Komal Chohan: I Was 14 When I Was Groomed And Here Is What I Experienced
He made me feel like he was the only person that understood me, and he never let me feel alone or ugly like I did for years.
July 20, 2021 | 6 min. read | Opinion
I was a young 14-year-old girl unaware of how the world works when I experienced grooming and was raped.
Every Sunday my parents would take me to the Gurdwara so I could learn about Sikhi and about my Punjabi culture. This was the only place I felt like myself because I predominantly grew up around white kids that did not look like me.
I was also uncomfortable with my body like many teenagers are. I have vitiligo, so my parents never allowed me to wear shorts, dresses, or skirts because they did not want people to judge my appearance. I know that they were trying to protect me, but this started my journey of seeking validation from others.
These were some of the layers that made me vulnerable, and everybody’s case is going to be different.
I began to develop a friendship with an active Amritdhari member of the community that was in his late 20s. The whole time I was completely unaware of his age and never thought twice about asking either. My parents never saw him as a threat because I grew up around him and he was always volunteering for the community.
He would teach me and give me the time of day like nobody ever had before.
As a child, I did not view his constant attention to me as a problem because I believed he was devout and initially his actions were innocent; I viewed it as him attempting to shape me into a “good” person as a mentor. He made me feel like he was the only person that understood me, and he never let me feel alone or ugly like I did for years.
Over time the side hugs turned into tight front hugs and the texts turned into calls. He was slowly gaining my trust and access to me. Since it was gradual and not aggressive, I did not see the red flags that were clearly waving in my face.
One night he called me and told me that he was going to pick me up with his friend. I was unaware that his friend was a lot older or that they had been drinking. I had never heard of an Amritdhari Sikh partaking in such activities.
They drove me to his friend’s house, and they took away my innocence.
Turn by turn, they took pieces of me. I remember calling out for help and then just going silent because I knew that nobody was coming for me.
After the heinous act, I was kicked to the street with no shoes on and I could not even breathe. I called my cousin to pick me up and she yelled at me the whole car ride home. I could not even form the words to tell her what had just happened because I did not understand myself.
I went to the Gurdwara that following Sunday and I saw him there.
I had planned to speak to the wife of one of the Granthis but I lost all courage when I saw him standing there just smiling at me. He called me that night to remind me that my shoes were still in his car, and I told him that I was going to come forward.
All he said to me was “nobody is going to believe you.”
For a week I just sat there every day and tried to come up with a plan to cope with what had happened. In that one week, rumors began flying. The story they told was that I openly and willingly participated in those activities. By the time I came forward with what happened to me, I had very few people in my corner.
The people that were involved in the conversation were so busy pointing fingers at what folks could have done or done wrong that they pushed me to the side for their ego battles. I was provided no actual support and was instead used as a prop to showcase who had a better moral compass.
The community left me alone to struggle in silence.
As a result of what happened to me, I developed PTSD. My symptoms ranged from a negative self-image to being unable to emotionally connect with people. As I went on the next couple of years, I formed relationships with people that would continue to abuse me physically, verbally, and mentally because that is what I had normalized.
One day my ex-partner beat me so badly that I ended up with a fractured rib and it hit me that I want more from life and this could not be it for me. It was a huge wake-up call for me to reach out to someone that went through what I did.
As an adult, I can recognize that I was groomed to believe that is what a relationship is supposed to look like. I had normalized abuse because the high points in our “relationship” were so high, and I had never been with anybody before, so I ignored all the warning signs.
After I moved away to university at 18, I began mentoring the youth that went through what I did to better understand how other people were preyed upon and what can be done to prevent this from occurring again.
A lot of common themes had come up repeatedly when it came to victims: girls that had less value placed on them at home, kids that came from homes with absent parents, kids that had mental health problems that were not being addressed, and kids that came from areas that were not diverse.
The list of themes that I have seen will not be exactly what others see because grooming needs to be viewed on a case-by-case basis and if we are looking at international cases then you must have cultural competence.
One focus that each case needs to have is to not victim shame but instead focus on holding perpetrators accountable. One of the things that caused more trauma for me was watching my abusers roam freely.
There were also a lot of common themes I have seen among young victims on why they did not feel comfortable coming forward such as the fear of being alienated by the community, being put under a microscope by the community afterward, nobody believing them, parents telling them that it would ruin their reputation, blaming the victim, and praying that the memories go away by themselves.
I can say for a fact all of these are valid fears.
After I came forward, members of the community made me feel unwelcome and a lot of them placed the blame on me. The question was always, “why did you go out then?” and not “how could they do that to you?’
Others still refused to believe me, and if I ever made any mistakes, they were constantly pointed out. I was treated like I was disposable and not the hurt child that I was.
There is a lot that needs to be done to protect our youth, and a lot of that is at ground level in our local communities.
Instead of waiting for a network to be made by others, I decided to do the footwork and develop one myself in my community. This was in no way an easy task and it took me about four years to develop. The focus of my network is to educate the youth on consent, what grooming is, adjusting our vocabulary at home that may be abusive, and encouraging constructive dialogue when addressing disagreements.
It has been ten years since I was groomed, and I see the community handling grooming in the same exact way for the most part.
The focus seems to be more on attacking people that spoke incorrectly and people that negate the experiences of others, and less on building tools for the youth in our communities to protect them.
Battling abuse with abuse is counterproductive and makes people that have ever been victimized before extremely uncomfortable.
I know the targeted harassment and hurt that comes from being labeled firsthand and I do not condone such behavior when attempting to “correct” someone. I hope moving forward we can refrain from such and collectively work together because I am tired of the pain of the youth being brushed under the rug because the community is not equipped to have that conversation yet.
Komal Chohan obtained her BA in Criminal Justice and is currently working on her JD in the US to become a Civil Rights Attorney. She works with local shelters to help domestic violence survivors and runs Sikhi educational seminars through local schools. You can find her on Twitter at @yourlawyerkomal.
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