“Perhaps I Am a Custodian of Memories”

Marc Beckmann / Ostkreuz
Human Rights

Eirliani Abdul Rahman is a diplomat turned activist. To raise awareness for survivors of sexual child abuse, she is setting out for an expedition to Antarctica in December. In this series, Eirliani will be documenting her inner and outer struggles as she is preparing for this trip, pulling a sled with 200 pounds in food and gear, in temperatures dipping to minus 48° Celsius.

Part 3: Why Eirliani wrote the book "Survivors"

I have long been fascinated with the concept of memory. How is it captured and retained? How does one try to convey the essence of one’s experience to one’s loved ones or, for that matter, to a future generation?

“The present is the past of the future.” 

- Jason D. Marchbanks

Jonathan Soble, in his New York Times article of August 5, 2015 ("Hiroshima Atomic Bomb Survivors Pass Their Stories to a New Generation"), described the denshosha, the designated transmitters of the atomic bomb survivors' memories. It is a brave experiment, designed to share the traumatic experience of the survivors, whose numbers are dwindling rapidly with each death. The number of officially recognized survivors is less than 200,000. Their average age is 80.

Eirliani Abdul RahmanNGO Yakin

Eirliani Abdul Rahman

 Eirliani Abdul Rahman is preparing for a 700-mile ski trip to the South Pole in December 2018 to raise awareness for child sexual abuse survivors. She is not new to dealing with harsh conditions, having already trained in gale force winds in Arctic Canada. Eirliani is the co-founder of YAKIN (Youth, Adult Survivors & Kin In Need), an NGO working on children’s rights and child protection, and a member of Twitter’s Trust and Safety Council. She serves as director at the Kailash Satyarthi Children’s Foundation and is a member of the Global Diplomacy Lab. She won the BMW Foundation Responsible Leaders Award in 2015.

In my work on child sexual abuse, I deal with broken adults whose childhood has been robbed from them. It is important that these adult survivors deal with the past so that they may gain some semblance of “normalcy” however defined, and to break the patterns that may have served them as children, but only serve as barriers to relationships and intimacy as adults.

Child sexual abuse is insidious: adult survivors may have difficulties with trust, and face issues with boundaries and control. They may become sexually promiscuous, experience eating disorders, and/or suffer from depression.

The amount of trauma depends upon the age of the child victim when the abuse took place, whether penetration was involved, and how close the child victim was to the perpetrator.

I wrote “Survivors: Breaking the Silence on Child Sexual Abuse,” published by Marshall Cavendish Asia in November 2017, chronicling the true life accounts of five men and seven women: their sexual abuse as children, their different paths to healing, and how they have tried to reconcile their past with their present. These brave souls hail from Germany, India, Indonesia, Myanmar, Singapore, South Africa, the UK, and the US.

Cover for SurvivorsAbuse

Survivors: Breaking the Silence on Child Sexual Abuse

Survivors: Breaking the Silence on Child Sexual Abuse was compiled and written by Dr Daniel Fung, chairman of the Medical Board of the Institute of Mental Health in Singapore, and Eirliani Abdul Rahman, executive director of the non-profit YAKIN (Youth, Adult Survivors & Kin In Need), and was published by Marshall Cavendish Editions, Singapore, on November 15, 2017 (ISBN 978 981 4794 01 5). More information here.

There are two best friends, one American, the other Indonesian, in their early twenties who have helped each other through trials, including falling pregnant at the age of 15 and being a single mom. A married couple from South Africa who have both endured abuse at the hands of different men and whose abusers died violent deaths. A young woman from Singapore whose father took advantage of her physical handicap. A grandmother who preyed on her young grandson.

A mother who abused her son while her husband was away, working long hours. A girl who grew up under the tutelage of her brilliant professor father, and who fell victim to child prostitution in Britain. Another young woman who was raped by her cousin growing up in Myanmar. A boy who was abused by two uncles and a cousin and who finally blew the whistle when he suspected his younger sister of being abused by the same cousin.

Another boy who was abused by multiple perpetrators growing up in a tough neighborhood in the United States. A young girl in India who was molested by her teacher in school and who, she discovered much later, had also abused her older sister from whom she was inseparable. The latter took her own life in her 20s.

"It is my hope - and that of the survivors too - that these stories will serve to help others."

Eirliani Abdul Rahman

Perhaps, like the denshosha, I am a custodian of memories too.

Fragile memories which needed to be told.

It is my hope – and that of the survivors too - that these stories will serve to help others: give them the courage to face the past and address the challenges that living as adult survivors of child sexual abuse mean. That these stories will give other survivors and their loved ones hope.

That it will not always seem so dark, that we will reach the light once more.

"Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that." - Martin Luther King Jr., A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches *Trigger warning* This past week has been quite difficult for me emotionally in my work with survivors of child sexual abuse. At a book reading organised by the @bmwfoundation and @chrisF last Thursday, a gal disclosed for the first time in public her gang rape by four men. Her question, as she looked at me, what do I do now, really saddened me. Last Sunday, a friend in my circle sought my help as he was triggered listening to a sermon at church about forgiveness as he battled about how to do so vis-a-vis his attacker when he was a child. His description of what had happened to him as an 8 year-old sickened me. Last night, a girlfriend sought my advice as an elder gentleman she knows is struggling with the trauma from child sexual abuse. This morning, I spent some time trying to center myself: music and a hot bath. I continue to feel hope and I see light in this world, despite the darkness. It befuddles my mind how we humans can be such beasts to children. What do you do when you are emotionally triggered? #projectbeauty #snow #winter #light #sunset #sunsethunter #sun #skiing #toptags #mountainview #mountainlife #mountaineering #mountaintop #mountainclimbing #mountaineers #mountaingirls #mountaineer #mountainlove #mountaingirl #mountainporn #mountainclimbers #rockclimbing #climbing #bouldering #girlswhoclimb #climblikeagirl #explorer_girl #love #DoGood

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The difficulty of having been abused by an adult that you trusted and loved as a child is that you may find it difficult to separate the good memories from the bad. Many child victims blame themselves, fancying themselves to be Lolitas, capable of seducing much older people.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

"You may find it difficult to separate the good memories from the bad."
Eirliani Abdul Rahman

By penning these memories and committing them, pen to paper, I have seen how the lives of several of these survivors who have contributed to the book have been transformed: they no longer feel burdened by the past; they learned to forgive their loved ones for their adverse reactions when they had disclosed the abuse as children. Five – “Abdul”, “Archana”, “Clara”, “Lucie” and “Michael” – have even stepped forward to read excerpts of their respective chapters at book readings in Berlin, Delhi, Washington DC, and New York.

The Japanese art of kintsugi recognizes beauty in broken pottery, fixing pieces together with a special lacquer dusted with powdered gold. The ephemeral nature of life is the main teaching, a world view centered on the acceptance of transience and imperfection.

For we are all broken, we are.

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