SINGAPORE: “I just want to make a difference before I go.”
Those were the words of former career diplomat Eirliani Abdul Rahman, who will be launching her first book – Survivors: Breaking the Silence on Child Sexual Abuse – on Wednesday (Nov 15).
The book features 12 men and women child sexual abuse survivors of different backgrounds who hail from various countries, including Germany, US, Myanmar and Singapore.
Back in town for the book launch, Ms Eirliani shared with Channel NewsAsia on Monday that the genesis of the book started when she sent out an email to her friends and contacts in 2014 asking to speak to survivors of child sexual abuse.
The former political counsellor at the High Commission of the Republic of Singapore in New Delhi said the book gained impetus after she was involved in starting a Facebook and Twitter campaign called #FullStop to #ChildSexualAbuse in 2015 to tackle this issue in India. There were "many stories to tell" after that, she added.
It was the beginning of her ongoing stint with 2014 Nobel Peace Prize recipient Kailash Satyarthi’s eponymous children's foundation after she left the Ministry of Foreign Affairs that year. She also co-founded the Young Adult Survivors' & Kin in Need (YAKIN) charity in Singapore, along with Singapore Institute of Mental Health’s medical board chairman Dr Daniel Fung. The latter is the co-author of the soon-to-be-launched book.
Today, the activist is based in Colorado, United States, as she trains for the 1,100-km South Pole expedition, slated for December next year to raise awareness for these child sexual abuse survivors. She had initially planned for it to happen this year, but decided to postpone it to get more training in.
To finish her book, the energetic 41-year-old, who was then based in India, travelled to Germany and Myanmar to interview some of them, she recounted. Most of the other interviews were done via phone calls, although these were limited to three hours, as it was “taxing” for the survivors.
Of the 12, she said the case that most affected her was Michael as “he had been abused so violently by many people”. The 41-year-old American, who currently lives in California, had been abused over several years by his grandmother, father, brother, a babysitter and several teenagers in his neighbourhood, the book stated.
In the neighbourhood he was raised, in the US’ Midwest, he was mostly left alone and there were “lots of abuse going on between siblings” and they were exchanged among one another, she explained.
“For victims, their memories are blacked out when they are abused,” she added. “So Michael had to go through more than 10 years’ of various types of therapies to remember who had abused him.”
She said he has received no official confirmation from his family about the identity of his abusers, and it was only through therapy that he thinks his father and grandmother were among the abusers.
“It’s been very difficult,” Ms Eirliani said of his journey.
There’s also a Singaporean, Alice, who volunteered her story for the book.
The 27-year-old was abused by her father when she was nine and the following year, he was reported by her school teacher to the police and subsequently sentenced to prison for 20 years. She was also put in a shelter immediately after the report was made, and only moved back with her family when she was 17, according to the book.
In it, she described her family ties since the incident: “I live with regret because there are many things I cannot compensate for. I cannot compensate for his absence; I cannot compensate for the lost time. I cannot compensate for the kind of pain that my family had to go through.”
According to figures from the Ministry for Social and Family Development, it investigated 873 cases of child abuse cases in 2016 – a number that has been trending upwards since 2013. A local news report also pointed out that nearly 40 per cent of such cases investigated in the past three years involved victims younger than seven.
ADVOCACY, ON THE GO
The co-author has also made a promise to her interviewees that she would tell their stories wherever she goes, and she is fulfilling her promise by holding book readings in Germany, New York and Washington DC in the US and India’s Delhi.
Asked why the survivors decided to speak to her about their pasts, which she acknowledged is still a “taboo subject” in many societies, Ms Eirliani said they did so because they want to help other survivors.
“They hope that their stories will help others see similar experiences and to seek help for themselves,” she said. “It is also to help (survivors’) families to understand what they’ve been through and how to support them.”