“Toxic cultural practices” and the lack of culturally appropriate services mean that many women victims of domestic and sexual violence in the Sikh community suffer in silence, according to the first comprehensive report on the matter.
The report from Sikh Women’s Aid (SWA), the UK’s only frontline service for Sikh women, will be released later this week to coincide with the launch of the UN’s 16-day annual women’s activism against the gender-based violence. This creates a heartbreaking picture of the prevalence and effects of domestic violence and child sexual abuse in the Sikh community.
The research was conducted over a four month period over the summer, during which SWA distributed anonymous surveys in the community across the UK.
Researchers received responses from nearly 700 respondents and of those 70% said they had experienced domestic violence, almost half had experienced incidents with more than one abuser, including female members of their family. More than a third of respondents said they had been victims of child sexual abuse, and among these incidents, one in seven involved more than one perpetrator. Most victims knew their abuser, and almost half of violent incidents took place at home.
Gender equality is one of the core beliefs of the Sikh faith, but, according to the SWA, patriarchal societal practices stemming from cultural traditions, such as concepts of honor, mean that many survivors are afraid of themselves. Express.
However, awareness of these issues is growing in the wake of several high-profile cases, including the murder of Ranjit Gill, 43, of Milton Keynes earlier this year. She was stabbed 18 times by her “domineering and bullying” husband Anil Gill in an alcohol and cocaine attack.
While domestic and sexual abuse affects all ethnicities, cultures and backgrounds, Sikh Women’s Aid founders and report authors Sahdaish Pall and Sukhvinder Kaur said a lack of specialized support to meet the needs of women in the community Sikh created “a generation of young women completely lost”.
The findings of the report will be used by SWA to create services tailored to the specific needs and cultural nuances faced by victims of abuse within the Panjabi Sikh community.
“Of all South Asian communities, Sikh women are the least likely to report abuse. We appear to be a very wealthy, educated and generous community, and this reputation makes it very difficult for Sikh women to come forward, ”said Pall.
“There are issues specific to our culture, such as the link between alcohol and domestic and sexual violence. We have a huge culture of drinking among men, and the amounts people consume make the problems worse. “
“There is also a lack of education around things like coercive control. The point of view of the parent generation is that if you haven’t been beaten, it’s not abuse. There is often an intergenerational and toxic normalization and acceptance of violence against women. “
The taboo surrounding discussion of sexual abuse is particularly prevalent, and issues such as the shame of victims and cultural concepts of honor and shame, which have no basis in religious teachings, are often armed against victims. to guarantee their silence.
Nimrit *, 39, from London, who was abused by her uncle between the ages of eight and 13, said her family’s fear of not finding her a good husband forced her to remain silent about her abuse.
“From the outside, we looked like the perfect family, but behind closed doors it was a different story. My uncle was a pillar of the community who was active in the gurdwara [Sikh place of worship]. He came and stayed with us and during those visits he mistreated me, ”she said.
“Eventually I told my cousin about it and made her promise not to tell anyone, but she told her mom who told my mom. My mom slapped me in the face. and started sobbing and saying “who is going to marry you now?” She said if I wasn’t a virgin I should get married right away so I lied and said he was just touch me. We had to keep it a secret from my dad because he was his brother, and to this day he has no idea. It kills me when I hear him say nice things about my uncle.
She continued, “I had to keep it a secret to protect the family, but secrets like this eat away at you inside. A guy from college once tapped me on the shoulder to get my attention and I yelled at him.
“I had an arranged marriage and the physical side of the relationship was difficult because I had flashbacks, but I couldn’t tell my husband about my past, so I just closed. I’m just trying to live a normal life.
“There is more awareness of these issues in the community now than when I was a child, but people need to speak out without being punished for it, otherwise the abuse will not stop. “
Sexual abuse in the Sikh community is “almost like the perfect crime” according to Sukhvinder Kaur because the likelihood of a person being prosecuted is so low. “Not only is there a lack of convictions, but the community is working to protect the reputations of the perpetrators,” she said.
One of the most sensitive issues addressed by the report is grooming. The report found that the widely held perception within the community that the majority of victims of sexual abuse were exploited by non-Sikh grooming gangs is false. This finding in particular led to a backlash against the authors of the report.
“There is more abuse when the abuser is known to the victim and the family. Our community is in denial about this, ”Kaur said.
Dame Vera Baird, Victims Commissioner for England and Wales, who will participate in the official launch of the report later this week, said he was stressing the need for “culturally appropriate support organizations for black women, Asians and other minorities that are neglected. through the criminal justice system and in providing specialist support ”.
“I welcome this report although it is difficult to [do that] when it shows that there is rampant hidden violence against women and girls in the Sikh community, ”she said.
Former chief prosecutor Nazir Afzal added: “It is proof of the courage of SWA that we have this report, given the hostility they have faced. Nothing in this report should come as a surprise to anyone involved in backup.
“Any strategy that focuses on what men ‘should do’ rather than [on] male violence will always fail. Any successful response will involve fighting against male power while simultaneously supporting the victims. “
* Not his real name