Lila and her husband Amir were working full time. Each day they’d leave their 14-year-old daughter, Rosa, in the care of a couple who were well known and respected in their Islamic community. The woman, Malika Kalam, established herself as a religious teacher and held classes for girls to study the Koran in the house where she lived with her husband Raashid, who dressed in homemade religious robes and gave himself the honorific title ‘Sheik’.
Lila and Amir were happy for Rosa to be taught the Koran from an early age and she continued to go to the Kalams’ home after she started school. Not until the age of 15 did Rosa disclose that throughout the period she’d been with the Kalams she’d been sexually abused by Raashid.
‘My mother was here’, Lila said. ‘I could have given her to my mum but the only reason I give her is because I thought they were a priest and my daughter will be able to read Koran more quicker. She started at four years old. I said, “If I give her full time” you know, and “She’ll be able to read more quickly”. Trusted her. And then that’s when I would have given her to [my mother to] babysit my daughter while I’m working. And I was so, I thought, “Oh it’s good, I’m so lucky”, you know.’
Even after Rosa started school, Raashid was a constant presence in the family’s life, persisting with telephone calls, offers to pick Rosa up from school and constant requests to visit the family home. Lila only found out later that Raashid had sexually abused Rosa during one of his visits to the home.
Rosa’s first disclosure was to her school counsellor and occurred after a priest associated with her Christian high school was found to have been sexually abusing one of the pupils. Rosa told the counsellor that Raashid had been touching her inappropriately and ‘taking her into dark rooms’.
Lila recalled a day when Rosa was in Year 3 at school; she’d gone to pick her up and been told by teachers that Rosa had gone with Raashid. Lila found them not at the Kalam house but at another location. ‘I don’t know what he did to her’, Lila said. ‘I think he must be giving some drugs or something because Rosa just sleeps. She was fast asleep. I picked her up and she was very dizzy.’
After hearing from the school counsellor, Lila took Rosa to the police who referred them to a specialist taskforce to take statements. At the time of speaking with the Royal Commission, Lila and Amir were concerned they hadn’t heard anything further from police about the matter.
Looking back, Lila and Amir could see changes in Rosa’s personality over her childhood and early teenage years. She’d become afraid of men with beards and would often break out in a cold sweat and want the lights on in the bedroom at night.
‘My daughter is really affected with these issues and she can’t keep up with schoolwork’, Amir said. ‘When it come time for the exams she black out most of the time. This is a concern now.’
‘She’s very tired and she just lost interest in everything’, said Lila. ‘She does swimming but then she loses interest. She just don’t have any hope. She gets depressed and just wants to be in her room quietly. She doesn’t want to talk to people the whole day. I said, “How can you be just by yourself?”, you know, “Come and talk to us”. And then she says, “No”, she just likes, I guess we see she’s depressed.’
Lila and Amir changed mosques after they found out about the sexual abuse. ‘The real priest is really good’, they said. ‘He never do anything like that.’ Their faith had been tested and this year was the first year in which Amir chose not to fast during Ramadan.
They remained concerned about the Kalams and that children were still at risk.
‘Really they need to go deep into that inquiry’, Lila said. ‘The police and someone needs to go and check full details of that place … They did some fraud. They took money from people and they build that centre in the name of the religion and they are using that as a residence and it’s like a sect. They are doing it as like a sect and some people are following them, you know.’