When will abused Jordanian children have their ‘Larry Nassar moment’?

Ruba Saqr
Ruba Saqr has reported on the environment, worked in the public sector as a communications officer, and served as managing editor of a business magazine, spokesperson for a humanitarian INGO, and as head of a PR agency. (Photo: Jordan News)
In 2018, the fight for social justice reached a critical milestone when an American judge sentenced child rapist and abuser Larry Nassar to 175 years in prison for the sexual abuse of hundreds of girls and young women.اضافة اعلان

Nassar’s job as the Olympic gymnastics team doctor involved looking after scores of young female athletes while providing them with orthopedic care. In a flagrant violation of medical ethics and his sacred role as a caretaker, he betrayed what was entrusted to him for 18 long years as he took advantage of innocent young women. Like in the case of our society, this happened with the help of other adults in his network, who were willing to cover up for him.

(Photo: Envato Elements)

Being a “caregiver” was probably the reason for the woman judge’s decision to extend his sentence from a minimum of 40 years (which is a de facto life sentence) to 175 years, knowing quite well that no one lives that long. Her symbolic gesture aimed to extend empathy and compassion to 160 of his victims who came to court to share their gruelling experiences of humiliation amidst heart-wrenching tears, recounting the pain they had endured at the hands of their trusted physician.

To make an example of sexual predators who target unsuspecting children with their dark, sick and abusive actions, the only way is to go big or go home. Ruining the lives of children and scarring them forever is a crime that warrants the most stringent punitive measures, especially that the impact of sexual abuse on youngsters is everlasting. No one heals from being assaulted and violated, not in their childhood and not at other ages.

Here, in Jordan, we are light years away from taking decisive measures against perpetrators of sexual abuse targeting young girls and boys, because “cover up” is the name of the game in our society.

When it comes to unreported stories of abuse, people in Jordan are mostly two kinds: those who initiate and repeat the abuse against children (and women) and get away with it, and those who turn a blind eye toward the actions of abusive family members, relatives and coworkers – to “protect the fabric of the society”. The latter are essentially accomplices and accessories to crime who do not get to face the consequences of their cowardly silence either.

On a more positive note, we are closer than ever to ending this hypocrisy. Several Jordanian influencers are making their voices heard about the need to take immediate action to protect children from decades of inaction and hushed-up abuse.

In an opinion piece that appeared in Jordan News last month, psychology Professor Musa Shteiwi spoke about a recent study by UNICEF and the National Council for Family Affairs with the harrowing revelation that “violence against children is widespread and alarming”. A staggering 74.6 percent of children experience at least one form of physical violence, let alone other types of abuse. That is around three quarters of tomorrow’s adult lawmakers, voters, ministers, teachers, artists, doctors, and general population.

Shteiwi called for a “national strategy to combat violence against children” especially that “violence, of all types, against children has a very damaging and lasting effect on their well-being and their future, deprives them of their basic human rights and has negative ramification for the society at large”.

This Monday, a chilling human-interest story appeared in Jordan News with the assertive headline “Child sexual abuse in Jordan”. In a society of taboos, that is not your usual headline. The article hit the nail on the head with its accurate characterization of the distorted social notions that enable sexual abuse.

In her piece, the writer Jude Hashem says: “Reporting sexual abuse remains minimal because we are still under the absurd notion that the sexual assault of girls brings dishonor to her family, and the sexual assault of boys impugns their masculinity.”

To concur, protecting family reputation at the expense of the dignity and physical, mental and spiritual sanctity of its members is a crime in itself. Putting “image” before the wellbeing of children is the height of cruelty and hypocrisy, especially in a society that often feigns “piety”.

People do not own each other, and families are not unspoken social contracts of eternal, unchecked “ownership”. A man does not own his wife, and parents surely do not own their children or their children’s fate, dignity or freedom to choose. In monotheistic religions, humans bow their heads only to God, not to fellow humans, even when they are family.

The idea that the upper echelons of a family own the people under their roof (a module replicated across other sectors, such as government, education and health) is probably another reason why society is slow at taking brave, decisive action to protect its most vulnerable. This, coupled with a worrying lack of decisive and preventive laws that hold predators and perpetrators of sexual abuse accountable, has ruined the lives of many children (and therefore future adults), causing them deep damage and a painful silence that they are destined to take to their grave.

Jordan needs to start holding the sexual predators in our society to account, regardless of their social status, reputation, or ability to hide their crimes against childhood behind a façade of popularity, family name, and, sometimes, a misleading appearance of religious devoutness.

Those criminals are among us, free to repeat their abuses against vulnerable children simply because our laws and law enforcement bodies are giving them a free pass to continue their atrocities.

While Jordan is taking its time in uprooting the problem of domestic violence against women and children, generations of abused Jordanians have kept silent about sexual harassment, verbal and physical abuse, and gaslighting by the people closest to them.

Moving at a snail’s pace to achieve social justice for the hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of Jordanian children across multiple generations is no longer an option for a country that seeks reforms.

Whereas the Millennials, Generation X, and the Baby Boomers before them (who are now in their late fifties to late seventies) had zero access to legal or emotional support if they experienced abuse during their childhood, we still have Generation Z to save.

Abused Jordanian children are entitled to their cathartic “Larry Nassar moment”. They have the right to be heard and for their pain to be acknowledged and healed. To say it bluntly, a society that is incapable of empathy towards its own children is, slowly but surely, headed toward the abyss.

Ruba Saqr has reported on the environment, worked in the public sector as a communications officer, and served as managing editor of a business magazine, spokesperson for a humanitarian INGO, and as head of a PR agency.

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