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April 22, 2013

Victim shares tale of child abuse, domestic violence

April is Child Abuse Prevention Month

By Andy Kozlowski
C & G Staff Writer

METRO DETROIT — Not all vampires drink blood.

Some are what victims of abuse call “emotional vampires.” They target the lonely, the lost, the eager-to-please, leeching off their fragile feelings. They drain their prey mentally, emotionally, physically, even financially, exercising power and control through mind-games and manipulation.

They can be anyone — family, friends, neighbors, teachers, coaches, pastors, babysitters — and nobody will suspect a thing.

“These people are more prevalent than we realize,” said Waqas Jilani, a survivor of child abuse and domestic violence. “Like a vampire, you can’t see them; like a vampire, you can’t detect them. Like a vampire, they have an ability to charm others and almost magically turn everyone you know — friends, family, coworkers — against you. This is known as ‘Perpetrator Flip,’ and is very prevalent in these types of situations.”

April is Child Abuse Prevention Month, and groups like the Southfield Domestic Violence Group and Take One Community Program have been hard at work trying to raise awareness for this and other forms of abuse, with events such as a forum and walk in Pontiac.

It’s a time for adult survivors to come forth and share their stories.

“It’s very courageous whenever I have someone like Waqas come out of the darkness and into the light as an adult, so not only can he heal, but he can help others,” said Margaret Hall, executive director of SDVG. “It’s especially difficult for a man to come forth on something like this, coming from the culture he does.”

As Jilani explains, there’s an unfortunate stereotype in Muslim culture, implying only the man would ever be abusive. But as with anyone, in any culture, abuse is not exclusive to men or women. Jilani says, in his case, it was his ex-wife and her family who abused him.

“It was a semi-arranged relationship, and I hardly knew her, at first, but she demolished my life,” Jilani said. “It was a very abusive relationship in marriage that I’m still reeling from. It made me realize I’m a people-pleaser.”

This desire to appease others, he said, is a coping mechanism — one he developed as a result of other abuses he suffered when he was just a 3-year-old living in Pakistan. 

He moved with his mother and sibling to his grandparents’ home, where they stayed while his father, a Pakistani doctor, completed his residency in the United States. His mother and sibling would visit family out of town while his grandpa was out working.

This meant, during the day, Jilani stayed at the daycare center and preschool across the street. It was there that incidents occurred, day after day.

Two sisters ran the daycare center as a family business. Jilani said their brother would often help out. But in secret, this young man allegedly brought 3-year-old Jilani upstairs where he stripped both of them down, oiled himself up, and sat Jilani on his lap.

Jilani was always given a lollipop, and at first, he didn’t think much of it. But by age 4, he was incredibly uncomfortable with the routine. He would fight his family when they tried to take him to the daycare.

“No one understood why I wouldn’t go, why I would fight for my dear life, holding the doorframe as my grandfather pulled me, trying to get me to go, and I’m kicking and screaming, ‘No, I’m not going!’” Jilani said.

“My family always said, ‘We don’t know why you fought so hard,’ but when you’re 4 years old, you don’t know what the heck is going on,” he said. “You don’t know how to explain it. You’re just unable to speak because it’s so traumatic.”

Jilani’s family started taking him to a different preschool that was miles away. Around the time he turned 5, his family moved to the U.S. The abuse stopped, and he suppressed the memories.

It wasn’t until he graduated from college and was back in the old country for a family wedding that it started to come back to him.

At one point, he saw an old photograph of his 4-year-old self on his grandpa’s bike, being taken to the new school. His family said he “hated” school back then, and thought it remarkable he turned out to be such a fine student. But he didn’t hate school; he hated the man who worked there. 

The memories came back with vivid clarity when he saw his abuser again, running a store a couple blocks over from the daycare.

“I could tell he was shocked, and he asked if I knew him, and I said, ‘Oh, not really,’ and I could see he felt this relief — his whole face was tense, but then he became very serene,” Jilani said. “It was very uncomfortable, and I never went back there again.

“But this confirmed it to me,” he said. “I had wondered whether I was making it up, whether it was a dream, being a 3-year-old. But seeing him, I remembered it so clearly. You’d walk into the daycare, turn right, go up the stairs, all small, narrow and dusty; there’d be a small room, a vial of yellow oil and a bright red lollipop.”

Jilani felt a lot of anger and frustration toward his family for not picking up on what was happening to him. Hall says many children who are abused exhibit behaviors that are easily dismissed by their family as “bratty” when they should really appear as red flags.

A child who is being abused may act scared, anxious, depressed, withdrawn or overly aggressive. They may revert back to thumb-sucking, bed-wetting, fear of strangers or the dark. They might fear going home — a huge sign of trouble — or eat more, eat less, or prefer eating to anything else, as a means of escape.

They might have difficulty falling asleep, or want to sleep in their parents’ bed. Children in abusive situations also have high truancy numbers and trouble concentrating in school, which can hurt their grades.

Hall says one can’t risk assuming there’s no abuse going on in such cases.

“Kids don’t say anything because they feel nobody is listening to them,” Hall said. “As Waqas said, he couldn’t express what was going on; his mind as a child didn’t have the capacity to explain it.” 

And the ramifications of child abuse carry over into adulthood. It’s only by the grace of God that one isn’t abused, Hall said, and there’s no reason to feel ashamed. And yet, people who are abused often have a misplaced sense of guilt, which can hurt their self-esteem and allow others to walk all over them.

Both child abuse and domestic violence share the dynamic of the abuser asserting power, Hall said, and overcoming this vicious cycle is a difficult and ongoing process.

Now people like Hall and Jilani are trying to make others aware of this silent menace that affects so many.

“The cycle continues and the numbers are increasing,” Hall said. “Once it happens, you’re forever changed as a person. Child abuse robs people of their lives.”

If you think you may be a victim of abuse, or you suspect you know someone who is, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233. The hotline also handles child abuse cases. For more resources online, visit HAVEN for Oakland County at www.haven-oakland.org or First Step for Wayne County at www.firststep-mi.org.