Over the years, we’ve become accustomed to stories in the media about people using their positions and influence to sexually abuse vulnerable members of the community. There has been much attention to the wrongdoings of religious leaders, especially in the Catholic church. Reports into the crimes committed against children are horrific and the church has been accused of collusion and cover-up.
From a quick search online, you may be forgiven to think that the majority of crimes against women, children, and young men in religious organizations happen in the Christian church, even with the many different denominations. However, sexual abuse cases are just as rampant in other religious organizations. In Islamic institutions, for example, sexual abuse happens, but it is not as extensively reported as in other institutions.
Irrespective of their faith, religious leaders are expected to offer their followers comfort and moral guidance. So, when an Imam turns out to be a sexual predator, the betrayal cuts deep. At Stop Sexual Abuse Law Firm, we fight to make sure that all sexual abusers are indicted for their actions, irrespective of their status in society. If your or your child was sexually abused by an Imam in California, call us today at 301-359-9451. We are here to help you.
The Position of an Imam in the Muslim Community
An Imam is a religious leader in Islam. They’re important figures in the Muslim community. In the U.S., an Imam is usually hired by mosque boards and is expected to preach, teach children, lead daily prayers, do interfaith work, conduct outreach, handle media requests, offer religious guidance, officiate at weddings and engage the youth. There are national, regional, and local councils of imams designed to bridge linguistic, judicial, and cultural diversities among imams of different communities.
Imams are greatly respected and thus have significant influence and power. Among their responsibilities is teaching Muslim children about the principles of Islam and how to read the Quran. It obvious they will come into contact with many children and young people yet there’s no legal requirement for a background check when hiring them. This remains exclusively at the discretion of the mosque’s administration.
All religious organizations must act by the government’s inter-agency guidance on safeguarding children. But maybe because of limited scrutiny on Islamic institutions, these policies are not complied with as they should be. Most imams do their jobs with humility, integrity, and a sincere commitment to serve their communities, but among them are sexual predators who use their power to sexually abuse children, women, and young men.
News Stories in the Media Regarding Imam Sexual Abuse
In August 2019, a Texas imam was ordered to pay $2.55 million in compensation to a Muslim woman he groomed for sex when she was in her teens. The woman was coerced into sex after years of exploitation, including lurid video chat and sexting requests.
In 2016, an Elgin Islamic leader identified as Mohammed Abdulla Saleem pleaded guilty to molesting underage girls and a female employee. He founded the Institute for Islamic Education in Elgin and was accused of repeatedly fondly a young female employee and a student who was 14 at the time.
A Quran teacher in Cardiff was jailed for 13 years following allegations of sexual abuse of girls as young as 5 over a period of 10 years. He exploited his power and influence and preyed on the girls who respected him as their religious teacher.
Understanding Imam Sexual Abuse
Sexual abuse happens when an Imam engages in any form of unwanted or forced sexual activity with a student, employee, congregant, or counseling client. The Imam may use physical force, take advantage of a person not able to give consent, or make threats. Sexual abuse includes any non-consensual sexual touching. This isn’t limited to penetrative sex since groping is a form of sexual abuse. Sexual touching is regarded as non-consensual is the victim was not able to give meaningful consent because he/she suffered from infirmity or is below the age of consent (18 years). Sexual abuse also involves rape, attempted rape, sodomy, unwanted exposure to pornography, forcing someone to perform sexual acts, using sex to coerce compliance, using sexually degrading insults, forcible object penetration, any unwanted or coerced sexual contact.
Because of the highly gendered nature of Islam, most victims of Imam sexual abuse are women and children (both boys and girls).
Impact of Imam Sexual Abuse on the Family or Community
The amount of despair experienced by the victims of imam sexual abuse trickles down to their families and siblings. Some of the consequences faced include siblings not getting marriage proposals and parents feeling ashamed of their daughter’s status quo. Some feel that they have failed to offer their kids protection while others feel that it was as a result of their daughter’s faith that the occurrence happened to them. They blame it squarely on her lack of faith.
As aforementioned, the crime of assault is often swept under the carpet to preserve the concealment that the girl is clean and can be respected. Another factor that can also impact how parents perceive these heinous acts and what actions they decide to take is their literacy level and ethnicity.
There’s much cultural stigma American Muslim community regarding sexual abuse since great importance is given to honor, reputation, as well as a public image. The position held by imams makes it very hard for children and young adults to open up and report the assault to their loved ones. There’s fear that no one will believe it and will instead be shunned. Pressure from family members and communities not to speak up about any abuse experienced tends to be ordinary and mean that victims often suffer in silence and end up believing that they have no way out of their situation. This intensifies their distress and can lead to traumatic effects on a child’s development, which will affect them into their adulthood.
Imam Sexual Assault Remains Dramatically Underreported
Children and women are more susceptible to some type of sexual abuse in their lifetime. In most of the sexual abuse cases that go unreported, the survivors get little or no opportunity for emotional and psychological support. Amongst Muslims, sex and intimacy are deemed taboo topics hence families avoid having conversations around these issues. All the disclosures we’ve come across at Stop Sexual Abuse Law Firm are stories of victims abused by people with easy access to them including Imams, teachers, or other related male figures. The fear of disgracing the family or breaking families apart is a great deterrent in reporting abuse. What’s more, many women are scared to feed into the rambling islamophobia by opening up their despair and hence choose to suffer in silence.
Just like pastoral roles, Imams enjoy high levels of authority that are extremely centralized. In congregations that believe that you don’t question the authority of the imam or a leader, there’s always no room for dissension. There are thousands of unreported incidences of sexual abuse in the madrassas and it’s dangerous to even try exposing them. In most cases, the families involved are usually powerless and forced to compromise.
Muslim families are often forced into forgiving clerics. They do so out of shame and fear that the stigma of being sexually assaulted or abused will haunt their kin into adulthood. Often, immediately a family pardons the cleric the investigations into the abuse ends since the charges are dropped. It’s absurd that so many of these men who wear the long beard and claim to be religious only to commit such heinous acts behind the scenes.
An exposé of these immoral activities keeps the general public in the loop, for instance, the family, doctors, legal personnel, and members of the society, instead of keeping the occurrence private and confidential. Knowledge of the Imam sexual abuse by the wider public goes beyond societal reaction to it; it further forces members or groups of the society to take full responsibility by either:
Protecting or blaming the victim,
Defending or criminalizing the perpetrator, or
Deliberately opting not to take any action (Silencing and refuting victimization)
The results of this may in one way or another impact victim’s social, physical, psychological state of mind. The American Muslim community is subdued by the fear of intensifying abuse, feeling of shame and discomfiture, fear of police involvement, concern about privacy, and denial. Immigration issues also create barriers. For instance, the wife may be dependent on the principal applicant which gives the man powers to determine women’s fate. And to save her honor (izzat) she surrenders to such destiny.
At Stop Sexual Abuse Law Firm, we still believe that our knowledge is just but the tip of the iceberg, and the scale of the issue is deeply hidden due to this silence. This is a serious deterrent since it creates a loophole for justifications, such as there not being cases of child sexual abuse in their community or institutional setting, and therefore, nothing needs to be done. In general, we can say that sexual abuse is actively hidden in Muslim society. It is also true that not all Muslim men rape their sisters, daughters, or mothers. However, by giving in to societal pressures that don’t permit fathers and brothers to publicly hold offenders of sexual abuse accountable, they significantly contribute to the psychological torment of the victim.
Smaller organizations may deal with sexual abuse cases with extra sensitivity in order to protect the reputation of the organization and the family. Due to stigma and cultural beliefs, sexual abuse by Imams is underreported. Failing to seek justice because you’re concerned for one’s welfare isn’t conducive to a community’s ability to protect its victim. Muslim leadership proclaims that complete implementation of sharia law will help get rid of such heinous acts. Yet more than 20% of students at madrassas have been sexually abused by imams, a good number have been sexually harassed, some have a complaint of unpleasant touching, and others complained of forced sex.
Common Tactics Employed by Perpetrators
When sexual abuse occurs in a religious institution, it’s usually confusing for victims since they were abused by someone they trusted and looked up to. What’s more, the victim may not be sure if they have been violated or not if the relationship with their imam does not have clear boundaries. If you or a loved one has been exploited by an imam, our seasoned attorneys at Stop Sexual Abuse Law Firm can help you understand what has happened to you and whether it constitutes sexual abuse.
Here are two of the most common ways imams lure their victims into abuse:
Victim shaming is a potent psychological tool that sexual predators use to make their victims feel they have no power or choice. Shame often causes debilitating fear in religion. An imam will use shaming and religious ideologies to influence his victims, such as trusting in God and the leadership they’re under. They may convince their subjects that submitting to their actions is reverent and a failure to do so is sinful and rebellion against authority. Abusive imams may also use threats, including sabotaging their reputation, ex-communication, punishment by God, or ostracizing them from Mosque functions and relationships.
If you or someone you know feels they were sexually abused/assaulted and shamed for it, please understand that it’s okay to open up about the incident. Many of the threats that abusers use to impose fears are lies and you shouldn’t feel ashamed to talk to someone about it.
When an imam gives special treatment to one member, the recipient may feel privileged and indebted for the gratitude. This may comprise pulling the fellow away from the rest for one-on-one time, usually under the pretext that they’re needed to work on a project, or maybe to discuss personal issues in private. At first, the attention may seem warm and caring and may be accompanied by comments on the victim’s physique, inappropriate touching, or inquiring about personal life. Nonetheless, this form of favoritism is usually the first phase of grooming.
Grooming refers to a process by which a sexual perpetrator draws a victim into a sexual relationship and hiding that relationship. Maintaining the relationship in secrecy is a major feature of this strategy. It makes it easier for the offender to gain the trust of the victim and his/her loved ones in order to get more private time with them. For this reason, parents need to identify signs of sexual abuse because children and teens tend to withdraw when there’s sexual contact. It’s inappropriate for an imam to ask about a child’s personal issues, particularly without parental or guardian consent or in their absence. At first, grooming seems harmless but if you have doubts regarding whether the relationship isn’t pure, please don’t overlook them.
Effects of Imam Sexual Abuse
Victim of imam sexual abuse may experience a range of emotions, regardless of whether the abuse happened weeks ago or decades ago. This can include rage, sorrow, anger, or fear – fear of speaking out, fear of being blamed, or fear of any potential consequences. All these are typical emotional reactions to abuse. Sexual abuse survivors may experience:
Struggles with self-esteem
Trouble with setting limits
Difficulty with adult sexual relationships
Guilt about what happened
This doesn’t even cover the desolation of experiencing full-blown loss of faith. If you are an adult survivor, there’s a great chance that you kept the feelings to yourself for a long period. Maybe you tried to share with someone who didn’t believe you, or perhaps you never had someone you could trust. Theirs is no escape; the effects of the trauma might still haunt you emotionally and affect all aspects of your life. Getting out of this experience can only start with confiding in someone and seeking legal help from a seasoned sexual assault attorney. Don’t let the horror you experienced define your future - get in touch with the attorneys at Stop Sexual Abuse Law Firm. We’re here to listen to you and help you heal.
You’re Not in This Alone
Most of the sexual abuse survivors we’ve helped said that they felt so alone. Many of them believed that they are the only ones who had gone through something of this sort and the embarrassment made it hard for them to talk to someone about it, including their loved ones. One of the women confessed that the experience resulted in intimacy problems in her marriage, which was intensified by her failure to share her past.
If you’re a survivor of imam sexual abuse, please know that you’re not facing this alone. Even though little research has been done specific to the American Muslim communities, all signs indicate that Muslim girls and women experience sexual abuse at the same rate as the national averages. The sad truth is that most of these occurrences go unreported and help is hardly sought in such incidents. This forces the victims to put up with the pain of the trauma with few opportunities for recourse.
There’s always a way out past trauma, grief, and fear brought about by sexual abuse. Many survivors who reach out to us were uninformed of the avenues available to them locally for support. Though nothing can undo the actions of the perpetrator and the trauma you experienced, you can still file a claim against the imam and the Mosque to recover damages for the abuse.
Civil Lawsuits in Imam Sexual Abuse Cases
If you or your child was sexually abused by an imam, one of the most important things to do is to report it immediately. You may not be willing to speak up because of fear of retaliation or a belief that you can forget about the incident and move on. But speaking up will increases the chances of the offender being held liable for their actions and reduces the chances of other people being victimized in the future. It’s also important to get medical help and contact a reliable California sexual abuse lawyer.
Even is the abuse occurred years ago, you may still have a chance to file a civil lawsuit against the perpetrator or the mosque. The purpose of filing a civil claim is to allow a victim to get compensation for their losses. You can sue for medical expenses, lost wages, loss of support, the costs of therapy and counseling, as well as the psychological distress and anguish caused by the abuse.
The imam may be held personally liable for their actions and be ordered to compensate you for the losses. In most cases, however, we seek compensation from the religious institution associated with the perpetrator. If the imam engaged in sexual abuse, it may be because the mosque has failed their duties or failed to take any actions after episodes of abuse were reported. If the mosque you attended aided the sexual abuse in any way, they can be held liable in civil court.
Difference between Criminal and Civil Cases
Both criminal and civil cases hold the offender responsible for his/her wrongdoing. Both may involve jury trials. They all have the aim of stopping the abuse so that no other person has to go through the same form of tragedy. The main difference is that civil lawsuits seek justice in different ways compared to criminal lawsuits and thus executed in different ways:
The Victim’s Respondent is different
In civil cases, one of our seasoned attorneys represents the victim. In criminal cases, the government prosecutor files the case.
The objective is different
In civil cases, our primary objective is to hold the imam and the mosque responsible for his actions. Often, this is achieved by seeking monetary compensation. These damages must compensate the victim for all the necessary counseling bills, the extensive trauma, and loss of quality of life of the victim. For criminal cases, the primary aim is to find the offenders guilty and then punish them with prison time, fines, or probation.
The standard of proof is different from that of a civil case
To prove wrongdoing in a civil case, the victim has to demonstrate that it’s more likely than not that the sexual abuse occurred. For criminal cases, on the other hand, the prosecutor has to demonstrate beyond a reasonable doubt. Since most cases are determined by the testimony of the witness, this merit can be vital.
Find an Experienced Sexual Abuse Lawyer Near Me
When sexual abuse by an imam comes to light, the Islamic institutions will try to handle the case internally. They may claim that this move will be in the best interest of the victim and the family, but in reality, they intend to protect the perpetrator and the religion. This method of self-prosecution can prove to be extremely difficult for individuals who have a deep connection with their religious family.
At Stop Sexual Abuse Law Firm, we understand these tactics and how religious leaders will use them to avoid accountability. If you or your child is the victim of sexual abuse by an imam, you need to take legal action. Our experienced California sexual abuse attorneys are dedicated to holding perpetrators liable for their actions. We understand that sexual abuse is a sensitive and painful subject to talk about, but our compassionate attorneys will provide you and your family with compassionate, yet aggressive representation.