground.

When you talk, keep in mind that the point of the conversation is not about who is right or more right. It is truly a dialogue to understand the other’s perspective and then find a way to have both of your concerns addressed so that you both win. She will have to consider your post-traumatic issues, and you have to find a way to understand that she has a marriage to maintain. She can maintain her marriage, but it does not have to mean that you live in fear in your own home.

As for the living at a university, it can be an amazing experience if you can handle the responsibilities that come with it. Just make sure that you carry yourself consistent with values and virtues that are God fearing, righteous and self-affirming. In other words, be careful that you do not fall into the haram activities that are very tempting, superficial and may be popular, but only serve to deteriorate your essence.

Regardless of religion, race, and gender, we all make choices in life that can help improve our life, maintain our status quo, or damage us. If you plan to live on campus, make sure you are able to handle the responsibilities that come with such independence. If you do not manage this in a way that meets your cultural, religious and familial expectations, recognize that your parents will lose trust in you.

If your parents are reluctant to let you live on campus now, it sounds like something has happened already that they do not trust you. What was it? Do they fear it will happen again? Is there some truth to their concerns? How have you helped or hurt yourself with your actions? Is there a possibility that you can rebuild your relationship with your mom, especially so that you can live on campus and she can trust that you are well, safe, and not living a sinful or haram life?

I hope that my advice here is a beginning for you and your mom to move things in the right direction. Please feel free to respond if I can be of further assistance. Take good care, pray often, and seek Allah’s (swt) guidance from Shaytan and all that serves to distract us from that which is important – serving Allah, serving the poor, and those who are vulnerable. Live your life meaningfully and honor yourself.



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About Najma M. Adam
Najma M. Adam, Ph.D., L.C.S.W. is the Director of Adam & Associates Counseling Services, Inc. Dr. Adam has many years of experience and has taught at several universities in the Chicagoland area. She actively conducts research and publishes. She received her Ph.D. in Social Work from the University of Illinois at Chicago, Jane Addams College of Social Work and her Master’s Degree from the University of Chicago, School of Social Service Administration. Further information about her can be found at