The intense pressure to keep quiet began almost immediately after four girls reported that they’d been molested by a well-known member of their community: You’re lying. Take it back. Change your stories.
Two of the four girls did.
But after a trial last month, a Portland judge found Hassan Mohamedhaji Noor – a 46-year-old married father of six and member of the local Somali immigrant community — guilty of sexual abuse, including for targeting the two girls who recanted.
In a strongly worded statement, Multnomah County Circuit Judge Leslie Roberts made clear that the urge to hide abuse by squelching the voices of victims happens in all kinds of settings, not just within a Portland immigrant community that numbers about 8,000.
“It is familiar in the history and reality of many communities near to home and far from it,” Roberts said.
Child sex abuse is a relatively common crime. An estimated one in four girls and one in six boys will be sexually abused by the time they turn 18, according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center.
But child abuse experts say most cases go unreported for some of the very reasons two of the young women in this case may have felt compelled to back down. Victims fear they won’t be believed and often are embarrassed to talk about what happened.
They’re also concerned that the person who abused them will carry out threats to hurt them or they worry that their family or community will ostracize them. Some even feel guilt over sending someone they once liked to prison. One victim also said that in her Somali-American community, girls and women were made to feel like they couldn’t speak out against men.
The four-day trial opened a rare window into this maelstrom of emotions as Noor’s crimes and the vigorous campaign to cover them up were aired in open court.
The trial also came at a time of national reckoning over sexual harassment and abuse, beginning with the explosive allegations against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein and followed by accusations of sexual misconduct by dozens of high-profile men in politics, media and entertainment.
The judge didn’t cite the current climate but she did single out a culture of silence and said she believed the girls’ families were among those pushing hard for them to retract their statements.
They valued the “fraudulent appearance of propriety” over the importance of protecting women or children, she said. The judge explained that it was her job to see past that to uphold her court’s commitment to justice.