One woman shares a story that will scarily relate to many people across the globe
Within the first ten minutes of this harrowing documentary, one of the women who is a victim of abuse says “I wish a bomb would drop on this house and kill us”. From the very start, this is an incredibly bleak true story, and it does not tiptoe around the devastating facts of what took place in one household in Afghanistan for a long period of time. And why did it take so long for this story to be told? Well, unsurprisingly, the story was not believed and the woman involved was immediately accused of being a liar.
A Thousand Girls Like Me opens with numerous shots of Afghanistan, showing citizens going about their everyday lives. Meanwhile, inside a car, we are introduced to Khatera, a 23-year-old who has suffered for a significant chunk of her life. This is due to the fact that she was regularly raped by her own father as she was growing up, while her mother – who tried to fight against her husband’s monstrous behaviour – was violently assaulted by him. As the story unravels, it becomes increasingly disturbing, brutal and, frankly, sickening. But what makes this documentary even more unnerving is that, as the title implies, thousands of other women and girls have gone through a very similar ordeal.
The judicial system, when it comes to sexual abuse, has always been flawed, but the way the Afghan government has dealt with this very serious issue over the years is horrifying. Since Khatera was regularly abused by her father, it was almost inevitable that she would eventually get pregnant by her own father. In the documentary, she expresses her wishes to abort her first baby, but the authorities forced her to keep the child as evidence of the crimes committed. To make matters even worse, those dealing with the case backtrack on what they said and suggest that the baby doesn’t prove anything and that Khatera probably had a baby with someone else, even though DNA tests have proven this is not the case. There’s being in denial, and then there’s this. It’s overwhelmingly inhumane and insensitive to Khatera and her family.
The documentary, directed by Sahra Mani, was only filmed a few years ago, demonstrating that this is still a massive issue taking place in the world, but it’s the unwillingness to take action from the people in charge which is incredibly worrying. Mani directs it beautifully and the moments that involve Khatera with her mother, brothers and children (the latter which are also her siblings, which must be unfathomably complicated for them to deal with later in life) feel totally genuine.
There are even sequences that contain tension, particularly one moment where one of Khatera’s brothers asks Mani to stop filming because he doesn’t want employers to know that he is the son of a rapist; he even comments that it’s Khatera’s fault that he’s struggling to find a job. Maybe this was just a brief moment of selfishness, but it’s a terrible thing to say to a rape victim. The only person to blame is the father, and Mani, with her intimate and simplistic direction, highlights that point wonderfully throughout.
A Thousand Girls Like Me is a very difficult watch. It’s a story, however, that needs to be heard and something which is all too prevalent in society. If it’s a challenge for us to hear about these events, it’s unimaginable to consider the damaging effects it will have on Khatera and her children/siblings for the rest of their lives. There is some element of hope towards the end, and it’s great to hear that Khatera is finally learning to move on. People in a position of power cannot keep dodging opportunities to put rapists behind bars and disbelieve survivors of sexual abuse. No more girls and women should face what Khatera has experienced.
It’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for…
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