I have waited six weeks – five weeks longer than I was supposed to have waited. I tried to communicate with them… I honestly did. I even reminded them that I was waiting. So now, I let it out. I hope this is as cleansing as I think it will be.
Many years ago, I was molested by a 60-some year old man. Or, at least, he tried to… it depends on your viewpoint, I suppose. I was 16. No, I didn’t want it… no, I didn’t see it coming… no, I didn’t recognise the previous 2+ years of grooming. But, I really shouldn’t have to justify myself – it was wrong and unwanted.
I didn’t tell anyone for several years – at least no one that could help. When I told my mother, she told me I was mistaken… that I misunderstood what happened… that he was an upstanding person who was kind and generous and would never do that. So, it was all my fault that I misinterpreted what he did – he was just being friendly. So, here’s my story – with names and everything. I want to thank the people who let me down for making it possible for me to share this so publicly – in full detail.
The “event”: Dr. Houshang Ma’ani spent over two years grooming me. I heard about how beautiful I was (starting at 13) and how much I resembled his dead wife. I was on the receiving end of a lot of hugs, kisses (excused because of cultural differences) and tickling. He spent a lot of time convincing my parents that he needed my help around his house or that he would be happy to further my religious education and enlightenment. It worked completely. He’d been able to invite me several places… I was even invited to one of his friends’ houses to go swimming in a pool. I didn’t want to go at all, but somehow ended up going – with my only bathing suit (a bikini). And when I refused to put it on and go swimming, he, of course, insisted.
One day while my parents were out of town, he escorted me to a Baha’i meeting. He had set it up with my parents for him to take me to the meeting and bring me home. He came and picked me up… and I ended up at a rather boring meeting that I still don’t know why I was there – it wasn’t for kids or teens, it was for adults. Then he took me home. I thanked him for bringing me home and started to get out. He said something that I didn’t hear and I leaned back to ask what he had said. He motioned for me to get in, which I did since I thought he had something to say. I can’t even remember if I closed the car door or not. He started to lean over… which made me feel a bit uneasy, but again… I thought he was going to say something. Then he just started kissing me. Not a polite peck (like what is acceptable in his culture), but on the mouth and very firm and sexual. He started fondling my breasts. I was so stunned I could only try to push him off of me, but the more I pushed, the harder he pushed back. He forced his tongue into my mouth – still fondling my breasts… and me still trying to push him off of me. He was starting to climb on top of me from the driver’s seat. His breath, and car, reeked with the smell of pipe tobacco and smoke. I was frozen… until miraculously, I was able to get my leg free and somehow convince him to move back to the driver’s seat (maybe he thought I was going along with it?) – and I stomped on his testicles to get free. I grabbed my bag and got out as fast as I could… running to my front door in terror.
We never spoke of that incident again… but he was still saying things to me and still wanting my company. I just refused or pretended to be sick from then on out. Although, a year or two later, he asked my parents to let me go to the USSR with him to do some travel teaching of the Baha’i Faith. His plan was to have me go and stay there, across the world, with him for one full year. My parents were thrilled – especially when he said he would pay my way the whole year. Yeah, I’m sure he would have been happy to do that… when I’d have no one to save me from him. So, I spent a couple months fighting that off. My parents knew it was a dream of mine to go live in the USSR… and I had actually almost considered it. But, all I could think about was what he would do to me if I had no one to protect me for a full year. I didn’t go.
About 8 years later, I finally figured out that what he had done should have been talked about – I should have told people because he could do it again to someone else. I told my mother – as noted previously, that didn’t go well. Being a Baha’i, I decided to contact the National Spiritual Assembly of the United States. I know I talked to a female… and I have notes with names I was to contact – but am not sure who I spoke with. I told her I wanted to report someone who had molested me. She talked with me for a while, I told her it had been several years before, that my mother didn’t offer me any help and that I was hoping Baha’is could help. She asked if the person who had molested me was a Baha’i. I told her, “Yes, his name is Dr. Houshang Ma’ani.” Her demeanor suddenly changed. I was told to keep the situation quiet. I was to avoid him in social gatherings if I felt uncomfortable. She told me that I shouldn’t confront him or make him uncomfortable for fear of destroying “unity” within the community. Basically, I was to respect HIS needs, not mine – and never speak of it. I hung up the phone feeling completely brushed aside and invalidated. It was my first attempt as an adult to speak out about my abuse over the years and it failed miserably. I gave up and just decided to not be a part of my local Baha’i community.
I spent the next several years being interrogated as to why I don’t participate in Baha’i activities, why don’t I bring my children, etc. Then I find out I was elected to my local spiritual assembly. Surprise… it’s the same one Dr. Ma’ani is a part of. I ditched all of the meetings for a long time. I felt like I was neglecting my duties as an LSA member. So, I decided to try reporting what happened to me again. If anyone believed me, maybe at very least I could explain why I wasn’t helping… or have a reasonable excuse to step down. I went to the LSA and told them what happened. They went to the NSA (National Spiritual Assembly of the U.S.) to ask for guidance on how to help me and how to punish Dr. Ma’ani. Communications went back and forth for a while. Apparently, I was believed this time – especially since there were written confessions from Dr. Ma’ani himself. (see below)
Justice? – In April of this year, the NSA handed down a decision that Dr. Ma’ani was to lose his administrative privileges (somewhat similar to excommunication from the Catholic Church). They went further to explain that they had taken into consideration his age and health (as he was very ill from cancer at the time) – and even his “service” to the Baha’i Faith. They felt this punishment was an “act of mercy” on their part. Once his privileges had been removed, the LSA was to then announce publicly to the community that they were removed. Finally, some justice!
Wrong. One month later, BEFORE the LSA had a chance to achieve any of the previous tasks, the NSA sent another communication to the LSA changing the terms. Dr. Ma’ani had written a letter to the NSA “expressing further regret… and pleading for compassion” for what he had done. They restored his administrative privileges… except he was to be restricted from “unsupervised contact with children and youth at Baha’i activities and from service on Baha’i institutions.” That might sound like a decent compromise… except he was so ill at that point that he was in hospice. He had no way of attending Baha’i activities (and, yes, the NSA was made aware of his physical condition prior to their restoration of his privileges). And he had already stepped down from any Baha’i service as he was too ill to participate. The NSA added, also, that due to Dr. Ma’ani’s health, the situation was NOT to be announced to the community. So, his restrictions went left unknown. His crime was left concealed. For the sake of whom? I’ll guess for the sake of that monster and the Baha’i organizations. It benefitted no one else…. surely not his victims.
Wait… “victims”? Yes. It was confirmed to me by someone who works with the National Spiritual Assembly that Dr. Houshang Ma’ani sexually abused and/or assaulted several people over the years. And to think, this is only what they know about… how many people did not report him? Probably many. He was seen as a great Baha’i world round – even by non-Baha’is. The NSA couldn’t even give him a slap on the wrist for abusing several people. It was more of a gentle nudge of… “you probably shouldn’t have done that and gotten caught. But, at least you gave us lots of money and traveled the world teaching the Baha’i Faith to others.” Penn State, anyone? Catholic Church? This isn’t even close to over!
So, here I am. About 10 or 11 weeks out from the NSA’s final decision on the matter. Dr. Ma’ani died in late June. About a week and a half before he died, I sent the NSA an email telling them how I felt on their handling of the situation – that I felt silence only shows support for the perpetrator and increases the harm for the victims… that their response was disappointing, at best. I received a phone call from someone working there (who I had had previous contact with) a few days later. I was assured I would be hearing from the NSA by the end of the next week (that deadline happened to be a day or two after Dr. Ma’ani died). It’s been six weeks and I’ve heard nothing. I called my contact person again – she started telling me how they were busy with the 4th of July and such… that I would hear from them soon… that their decision was a swift and just one… that it was sad that he passed… etc. I have officially given up hope that they care about his victims. I just hope that those victims can find support and validation.
The notes from Dr. Ma’ani (his admission to the events that happened – which were forwarded to the NSA):
I read your letter dated [date]. I acknowledge what you have written and I regret what I have done that caused you so much hurt and fears. Most importantly, I regret that you did not participate in the Baha’i activities because of my actions.
I am sorry and hope you can forgive me.
Note that there is no admission of him doing anything wrong… just that I was hurt. And I suspect the only reason he regretted that I didn’t participate was because it meant he had no contact with me to do more damage to me. My LSA agreed that his note was lacking as far as his admission, so we got another note (typed as written):
“I acknowledge and apolozied for my action and I am regret what had happen as I cause you so much pain & fear and occasion which I kiss you in the car against your wish and grabed you to the car. H. Ma’ani”
Whether he admitted what he did was wrong or not, he did admit to it. He admitted I didn’t want it. He admitted it was as I said it was. And all that the leading administrative body for all Baha’is in the United States can do is say “don’t tell anyone and we won’t let him molest more Baha’i children (at Baha’i events) as he lies dying in hospice.” Well, I’m done waiting. I won’t keep my silence. I don’t believe that God would want that… I don’t believe God covers up crimes that severely damage children. So, here is my story to ensure the truth is out there somewhere.