I was 9 years old when the sexual abuse started. The name of the man who abused me is Muhammad Aazami, Mike Aazami on social media. He is my dad’s first cousin, married to my dad’s sister. Although the sexual abuse lasted for 5 years, I endured an additional 35 years of mental abuse through the apathy and neglect that I received from my own immediate family. When I look back, I can now see what made Muhammad so insidious and cunning as a sexual predator: it was the liberties he took between the close relationships that existed between my immediate family and his. He had earned their trust and respect, but he had also masterfully groomed and manipulated both sides.
I was too young at that time to realise that while the abuse was taking place, Muhammad was also undermining my credibility and character amongst his family and the rest of my extended family. How he saw me, how he thought of me, how he spoke of me became the way his family saw me, thought and spoke of me. It was a clever tactic contrived to weaken the voice of those he preyed on so their future accusations would be dismissed. Eventually, his words and thoughts poisoned the mindset of my own immediate family and ultimately lead to the disintegration of my relationships with them shortly after my father’s passing.
By the time I started to speak out, not only was there indifference and disregard towards me, but I was also made to feel at fault for the disunity this was causing our families because I could not let go of something that happened so long ago. I had to sit and watch as my abuser was regaled repeatedly at family gatherings by my aunt and my cousins through sentimental stories, while my own parents and siblings sat quietly as if nothing had happened. I lived and breathed in that toxic environment for 35 years. It was no longer sexual abuse. Now it was emotional and mental violence.
In 2010, I found the courage to report Muhammad’s crimes to the Glendale Police Department but when it came to taking action, I lacked the tenacity as well as the emotional and mental strength necessary to take the matter any further. I was literally alone. I could not find the fortitude to stand against my family, nor his, to pursue my abuser through legal means. Furthermore, I did not realise at the time, that there was only a 1-year statutory time limit to take action once a police report had been filed.
In 2012 things started to change for me. I got married and moved to Australia with my wife, my greatest supporter. Now that I was removed from the toxicity of my family life, I began to see things with greater clarity. The therapy I had been pursuing for years started to have some affect. I began to ask different questions in my mind and found new answers and avenues for action. I found a daring disposition, which allowed me to write an open letter describing my journey as a survivor of sexual trauma and published it on my blog. I exposed Muhammad by naming him publicly and revealed his identity and his complacent family members through a series of photographs. I was now ready to face him in court and hold him accountable for everything he had done to me throughout my childhood. You can read that letter here.
In my open letter, I asked for legal assistance and was fortunate to be introduced to two outstanding lawyers. They spent a year of their time researching every aspect of the law with regards to my case to see if we could build a criminal and civil case against Muhammad. I found out that the state of California has a 6-year statutory time limit for criminal convictions related to the crimes I had endured, all of which expired by the year 1990. The same can be said about the statutory time limits on civil cases: 8 years from the age of 18 or 3 years from when the victim first discovered or “should have” discovered there was abuse and psychological injury.
I was deeply disappointed. Even if we filed a complaint against Muhammad in court, his legal team could bring a motion to have it dismissed before it reached trial because of the expired statutory time limits. If we were lucky enough to get a trial and receive a full confession from Muhammad, the confession would most likely be thrown out because once again, the statute of limitations for the crimes he committed have now expired.
Depending on the State you reside in, the statute of limitations for child sexual abuse is 5 to 10 years and in some cases, less. Ironically, police evidence has shown that it takes an average of 25 years for survivors of sexual trauma to come forward about the crimes they endured.
Each individual responds differently to abuse and trauma. Everyone finds their bravery at their own pace and time. The key part of the healing process for every survivor of sexual trauma is the ability to seek justice by prosecuting those who are responsible for their malicious crimes. When that courage stands unabashed and roars to break a silence that was once imposed, we should not be further victimised or silenced by a legal system that requires our trust.
This campaign is very personal to me. I realise that a successful outcome may not put Muhammad behind bars nor will it bring back the loss that I’ve experienced. It would, however, abolish an unfair law. Those who survive it, carry the effects of childhood sexual trauma for an entire lifetime. While those who commit the crime, are most often free to continue in their predatory ways, unchecked. In the hopes of raising the standard when it comes to the protection of children, in addition to this petition, I have started an online collective at www.WillNotRest.com. The purpose of Will Not Rest is to empower survivors from this collective community to tell their stories and enable them with the tools necessary to abolish the statutory time limits on child sexual abuse in their home States.
I am inviting US Senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, California Governor Jerry Brown, State Senator Robert M. Hertzberg, State Assembly Member Patty Lopez, as well as each of you reading this to join our collective and sign this petition. There are already a number of States that have removed the statute of limitations on child sexual abuse. I’m confident that when this campaign gathers the steam and momentum necessary, we can convince legislators in California to stand with survivors of child sexual abuse and give them their chance at a day in court. Not only will you be protecting the future and safety of your own children, but you will also be giving those who have survived these malicious crimes, the ability to seek justice and heal at their own pace.
In an era that exalts transparency and is starving for justice, why are such laws still allowed to shield perpetrators and silence their victims?