Shame Cultures and Abuse

The link below is to an article which was on the front page of the Saturday Guardian (30th August 2014) in the wake of the news coming out of Rotherham during August 2014. Bashir is the co-founder and CEO of

Perhaps the most significant statement is this:

“When I first told my mother about the abuse I’d suffered, she was absolutely devastated. The root of her anger was clear: I was heaping unbound shame on to my family by trying to bring the perpetrator to justice. In trying to stop him from exploiting more children, I was ensuring my parents and my siblings would be ostracised. She begged me not to go to the police station.”

Ruzwana’s family was trapped in a culture of honour and shame. And the small community to which they belonged was also trapped in a dynamic which forced them to shun the person/people who had brought abuse to the surface. That honour/shame dynamic focussed blame not on the perpetrator of abuse but on the one abused.

Ruzwana says taboos must be challenged, and in this particular context that seems to be painfully obvious. We need, however, to be very careful not to identify this kind of problem solely with cultures that tend to have strong honour/shame value systems.

The dynamic also exists in other communities. Very few of us like to see the status-quo challenged or disturbed. We have a natural tendency to want to hide difficult issues away. Often it is the whistle-blower, or the one to brings an issue to the surface, that is seen as in the wrong, rather than the one who committed the abuse (or the wrong) which has been uncovered.

We see this tendency in large bureaucracies and in small communities. Very few areas of society are immune.

While it is true that traditional conservative communities are likely to behave in this way and it is true that these communities have to find ways to address the desire to avoid shame. This is true too for much of society: shame is a factor that we all need to understand, and when it demands that we cover up things that are wrong, it must be addressed.



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