Last week, I was lucky enough to interview the wonderful and courageous Sunny Angel, who has survived complex, high risk and prolonged abuse at the hands of several perpetrators. She has a book out, which I’ll link to below, and she speaks and campaigns against abuse within the Asian community. She is also a Grand Reiki Master and a wonderful woman and mother, and it has been my pleasure and privilege to meet her.
Sunny was sexually abused from the age of 3, by a family friend. This is incredibly young for such serious abuse. Her childhood included domestic violence at home, cultural control witnessed across the board, sexual molestation and a general fear of boys. Her brother found out what was going on with the family friend, but instead of comforting, protecting and supporting her, her family told her that she would bring shame on them if it ever came out – she would bring shame; not the rapist. This is often a classic response from some parents – to blame and shame the victim instead of the perpetrator. Sunny’s parents even went so far as to suggest that she would have to marry this man! My mind truly boggles at this – the female is so unimportant that even violent rapes go uncared for and their entire life hangs in the balance, should they be forced to marry, live with and spend their life with a man who has committed such acts against them.
Already traumatised, now Sunny was isolated and alone; to cope she began to smoke and drink and she remembers having very low self-esteem, which is natural given what she’d been through. After all, what had life taught her so far? A local Pakistani man began to take an interest in her; much older of course, having spotted the vulnerable young female, he began to follow and stalk her. As an Indian girl, Sunny was not permitted to have relationships with Pakistani men. Trapped in the bedroom, knowing he was standing outside the family home, and knowing her family wouldn’t protect her or believe and support her, Sunny felt she had to give in to this man’s demands in an attempt to try and keep him at bay, but of course it didn’t work and things got worse and worse. He groomed her, he threatened to burn her family’s house down if she didn’t do as he said. In the end, he abducted her and held her captive for 6 months, during which time he repeatedly raped and tortured her – Sunny has scars from this period of her life, which her 10 year old daughter once began to count. She was locked in the house, denied heat, denied light, the windows were boarded up and she was kept prisoner against her will. But one day, he forgot to lock the door and that is how she escaped. The police were involved, but he was never charged for what he did, and true to form, her parents blamed her, threatening to take her to India and get rid of her to avoid bringing shame on the family. At this point, my heart has truly broken for this young woman, this beautiful piece of life’s perfection, harmed and broken by humanity and its’ foolish and dangerous ways.
A marriage did take place mind, to a young man whose family had concealed the fact that he had learning difficulties and they needed a lifelong carer for him. They considered that Sunny’s life and happiness meant nothing and that she should merely provide the background to his foreground and be an unpaid carer for him, with no choice in the matter at all. But she explained to me that her family hid what had happened to her from his parents too, and they passed her off as a good wife. The truth of what had happened, the love and care that was so sorely needed isn’t even in the picture – the woman is blamed for the sexual abuse by the man, and she is seen as the fallen one, the problem. His family wanted a dowry from her family and when it was not forthcoming, the new family denied Sunny food as punishment and she ended up in hospital.
Luckily this marriage ended very swiftly and Sunny met the first good man of her life, an Irish man, but luck was still not on her side and he has since passed on. But she now has a daughter and is loving being a Mum herself, and she campaigns to raise awareness around childhood abuse, cultural abuse and domestic violence within the South Asian community. True to form, she is at times threatened by that community, but she continues to work to protect young women coming up behind her and she, rightly so, doesn’t feel the need to keep what happened to her a secret.
We do not know how many young girls and boys are being raped in their homes by their family members or friends of the family, or other adults. We do know that most of them receive the same sort of treatment that Sunny received – denial, secrecy, shame and blame, and people would rather turn away from us than the abuser. We know that women die every week at the hands of a current or former partner, and that’s 2 each week in the UK, 15 in the US and goodness knows how many in other countries. There is still a huge problem where women are seen and treated as second class citizens, and Sunny’s story is complex in that it contains so very many different elements of abuse – forced married, abduction, starvation, slavery.
I have heard a great many stories of abuse first hand and this one is extremely high risk, prolonged and complex. It truly is a testament to all of us, and especially Sunny herself, that she has been able to rise above and beyond this horrific start to life, and not only has she simply escaped and found safety and happiness, she also has enough spirit and love in her to help others.
Sunny and I spoke about healing.
When would you say you started consciously thinking about the need to heal? Many years ago actually; it is not a new thing to me. As a child, I knew something was wrong with what was going on, both the abuse itself and the way my family chose to handle it. It just couldn’t be right. Later, I also knew there was a deep void in me, so much pain and upset, and I tried to heal it with different things, but I was too young and all alone and I just didn’t know what to do. It has of course been years now and I am a Reiki Grand Master and have learned how to let energy go. I don’t need to hold onto bad feelings anymore.
What does healing mean to you? To cut the cords and move forwards – I can look back on things that happened, visit old places, write my books and simply not have any attachment – it doesn’t cause any pain. I can also look at Mum and Dad and feel no sadness or attachment. I feel healed.
How did you get to that place? Doing so much work on myself – writing, letting it out, talking about it – Reiki came 7 years ago, and it took me the first 5 years of that to let it all out.
What has helped you the most? Reiki.
What, if anything has set you back? Timing really. I just wasn’t ready 10 or 15 years ago, too much was going on and you can’t heal when you’re still being abused. I didn’t get time to breathe, let alone think about everything that had happened. But there is a time for everything and when I was finally safe, it came naturally and felt good.
What have you struggled with the most? Threats from the past that rise up, ongoing abuse from family members and violent exes…. Memories that come up unbidden. I also struggle with ongoing relationships with my family, who still haven’t taken my side and still blame me.
What was easy to heal? None of it was easy, but ending the abuse made life easier.
What is the best thing that healing has given to you? Freedom, self-love – I didn’t know what love was for all those years. Now I’ve found love for myself – I actively show myself love, patience and kindness.
What advice would you give to others? That abuse is not love – sometimes afterwards you can get cuddles, so you put up with the rest, but this is not love. When you feel it is wrong, it’s because it is.
Sunny’s book can be found here –