IT HAPPENED TO ME: My Mother's Instincts Saved Me from a Child Rapist

Her decision might have been sexist and classist, but she saved her then-only child from an unimaginable trauma.
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Sarah Khan
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Her decision might have been sexist and classist, but she saved her then-only child from an unimaginable trauma.

When I was about two or three years old, my mum began looking for a babysitter for me. She and my dad both worked; it was (and actually still is) the norm in Pakistan to have someone come in daily to be a combination babysitter/housekeeper. We had recently moved into the same building in which my grandmother lived, and she learned of another tenant who had a nephew who was available to take up the post.

This nephew clocked in at 14 or 15 years old. He was from one of the nearby small villages, while we lived in the metropolis of Karachi. My grandmother told my mum about this available sitter/housekeeper, but my mother shook her head no.

"I don't want a male," she insisted. "Especially not one from the villages."

My grandmother — bless her heart — has always been a bit of a no-nonsense woman when it comes to her four children (while with her five grandchildren, she has become much more lenient) and she fussed at my mother to not be so picky. But my mother stood her ground.

"I don't want a male," she kept insisting.

Despite my grandmother's often-iron fist, my mother has always been a bit of a rebel. She refused to budge, and my father supported her decision, trusting her to know best. 

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Years and years later, when she told me about this, I asked her why she didn't want a male to babysit me and help with the housework.

"I can't be comfortable," she said, explaining that she preferred a female not only because she believed them to be better at this work, but because she wouldn't be able to walk around comfortably with a man in the house. Pakistani culture is bizarre, and societal norms are strictly enforced by the fear of gossip. There are ways women are supposed to act around men — even those who are just barely teenagers. If a strange man was walking around her house, my mother couldn't relax as she would with a female around. She couldn't wear the comfortable clothes she liked to wear at home. She would be required to dress modestly and be on her guard.

When I pushed her for a more satisfying reason, she snapped and blurted out that it was also because he was a boy from a village.

"You don't know how they're raised, or what they've seen there," she tried explaining. "You hear dozens of stories about male babysitters from the villages abusing little girls. I didn't want to take the risk."

This was the kindest way she could way that she didn't trust them because of their class. In South Asia, where class is of importance, someone raised outside the city was more or less considered less civilized. A boy from the country — like this teenager — likely came from a community where uneducated people were in abundance and strict misogynistic cultural roles were upheld. It was (and probably still is) believed that it's places like these small rural villages where marital rape is the norm and the lack of sex education and the natural maturity of young men erupts in normalized and unpunished sexual violence.

Having been born and raised in Pakistan, there were the stereotypes my mother was hyper-aware of, and with her maternal instinct in full bloom with me, her first-born, she refused to employ this man to take charge of me or of her household.

So, my parents kept looking, and this nephew of the neighbour lady ended up being employed by another family. The details of where this family lived or who they even were are unknown except that they had a daughter about the same age I was. He was hired and worked there, seemingly without incident for months, until his aunt — our neighbour — revealed to my grandmother that her nephew had gone missing. 

He'd run away, it turned out. Naturally, everyone wondered why, and the story came to light.

The parents of this little girl had stepped outside for an errand and left their daughter under the charge of the 14-year-old. They lived in a house and employed a number of hired hands, including a gardener and a cook, all of whom were in or around the house with the little girl and her babysitter. This babysitter — the boy who had only recently hit puberty — had molested the little girl. But he didn't stop at molestation; he went on to rape the child.

It's suspected that when the little girl inevitably began crying and bleeding profusely, the babysitter panicked and made a run for it. The parents returned to a violated child, whom they took to hospital and found that her vagina was all but torn open from the penetration. The girl stayed in hospital for a frighteningly long time, and the father vowed to shoot the babysitter dead if he was ever found.

My mother did not say "I told you so" to my grandmother, nor did she fluff with pride at having been right about the boy. She was just glad she had stuck to her guns and, thus, saved her then-only child from an unimaginable trauma.

I was in my early twenties when my mum first mentioned this anecdote from our family's fairly colourful past. She retold the story briefly, but with gusto, as if she were telling a scary story around a campfire. To her, it's just history now, but I've never been able to forget that story. To this day, it makes me shudder to think what would have happened if my mother had weakened and given in to my grandmother's insistence. It terrifies me to think that what happened to that little girl, who really was no different than I was at that time, could have happened to me if not for pure chance. 

And if I'm this troubled by what could have happened, then it breaks my heart to even think about how that little girl — where ever she is now — must feel.