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Horror on Seymour Avenue


As we get ready to celebrate Mother’s Day this weekend, we have been greeted with news of the liberation of three young women who were held in captivity for nearly 10 years in a ramshackle house located in a rundown neighborhood of Cleveland. Michelle Knight, Gina DeJesus and Amanda Berry, along with her six year daughter born during confinement, were freed from their captor Ariel Castro last Monday. Michelle was only 21 years old in 2002 when her captor brought her into his house and did not let her go. Over the next couple of years she was joined by two teenage girls: Amanda, 17 and Gina, 14. One of the first to come to the rescue of the three women was Charles Ramsey, an African American who lived across from Ariel Castro on Seymour Avenue.

While a story as complex as this will admittedly take some time to unfold, the emerging tidbits are beginning to point to a familiar picture. The perpetrator is often a victim of abuse himself: in a 2004 suicidal note, Ariel Castro had detailed his own history of sexual abuse as a child. Women prone to sexual victimization usually have prior history of abuse: Michelle was sexually assaulted after dropping out of the school at 17 and lived in an abusive relationship with a man who was abusive to both her and her son. The perpetrator is usually familiar with the victim: Gina was best friends with Ariel Castro’s daughter prior to her abduction and had met her just an hour before the perpetrator lured Gina into his home. The perpetrator is usually not readily identifiable and is often a sociopath living in isolation: however, Ariel Castro played music with several Latin bands in Cleveland and loved his collection of base guitars. He even entertained other musicians in his 1,400 square feet house while he had the three captive women locked away in adjoining rooms. In fact, he helped organize a benefit concert to aid the community search efforts to locate these three missing women!

These are good learnings. They tell us that we have well substantiated touch-points for intervention and prevention. The question is: do our communities have the resources and inclination to intervene? The Seymour Avenue events will tell us a lot in the coming months. They will also tell us whether the sex education that some of our young children receive in schools, lowers the motivation for escaping should they find themselves in similar unfortunate circumstances. Elizabeth Smart, herself tormented sexually by her captor over many years, thinks it does. Ms. Smart remembers feeling, “Who will want me now after sexual assault; I am worthless.” This feeling, combined with what is known as ‘Stockholm Syndrome’— a victim’s life depends on the perpetrator, can create a hopeless cycle of dependence for a captive child. Recalling her sex education at school prior to her abduction, Ms. Smart remembers the teacher likening those girls who engage in frequent sex, to an over-chewed piece of gum that is ready to be rejected. I hope the Seymour Avenue events will teach our sex educators to find better metaphors.

Then there is our hero Charles Ramsey. TV coverage has shown that the man clearly has a penchant for performance…both on and off camera. Sadly, the social media is focusing on getting chuckles out of the mannerism and speech of this brave, spontaneous African American. When Ramsey said, “Bro, I knew something was wrong when a little pretty white girl ran into a black man’s arms,” it was no laughing matter. It was a telling commentary on how stereotypically fearful we are of black men. This is the same man who told Anderson Cooper that he did not want to receive the monetary award associated with locating the three women. Ramsey wants the money to be used for the care of these rescued women.

The Seymour events will provide many teaching moments and America will be better for all of them.


Book Reading at The Book Stall at Chestnut Court

Ghosts front cover

I am pleased to announce that the hallowed ‘The Book Stall at Chestnut Court’ is organizing a The Ghosts That Come Between Us reading and signing event on Wednesday, June 5, 2013 at 6:30 PM. Please plan to attend.

The books will be available for purchase and autographing at the store.

Looking forward to seeing you

Bulbul Bahuguna

Oh, Where Have All the Leaders Gone!

In the last few weeks India’s most prestigious medical school, All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), and my alma-mater I might parenthetically add, has been in the news for all the wrong reasons. Last Friday, a six-year old girl was brought to the Institute with her throat slit after allegedly being gang-raped and left to die in a public toilet in Delhi. While the girl is still in coma, the early medical reports suggest that the little girl had made gallant attempts to resist her perpetrators.

Only a couple of weeks ago, AIIMS’ trauma unit admitted a four-year old girl who was locked up in captivity by her neighbors and gang-raped while she bled and subsequently slipped into a coma. She was playing outside her slum dwelling where she lived with her parents—both migrant laborers. While her parents were toiling to make a living, two male neighbors—also migrant workers—were allegedly getting drunk and aroused watching porn on their mobile phones. They eventually lured the four-year into a house and raped her repeatedly over multiple days. Thanks to the promptness shown by Delhi Police in this instance, the girl was located within 48 hours of filing the missing-child report and the culprits were apprehended soon after. Thankfully, the girl’s vital signs are making excellent progress at The Institute.

Sorry to say, but the vital signs of India are not doing as well. The country is witnessing an endemic of girl-child rapes. The recent spate of rapes has been both repulsive and blood curdling. And the Indian masses are not indifferent to this scourge. They, too, are frustrated by how little is being achieved through their own ongoing and relentless protests. Who will change the recalcitrant mindset that allows for such heinous acts to continue unabated? Where is that imaginative leader who can jolt our collective moral compass in the right direction so we can all march forward?

More than at any other time since independence, India now needs a leader with the requisite selflessness and moral persuasion. Our political leaders look at the masses as ‘voters’ and the business leaders as ‘consumers.’ India needs a practical yet imaginative leader: a cunning yet noble trailblazer. India needs a Mahatma Gandhi—no less. A leader who will impel the Indian masses to start a new ‘Salt March’ to eliminate the hackneyed and unjust laws that currently protect the perpetrators for extended periods under the garb of ‘due process.’ She, or he, will galvanize the masses to vote political leaders in—solely based on their contribution and dedication toward the eradication of girl sex-abuse. The leader will implore the masses to buy products based on a company’s track record on this issue. Yes, you got it right. The next few election cycles will have to be based on this single issue. He, or she, will make it totally cost-prohibitive to ignore the issue of girl sex-abuse for both political and business elites. People will step in to become ‘mentor-adopters’ to other four, six and eight-year olds in slums across the nation. So that these girl-children feel like they belong. So that those potential perpetrators do not eye these innocent victims as unowned readily-available commodities.

I do not see a leader in this mold today. With a wish and a prayer, in my heart I hope that I am wrong.

Devotional Thoughts: The Ghosts that Come Between Us

Bulbul Bahuguna

In her novel, author and psychiatrist Bulbul Bahuguna gives a face to sexual abuse.  “To be brave is to be honest”, according to Bahuguna and she invokes this honesty in the voice of her protagonist, Nargis. A victim of abuse, Nargis’ tale is less focused on tragedy and more centered on her inspirational recovery.   With India, the Soviet Union and Chicago as the backdrop, Nargis’ unparalleled strength captivates and touches the reader. As Nargis confronts the “ghosts” of her abuse through her relationships as an adult, she starts the process of forgiveness and healing.

The transformative power of recovery can guide victims of abuse on an incredibly inspirational journey, helping them to avoid years of struggle. On the heels of the Steubenville rape case……….Read More

How One Doctor Is Giving A Voice to Victims of Rape

Bulbul Bahuguna

Author of The Ghosts That Come Between Us

MM: Bulbul, can you talk about the psychological aspects related to recovering from sexual abuse? Does it differ depending on the type of abuse, such as incest versus molest by a stranger or rape?

BB: Sexual abuse can involve molestation or rape, either by a stranger or by a family member. While each patient is different and has her own unique story of abuse and victimization, there are several common themes in her clinical presentation.

Symptoms vary depending on the age of the victim at the time of the sexual assault, age of abuser, relationship with perpetrator, concomitant verbal, physical, and emotional abuse or threats, family constellation and dynamics, level of education, intensity, extent, frequency, and……Read More

The Author Up Close

Hi everyone!

I’m really excited to release my second video today called “The Author Up Close” in which I talk about the novel, why I chose the topic of abuse, and much more! Hope you enjoy it. Can’t wait to read your comments!

You Don’t Shock Me No More!

To be Brave is to be Honest

The events from the last few weeks in India, Pakistan and Afghanistan serve as a sad reminder of how customary girl and woman abuse has become in South Asia.

On April 3, a college student, Isha Jahan, and her three sisters were walking home in the village of Shamli after taking their final exams when their faces were squirted with acid by three male youths on a motorcycle. I bet the spray-gun these criminals deployed on their victims had been used to celebrate Holi by spraying festive colors on their loved ones only a couple of weeks ago! While all four sisters received acid burns, Isha’s condition is more serious since she has suffered a permanent damage to her cornea.

The girls’ crime: they tried to prevent their perpetrators from cheating during final exams. By the way, Shamli is not a remote village in India … it is less than 90 miles to the east of India’s capital, New Delhi.

On March 26, in Pakistan’s volatile tribal belt on the Afghan border, a girls’ primary school principal, Shahnaz Nazli, was shot dead while her 14-year-old son looked on in horror as his mother’s blood spattered on his face. The shooting was a rude reminder of the Taliban attack on Malala Yousafzai barely six months ago.

Gordon Brown, the former British prime minister who was named United Nations’ special envoy for Global Education, called on the Pakistani government to provide protections to school girls and their educators. Mr. Brown told the BBC that not having an education was a “silent emergency” because the damage it did to children was not immediately visible. I would be less muted. Denying education to girls is an “overt emergency.” The rot in society is for everyone to see.

Then there was this heartbreaking story in The New York Times last Monday. It was about an Afghan man who had agreed to give his 6-year-old daughter in marriage to pay off his debt to another man. The father, Taj Mohammad, who had been living in a refugee camp in Kabul, had borrowed $2,500 to pay for medical care for his wife and children. He had agreed that if he could not pay the money back in a year, he would give his daughter in marriage to the lender’s son. After hearing about the daughter’s case through earlier news reports, a donor offered to pay the debt but insisted that the donation’s origin remain private. The donor worked through Kimberley Motley, an American lawyer, who in an unusual move, chose to organize a jirga to undo the marriage commitment. For the residents in the camps, the jirga system is more expeditious and less intimidating than the courts. Kimberly acted as the jirga’s chairwoman, even though these councils are almost always convened and presided over by local elders. She made sure that each side signed the document. Those who could not read or write, like the girl’s father, signed with thumbprints. “This is as good as it gets,” she said.

As The New York Times notes, this jirga agreement may not be sustainable. The newspaper quotes Ahmad Gul Wasiq, a law professor at Nangarhar University, who specializes in family disputes in Afghanistan. “There’s no guarantee that two years from now the lender won’t show up with a bunch of armed men and take away the girl. Since the foundation of the agreement is unofficial, then everything is unofficial.” My heart cries out for this innocent six-year-old who faces such brutal uncertainty as she grows up.

What is numbing to me is how little public outcry these three separate incidents have garnered locally. The Pakistanis are busy organizing “free and fair elections” next month. The Afghans are worried about “power dispensation” post withdrawal of US troops same time next year. The six-year-old girl-commodities, the Malalas and the Nazlis are not shocking enough to merit attention anymore!