Ask Richard: Update from European Ex-Muslim Feeling Trapped by Family Ties September 26, 2011

Ask Richard: Update from European Ex-Muslim Feeling Trapped by Family Ties

Note to readers: “Faithful Reader,” who wrote last week’s letter wants to respond to your comments, which were wonderfully caring, encouraging, and full of helpful practical suggestions. Here she offers an update on her situation, and answers a question about the way I had used the term “Muslima.” She also asks another question about protecting her privacy while using the internet.

I’m publishing it here as a new post rather than as a comment on the original post because very few people would see it there. Once an article goes to the second or third pages of this site, readership drops to almost zero. These two letters combined illustrate how very complicated and precarious is the tightrope walk that so many ex-Muslims face all over the world, not just in predominantly Muslim countries.

Dear Richard, Dear Commenters,

To read your answers helped me more than you can imagine – emotionally but also practically and therefore I want to thank you. Thank you very much for everything. Especially your technical advise is highly appreciated, as I lack any know-how.

But I’m very sorry to have caused some misunderstandings and would like to clear things up:

While my parents believe my siblings to be complete failures, they don’t disagree on religion. Also, luckily, I don’t face the danger of a forced marriage just yet, as my father supports my education. And some of you suggested that I could try to change things gradually or expect help from my mother, but I fear that’s pointless in my case. I know that a lot of religious people can overcome their bias slowly – My family definitely can’t.

I also wanted to explain the appropriate use of “Muslim(a)” the best I can. Being a Muslim(a) is just a matter of faith, it isn’t linked to ethnicity. A lot of atheists from Islamic backgrounds would even feel insulted by being labeled one, because that is a common way for Muslims to deny even our existence. So while I certainly don’t feel insulted by you, Richard, it’s generally more advisable and correct to use the term ex-Muslim instead.

After I wrote my first letter to you a lot changed for me but to make it short, my mother found out my younger sister had premarital sex. My whole family lost it, my father threatened her with a knife. I don’t even know what would’ve happened if I wasn’t there to step between them and scream him down. It’s unfathomable, but she still thinks they are right and won’t let me help her.

My father’s reaction showed me, what he is capable of once more. Everytime he flipped out before, I fell into the same cycle of forgiving him again and again. Your encouraging words helped me to break out of that cycle this time. I already knew that he isn’t generally decent to us because he thinks it’s our right to be treated that way and he doesn’t deserve any more forgiveness than my mother. It’s just hard to hold on to thoughts like that if you are the only person you can ask for confirmation.

All I really want to do this moment is to leave this mess and everything else behind right now. On the other hand I know that if I take this step it’ll be forever and I want to be sure before doing anything. While I’m not conflicted about the “if” anymore, I still am about the “when”

My first problem is the financial one. I saved money before but couldn’t prevent my mother from taking it. If I attend college here I will profit from a scholarship and my money will be save on a new bank account. If I don’t, I’ll loose the scholarship and the chance to begin with my education this year.

Without money I would also have to go to a shelter and I already know where to find them. Now I also keep their contact information memorized as you suggested, but I always hoped I wouldn’t have to go there, as I suffer from severe social anxiety. It would be difficult for me to live with strangers, but it is better than no emergency exit.

Another problem is that I feel nowhere in this country will be safe enough, because there are people from our community everywhere. Some family members also occupy public offices here. All in all they have a slightly better than average chance of tracking me down. Maybe I’m paranoid, but I wouldn’t even feel safe in other parts of Europe. If I manage to stay for three years until I – hopefully – finish my Bachelor it would be much more easy for me to leave Europe.

I also would have more time and opportunity to work on a plan if I stayed. When the term starts I will be able to stay away from home the majority of time, I’ll have internet access and a locker on campus, where my family can’t find it. The locker is really valuable because nothing I carry on my person or leave in my room is safe and the only friend I can rely on has abusive parents.

There is also my sister to consider, because I don’t really want to abandon her completely before I know that she’ll be safe and unharmed, even if she doesn’t share the sentiment when it comes to me.

It has to be tiring to read this, but I don’t mature enough to make this kind of decision completely alone. I’m really afraid of doing the wrong thing and I don’t want to decide emotionally. It would help a great deal just to read other opinions on this..

My last question to the people with more knowledge about internet safety: Is there a way for my family to gain information about my internet activities if I use the internet at home using my own notebook?

With my deepest gratitude,
A faithful Reader

Dear Faithful Reader,

I have little more advice to add other than to reiterate my and others’ remarks about believing in your own value and your own goodness, persevering in building a better life for yourself, and being very careful, patient, and prepared. With every passing day you continue to mature, and your self-confidence will continue to increase. The solutions to your puzzling dilemmas will continue to become clearer. Please keep us informed of your progress. You have friends around the world now. To the readers, I thank you in advance for any further encouragement and/or practical advice that you can offer.


You may send your questions for Richard to AskRichard. Please keep your letters concise. They may be edited. There is a very large number of letters. I am sorry if I am unable to respond in a timely manner.

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  • Mary

    Hi there – I didn’t see your first post, so I am a bit behind on your story. I just wanted to tell you that your internet browser may be keeping a history of the sites that you visit. It would be a good idea to delete that history! Also, if possible, password-protect your notebook with a very difficult password that your family cannot guess. That way it will be hard for them to snoop. I’m not an expert, so others might have more advice about security for you.

  • Simon


    I read your initial letter with concern, I am unqualified to comment on the appropriate course of action for you to take, however technical advice I am able to give.

    Most modern internet browsers (Firefox for example) provide a private browsing mode, which does not record or log your activities on your local computer, so someone performing an inspection of that machine would not be able to see those websites which you do not wish them to see.

    If you wish to use the internet in security, that is possibly  the best option for you.  Adding a password to your laptop does not stop questions being asked about why there is a password, and anyone casually snooping would not have their suspicions raised.  You could feel free to leave your notebook lying around with impunity in such circumstances.

    I hope for the best for you, as I am sure do all other readers here.

  • About your internet activity – If you use Google Chrome, you can browse in “Incognito Mode”. Then your browser will not store any history, take a look here:

  • In regards to your end comment about anonymity while using the internet.  I would recommend using a browser that has a private mode.  Links are below for various browsers, they are all designed to be easy to understand and perform as a non-technical user.

    There is also a general explanation of the differences between them here: . The short version is that Google Chrome has the best options for private browsing.  These are all options to prevent them from viewing your history from within your computer.  When you use the internet in this mode, it prevents any information from being stored to your computer.  You should also do a full deletion of your history, passwords, and cookies before switching over, as it is likely that you have possibly incriminating stuff on it (email account names/passwords, history of browsing sites like this one, etc)

    It is very unlikely they would have the technical experience to track your internet usage based on your network communicating with your ISP, but you can verify that they are are not keeping track via some network settings.  Unfortunately, these vary greatly between various routers and modems, so there is not one easy solution.If you have any more questions, feel free to follow up.  I’m sure we’ll all be happy to provide whatever technical expertise we can.

  • Silus

    To protect your internet history from snooping, the best way is to delete it.
    I use the firefox browser and it has options to delete the history on exiting the program. 
    It is located under Tools -> Options -> Privacy, and is a little check box about 3/4 of the way down.

    If you use Internet Explorer, you can do it manually by going through Tools -> Internet Options -> General -> Browsing -> History -> Delete
    You can also set how many days of history you want to keep, and set that to ‘never’. This will prevent it from saving your browsing history in the first place.

    I’m unsure if password protecting the notebook is a good idea or not, as if your family does try to look at it, that may rouse suspicion.  

    If your family uses a router, then it is also possible to track usage through there, if they are tech savvy (or know someone who is).
    You can help prevent this by using a proxy server.
    Here is a link with some info on using them.

    I recommend (if you have time), to do your own research regarding proxy servers, tracking internet use, and browsing anonymously / securely.
    This will give you the best idea of how to keep yourself safe in regards to internet usage.

  • BigPhut

    Regarding your options of where to live, unfortunately northern europe is probalby your best bet, considering that its notriously hard to get an american visa and a lengthy process regardless. However because of the open borders policy, as a citizen of a european member state, you can literally travel anywhere in mainland europe without restriction and even get into/out of Britain with a passport, no matter where in europe you come from I’m sure you can travel far enough and relatively cheaply by coach. Language shouldn’t be a problem either as you’re obviously fluent in england and it’s a fairly universal language across most of the nothern mainland.

    If you do stay on to finish your degree you should have plenty of time to find the perfect destination.

    And even if you don’t take my advice, good luck.

  • Trina

    Hi, Faithful Reader, I also missed your original post.  I’m glad you’ve gotten some good support and advice.  Though I’m in the U.S. and from a Christian family backgfound, I’ve been in some very controlling and abusive situations in the past, and have *some* idea of what you’re going through.  I applaud your bravery and clear thinking.  They’re both important when it comes to getting out of the situation safely.  I wish you the very best and hope you’ll continue to keep in touch with us when you can do so in safety.   

  • Old Fogey

    You may already be doing this, but to keep your emails confidential you can use an online account; Hotmail and Google Mail are probably the best known, I use Inbox and there are many others, almost always free. Keep different accounts for different purposes, including for things that your familly would not object to so that they get used to the idea.

    For storing your files the simplest method is to create a new subdirectory, right-click on it, select properties, and check Hidden. To see the files again, open My computer, select Tools>>Folder Options>>View and click on “Show Hidden Files and Folders”. To re-hide, go to the same place and click on “Do Not Show….”.

    To go further, you can password-protect a directory by using Truecrypt ( . I’ve never used this, so I can’t advise in detail, but I know people who have, and the site seems pretty clear. It is FREE!

    I hope you realise that you have tapped into our inner geek, and you will be deluged with advice, much of it incomprehensible?

  • Anonymous

    A word of warning about internet privacy. There are a lot of good ideas for erasing your browser history, but be aware that the absence of any browser history is suspicious in itself. If your abusive father (and there’s no other name for a man who threatens his daughter with a knife, other than criminal) makes a habit of snooping through your things and computer, his reaction to an empty browser history won’t be “Oh, so I guess she didn’t look at anything” but “What is she hiding from me?!”. The best option for now is to keep your non-approved browsing outside the home. If you must use your own computer, once your browser history has been erased spend some time on “good” or neutral sites so you get a convincing looking history.

    Now for Hemant I’d just like to say that we helped Damon Fowler in his time of need and we can do it again for someone whose need is much more dire. Should this “faithful reader” have to escape in a hurry, considering her parents make sure she’s totally economically dependant, she’ll need help. I’d like to propose in advance that should that day come, we step up to give her that help. The first several months will be very hard, especially if she has to change countries (which seems likely) and we could do a lot to make the transition easier and save her from a potentially very dangerous situation. Considering she’d have to remain anonymous, the logistics would be harder, but maybe the Council of Ex-Muslims could serve as an intermediary? My two cents…

  • Some other possibilities – in addtion to all the ones mentioned:

    1) Set up a largish (8 gb or so) thumbdrive with a bootable Ubuntu install; then do all your browsing (or everything on there); you boot to it, all files and everything can be kept on the thumbdrive – you can boot it on other machines as well. Do you browsing on it with firefox/chrome in private mode, over a proxy server – as suggested already.
    2) TrueCrypt – ’nuff said for your files; if you wanted, you could set up such a virtual partition on the bootable thumbdrive…
    3) Once this is done, use the thumbdrive for everything, and keep it secret (wear it as a necklace?). Alternatively, use a microSDHC card for the storage, and a usb adaptor for the connection; then keep the adaptor secret, but the card (which is very tiny) in some really “secret” area (hide it in your hair? in a hem?). That way, if the larger adaptor is found, the other part may stay safe (but with it being password protected, ubuntu, truecrypted, and proxied – good luck to them, right?).
    4) You might want to investigate how to use GPG and/or other public/private key cryptosystems for messages and other files you need to keep secure.
    5) Look into steganography – that innocent picture could be a secret message (encrypt it before stego’ing!).
    6) On the proxy – try to find one that is SSL enabled – just another layer to help…
    7) Look into TOR (the Onion Router project)
    8) There’s other stuff out there – google “undernet” – heck, there’s a whole secret world out there; islands in the matrix…

    Good luck – I hope all works out well for you in the end…


  • Sarah

    I agree with the idea of raising funds for this girl. Not that every problem should have money thrown at it, but this seems like a problem that could be greatly helped by some sort of fund by those who would like to give. 

  • Tinker

    I want to reiterate that you do have friends around the world and I do agree that your best option is to go north. Sweden, Estonia have the highest percentage of atheist (according to Wikipedia). If that’s too cold France may be an option (although I don’t know how good your French is and that country is a little more difficult without the language). I am certain that we do have people here that would do what they can to help you move to America, but the U.S. immigration department is not sympathetic to people fleeing for religious persecution. You could wind up waiting years for a visa. However, finishing college may help with that. You may be able to apply to an American college’s graduate school (for a master’s or doctorate in your chosen field), and once here you may find navigating the immigration department easier. Or, you may be able to find work with an American company after you graduate and that would grant you a work visa. 

    In any case, your options are open you just need to keep focused on what is important.

  • Tinker

    I want to reiterate that you do have friends around the world and I do agree that your best option is to go north. Sweden, Estonia have the highest percentage of atheist (according to Wikipedia). If that’s too cold France may be an option (although I don’t know how good your French is and that country is a little more difficult without the language). I am certain that we do have people here that would do what they can to help you move to America, but the U.S. immigration department is not sympathetic to people fleeing for religious persecution. You could wind up waiting years for a visa. However, finishing college may help with that. You may be able to apply to an American college’s graduate school (for a master’s or doctorate in your chosen field), and once here you may find navigating the immigration department easier. Or, you may be able to find work with an American company after you graduate and that would grant you a work visa. 

    In any case, your options are open you just need to keep focused on what is important.

  • Zelkwin

    I had a similar idea, Claudia. 
    Hemant, what do you think? Where I’m from, there’s a shelter for victims of abuse called Project Safe. ( They provide a hiding place for those who need it and support such as food and rent for others. But sometimes, the other place like this in town is religious. Could the FFRF, the CoR, and a few others band together to form a safety net for atheists who need emergency help like Muslima might? They might could provide emergency travel funds, food, or even microloans like those at Local atheists could join a safehouse network so that if someone needs a couch to crash on, they’d have one. I know I would join. 

  • Rich Wilson

    If you are sharing an internet connection with another computer, that other computer can in general ‘spy’ on what you’re doing.  Even if your family doesn’t have the technical know-how, they may know someone who does.  Make sure you use https urls.  http can be spied on, https cannot.  Browsing ‘in private’ or ‘in cognito’ has nothing to do with this.  Those prevent someone seeing your history on your laptop.  What I’m worried about is someone else connected into the same router seeing what you’re doing while you’re doing it.   Or accessing log on the router.

    I also 2nd (3rd?) the idea of a fund.  If there’s any way we can get it to you/her, I’d be happy to contribute.

  • Rich Wilson

    TOR is your safest all-round solution

  • Yakamoz

    I love that idea and would be happy to open my home to someone running away on an atheist underground railroad.  If someone could set up a fund for such people, perhaps so Hemant could award scholarships for escapes or for living expenses, that would also be something I would contribute to.

  • Old Fogey

    Back on the tech side, I would suggest that it is more important for there to appear to be nothing suspicious than for there to be complicated encryption arrangements.  The Private Browsing facility, eg in Firefox, will leave the innocent browsing history in place, whilst deleting the history etc. that you want to keep private.

    Also why have c om[licated arrangements to hide your data when you can just store on line – try, which gives 50Gb of free storage accessible from anywhere there is an internet connection.

    And if you have to flee your country, don’t forget England – very secular and you will have no trouble with the language.

    Also, yes, if you need to call for help there are a lot of generous people on these blogs.

    Best wishes

  • Old Fogey

    Back on the tech side, I would suggest that it is more important for there to appear to be nothing suspicious than for there to be complicated encryption arrangements.  The Private Browsing facility, eg in Firefox, will leave the innocent browsing history in place, whilst deleting the history etc. that you want to keep private.

    Also why have c om[licated arrangements to hide your data when you can just store on line – try, which gives 50Gb of free storage accessible from anywhere there is an internet connection.

    And if you have to flee your country, don’t forget England – very secular and you will have no trouble with the language.

    Also, yes, if you need to call for help there are a lot of generous people on these blogs.

    Best wishes

  • The bootable Ubuntu is a good idea; it keeps the stuff we want hidden completely away from the normal system, and leaves the main system with what looks like a normal ‘innocent’ history.

    As for avoiding the router, the other possibility is to get an independent internet connection, either by using a phone, or by using a 3G dongle/stick plugged into the laptop. That way, your traffic isn’t going over the household network connection at all. Another option is things like internet cafes and libraries, but they have their own risks – you need a reason to be there rather than using the kit at home if anyone sees you. It’s a lot easier to ensure a degree of privacy in a room in a house than it is out in a public place.

    The key requirement here is stealth – as XKCD so pithily put it ( clever crypto isn’t going to get you anything but trouble if you’ve got someone prepared to wave a knife around.

  • ross

    “My last question to the people with more knowledge about internet
    safety: Is there a way for my family to gain information about my
    internet activities if I use the internet at home using my own notebook?”

    This has been addressed a few times, but just to add my knowledge from a networking perspective:

    Generally speaking, in a home environment, there will be neither the
    networking equipment nor the know-how to spy on what a single computer
    is doing, nor will any logs be retained.  Unless your father is or is
    friendly with a networking guru, you’re probably safe on that front. 
    ISP’s could log internet usage if they wanted to, but typically don’t
    care enough to do so;  unless you’ve been red-flagged already, you’re
    probably also safe there.

    The biggest risk is the laptop itself.  I don’t know the type, but take
    care to keep it as locked down as possible.  Password-protect
    everything, even the BIOS if you can.  If you don’t know what that
    means, find the model number of your laptop and search google for
    ” bios password”.  If there’s an option to encrypt the hard drive, do it.

    As a last resort, however, if your laptop is in your hands but about to
    be taken away, and you think compromising information could be on there
    but you didn’t encrypt the drive, learn where the hard drive is.  This
    is where all the data is stored.  Unless it’s a solid state drive (new
    and expensive), it’s spinning media, and can be easily broken by a solid
    strike against a hard corner (desk, dresser, rock, etc).  strike the
    laptop a few times, and if you can destroy the platter, there is no risk
    of data recovery.  Hopefully this won’t be necessary, but it’s good to

    Main point:  keep the laptop secure.  It’s the weak link.  Make it strong.

    And stay strong yourself.  I can’t imagine what you’re going through.

  • Annie

    You have received plenty of computer advice, and lots of recommendations for a fund, which I would happily support, but I just wanted to let you know that I applaud you for being willing to step away from your culture and religion and wanting to find happiness elsewhere.  It’s hard to step out of your comfort zone.  It is often even harder to say, “You know what?  This life is not for me.  I can do better.”  You are right.  You can do better.  That same drive that makes you want to move forward will also lead you out of an abusive relationship, or back to school.  I hope you will always honor and respect this fire in your belly.  I wish you nothing but happiness!

  • Annie

    You have received plenty of computer advice, and lots of recommendations for a fund, which I would happily support, but I just wanted to let you know that I applaud you for being willing to step away from your culture and religion and wanting to find happiness elsewhere.  It’s hard to step out of your comfort zone.  It is often even harder to say, “You know what?  This life is not for me.  I can do better.”  You are right.  You can do better.  That same drive that makes you want to move forward will also lead you out of an abusive relationship, or back to school.  I hope you will always honor and respect this fire in your belly.  I wish you nothing but happiness!

  • Anonymous

    Dear Reader, 

    Your situation is so difficult, but please know there are many people in solidarity with you all over the world. 

    To Hemant, and the group — I’m going to second (third? seventh?) the idea of starting up some kind of fund to help out. 

    I like the idea of an underground railroad approach. Is this something that could be worked into a Kickstarter project?

  • Parse

    Using your laptop at home is NOT 100% safe
    How your computer access the internet at home consists of several steps; the only portion you can truly secure is your own laptop, and only if you keep it with you at all times. 
     – Wireless traffic:  It’s possible to use a packet sniffer to see what network traffic is going through the air.  Even if you use ssh (by typing https, not just http), it’s possible to still see the source and destination of traffic. 
     – Router and Modem:  The router is the piece of equipment that lets your computer connect to your local network, and the modem is what lets your local network connect to the internet.  It’s possible to get both pieces of hardware with logging capabilities, to see what sites were visited when. 
     – Laptop: If somebody has physical access to the hardware, they can use a boot disc to bypass whatever Windows passwords you have.  They can install various types of spyware or nannyware – software designed to keep track of visited sites, entered passwords, contents of clipboards, desktop snapshots, whatever. 
    What can you do?  The best thing you can do is try to avoid suspicion in the first place.  Looking at logs, sniffing at traffic, all that stuff takes time and effort, so do what you can to keep them from having a reason to do it.  For each security step, have a logical reason behind it; saying that you want to protect your private data if your laptop gets stolen is a pretty-good catch-all.  Use two browsers; one for visiting sites your family wouldn’t find objectionable; the other in private mode for sites they would.  (“I tried Chrome, but I didn’t like how it looked”, if asked why there’s no history in one).  Find a neighbor’s unsecured wireless access point, and connect to it when you want to browse privately.  Choose a couple of ‘good Muslim’ blogs that your father would approve, and make sure to visit them regularly (making sure to open the posts, not just look at the index page); this establishes a good browsing history if your father suspects anything.

  • Anonymous

     My recommendation is one of these:

    coupled with a portable Linux install here:

    This will leave no trace on the host laptop. You’ll just have to keep the drive hidden.

  • Anonymous

    And use a proxy.

  • Anonymous

    And use a proxy.

  • Rich Wilson

    Here’s a thought.  Put a password on your laptop.  Tell your parents it’s in case your laptop is lost or stolen.  And then give them your password  That’s a bit dangerous because you do have to be very careful that you don’t leave anything on it. But let them poke around freely.  Don’t make it sound like you think they don’t trust them, but make it look like you trust them completely.  And feel free to leave behind some specific browsing history.

    You might even install a keyboard logger so you can see what they do on your laptop, and if they are checking your browser history.

    It seems to me that data security isn’t the big issue.  The big issue is not arousing their suspicion.  If they get suspicious enough because they sense you’re hiding something, then data security won’t matter.  This isn’t a court of law, and they don’t need real evidence to ‘convict’ you (send you out of the country).

  • Karen

    I have my Firefox browser set to delete all cookies when I close it.  It’s a bit of a pain,  since I have to re-login to things like gmail, but worth it to keep my activities private.  I’m not sure that’s enough for you, though, Faithful Reader.

    After I finish this comment, Richard should have my email address.  If he is comfortable with it, email me, and I’ll link you to my cousin in Norway.  He’s worked at a university for a long time, he’d be in a position to advise you who to contact to continue your education in Norway.

  • Just to add a little to this, if you’re comfortable with deception in this situation (more than you’re already forced to do, that is), you could try setting up Word files with quotes from a few not-so-good sites, and then annotating those notes with what’s “wrong” with them. Example: quotes from Pharyngula, with annotations that your family would accept as evidence that you think PZ is completely wrong, and maybe even a minion of the devil. 

    It lets you get away with a little bit of looking at disapproved sites, while having a plausible reason (“I’m sharpening my skills to face the world,” or something).

  • Pierre

    Lots of good computer advice – stuff that I’ll even look into! 🙂 

    One comment stuck out at me though: “I suffer from severe social anxiety.”  This is because I tend to have my own issues with social anxiety as well.  Let me say that being consciously aware of having social anxiety and how it affects your thought processes and decisions is a first step in coming to grips with it.  Like me, my father has social anxiety but unlike me he doesn’t acknowledge it.  This has resulted in his becoming a virtual recluse who never leaves his comfort zone.  But acknowledging it and making a conscious decision not to let it limit your life and choices is a vital first step.

    I spent ten years in an emotionally abusive relationship in large part because I was afraid of interfacing with the world and relied on my partner to do that for me.  When he dumped me I was forced to confront my fears in a very real way and am so much the better for it.  I still get nervous in social situations (hell, I even avoid phone calls to coworkers if I can!) but I recognize it for what it is.  I don’t want to end up like my father and so force myself to continue to interface with the world as much as I can, and in doing so I get used to it, which makes it less threatening and terrifying.  I still don’t enjoy it, but I can do it, especially when I really have to.   But you seem to understand this when you say  “It would be difficult for me to live with strangers, but it is better than no emergency exit.”
    Truly bad cases of social anxiety can be treated with medications, but, based on that last comment of yours, it seems to me that you’re most likely not quite that bad off! :-)Finally, I do tend to agree that staying in Europe is your best bet, at least for the present.   Europe is a big place and “hiding” there is probably just as easy as “hiding” anywhere.  And like has been mentioned, getting visas for a place like the US is difficult, and I’m not sure you’d want to go anywhere less secular than Europe, which is pretty much the rest of the world.  Maybe leaving can be a long term goal, but don’t hope too hard for that in the short term.  

  • If you are located within the EU, you can move
    freely within the borders. Most Scandinavian countries have not only
    free education but also a student allowance that will provide a meager
    living in student housing. The best thing about moving between schools,
    at least to Finland, is that the school you are leaving doesn’t need to
    know where you’re headed and also the people at the admissions office
    tend to be sympathetic. If you are outside EU, most Nordic countries
    provide also a refugee allowance as described by Ayaan Hirsi Ali in her
    book Nomad. I’m convinced that your situation would receive a refugee
    status. Although to be fair, I don’t really have experience with that
    kind of thing.

    Nordic countries seem to be rather safe for people escaping religion. Not too long ago there was a documentary made about a safehouse in Denmark or Sweden that housed several girls who had escaped their Muslim-families living in the same country (the documentary didn’t mention their religious beliefs, only that they didn’t want to live the lifestyle associated with their parents beliefs). They help you to set up, get an education or a job and generally get back up on your feet. Nordic countries are also notoriously secular so practically no-one will think twice about you being an atheist. Like someone else said before, I would also recommend moving to a Nordic country. If you’re located within EU, you can most easily relocate to Finland, Denmark or Sweden. Iceland and Norway are as of yet keeping outside of the Union. There’s a lot of information in about living in, studying in and moving to Nordic countries, but unfortunately most of the English language content seems to be in Swedish, so you’re going to have to run it through Google Translate.

    Aside from that I just want to say; hang in there. It does get better.

  • Sulris Campbell

    the privacy issues have been covered really well for your needs depending on how sophisticated your parents are as cyber sleuths. so nuff said there.

    my advice, and i have never been in a situation like yours so i dont know how appilicable my advice is… but it seems that you’re taking this knife wielding buisness too lightly. that is real and present danger. that isnt something you try to ride out for the next three years as you get your degree. that could not be a clearer sign that you need to cut and run. your life is in danger. as is your sisters, and anyone else near your father. you can”t shrug off what might have happened if you hadn’t been there. would he have stabbed your sister? if you think this answer is yes, you need to leave. 

    next your worried about what will happen if they track you down. when your father had the knife i am going to venture that he was in a fit of rage. he had high emotions.   after his emotions ebbed he was no longer aggressively wielding a knife. (these are my assumptions)
    thus it is safer for you to be tracked down (a process that takes time and allows time for your father to cool down) than it is for you to live at home with the risk of bieng found out when your father is in an emotional state and you are close at hand.

    next a message to the commentators:
    i really dont want to be the first person to say this.  the story is hearbreaking and i too want to help.   i really do, and i dont want to be one of those people too afraid to be burned to offer my help to a stranger. 

    but with fowler we knew he was a “real” person.  there were newspaper articles pictures, all sorts of stuff.  an anonymous person who e-mails someone who writes a blog is not a secure way to go about charity contributions.  please remember this is the internet with all its glory and pit falls.  i am not saying it is a con or she is not a wonderful person.  i am just suggesting a little caution considering the enviroment for those eager to start a donation fund.

    with that caveat out of the way i really liked the idea of the couch surfer solution especially if you can start a dialogue with them now so if you have to use them in the future they wont be such a stranger.  i dont know about europe but in the states we have a thing called “safe place” that will assist and protect children leaving abusive households. 

    i am a bit of an extravert so i have difficulty accounting for social anxiety in the equation but you have to ask yourself which is more dangerous your father or strangers.  in this you have a proven danger vs a potential danger.

    we need to find a solution that protects her and protects you, the wonderfully altruistic commenters that you are.

    i am really really really sorry if you take offense at my warning, I dont know how to word it any other way and i dont want to cause you more pain.  i am sure a better man might have been able to say it more tactfully and i am really sorry that i am not that man.

  • Anonymous

    You want to spend THREE YEARS in contact with someone willing to threaten their own flesh and blood (which you are, also) with a KNIFE?

    Get. Out. Now.

  • Anonymous

    It’s legitimate to worry about the posibility of fraud. It’s for that reason that I would propose an in-person intermediary like the Council of Ex-Muslims. They are based in the UK but there are atheist and humanist organizations in every country of the EU and I’m sure any one of them would be more than happy to help. One of these organizations could physically meet this young woman and be in a better position to judge the veracity of her claims. The same organization could set up the fund in their own name and then privately transfer them to her. Of course this still requires a level of trust, both in the judgement of the recieving organization and that they’d transfer the funds, but I think it significantly cuts down the risk of any fraud, and has the added benefit of putting the young woman in contact with a supportive local organization.

    I think its very unlikely that there is any foul play going on. There has been no request for aid on her part, and a lot of equivocating about even the idea of leaving, neither of which seem like trollish/fraudish behaviors. However if this initiative does take off, it could attract other people wanting to take advantage of the community altruism, so it’s a good idea to put safety mechanisms in place from the get-go.

  • NickDB


    Can’t add
    much advice to what’s already been said. Would like to add my support though; you
    are an extremely brave, intelligent and literate person, and I, like the rest
    here, commend you for your actions. It takes a lot of strength to do what you’re
    doing, and whilst many of us here don’t believe in god, we do believe in people
    like you.

    Keep your chin up and know that you are not alone, we may not
    understand completely what you’re going through, not being in your shoes,
    however you have a group of people from around the world (Even Africa :D) that
    you are able to sound ideas and thoughts off.


    yourself safe, and let us know if you need anything. You are one of us, not necessarily
    atheist, but human, and we need to stick together.


    And I xth
    the idea about a support fund, network for people in these situations! “Viva la

  • NickDB

    Sorry about the spacing, copied it from word and have no idea what happened.

  • A Faithful Reader

    Hello Sulris,Please don’t worry about any offense, because none is taken a s far as I am concerned. You are absoulutely right to warn the others, as it is never safe to offer completely anonymous persons money.It only shows how kind-herated and unsuspecting you all are in your compassion that you offer your help so freely, but it would be horrible if you were taken advantage of because of that. I think to channel this through another local organization is the safest way and I know that there are a lot of people in dire need of any helpAs for me, believe me when I say my situation is by far not the worst. And financial help is honestly so much more than I could accept and be comfortable with. Just to be able to read your advice and to communicate with others about this is more than enough for me. I can’t thank you all enough for that already.

  • A Faithful Reader

    Thank you all for the well-wishes and the general and especially the technical advise – I guess I’ll have to read most of it more than once to understand it completely but I’ll do my best and every word of your advice is deeply appreciated. It’s also good to know that I didn’t act like a complete fool as I already am careful with my internet history and other things I keep on this notebook.What I was actually agonizing about is how dangerous it is to use the same internet connection as my family for things I’d rather keep a secret, because waiting for oppurtunities to use other connections is rather restricting. None of them knows a lot about these matters, but unfortunately they do know a lot of other people who work in the branch.I’ll read everything again carefully but from what I gather there is always the possibility of being spied on. So I think avoiding the home internet is still a good idea.

  • Not quite unsuspecting. Just, in many cases, willing to take a slight risk with a minute margin of personal resources.

  • Current versions of IE, Firefox, and other browsers have corresponding features.

  • Another option as far as browsers go, if you want to only use one there are private or incognito modes that can be used in Chrome, Safari, and Firefox. That would allow you to have one browser that has a history, but when you come to a site like this you can switch to private and it won’t leave a record on your computer.

  • A Faithful Reader

    I fear I’ve used a wrong word for what I wanted to say, what i meant was”not suspicious”. I am not quite sure if “unsuspecting” is similar in this context.

  • Mommiest

    Do you have access to a therapist or peer counselor through your school? A crisis line counselor?

    Without going into detail, I identify with a lot of what you are feeling: loyalty to family members who do not have your best interest in mind, money going to a family member instead of school, and concern for a younger sister.  I did find a way to extricate myself, but getting to that point was a complex process. Having someone I could talk to on a regular basis helped.

    Eventually, I was able to help my sister get out. In order to do that, I had to get out first.

    Good luck.

  • A Faithful Reader

    I’m really glad you made it out eventually and could also help your sister. But the problem with my sister is that she is not searching or hoping for an out. She was the one that stopped me from going to the police after everything escelated saying I have no right to “disgrace” our family and that no one would back me up on my “accusations”. If it was for me, my father wouldn’t be a free man at this point..
     I’ll never be much help to her if she doesn’t want that help, but she’s so very young.
    As for the therapist, I feel monumentally stupid for feeling this way, but I can’t handle speaking about personal things with “strangers” face-to-face or even on the telephone. Even to write my first letter to Richard was difficult on some level and writing to someone is so much easier than speaking to them.

  • A Faithful Reader

    Your approach on the anxiety problem sounds so rational and healthy, it makes me jealous =) But I really shouldn’t complain as it is getting better and better for me, there was a time I couldn’t function without medication. I’m trying to be sensible about it but still most of it is “fake-it-till-you-make-it” I fear.

  • Mommiest

    I understand. It’s not stupid. We are supposed to be able to trust our families, and especially our parents who should protect us. I believe we are wired to learn how to trust them first, then we look for similar traits in other people and trust them. Oversimplified, I know, but I also know how weird it was to learn to trust complete strangers when I had no idea how a person who cared about my well-being would really act. I certainly made a lot of mistakes along the way. If you do consider it, please bear in mind that if you talk with one therapist who doesn’t seem to be able to work with you, another one might be the right person to talk to. It’s an individual thing.

    As for your sister, remember that she does not know what you know (yet).  She has also been abused and that will affect the way she sees your father. She may try even harder to make him happy, it’s a common response to manipulation and threats. Women with abusive husbands protect their husbands, lie about injuries, etc., and generally try to pretend everything is all right. Kids often do the same. You don’t say how old she is, but she still has growing up to do; if she sees her older sister leave, do well, get an education, live a moral life, that will be new information for her. Right now, she probably doesn’t see how those things are possible for anyone coming out of your family.

    This may sound melodramatic, and I guess it is, but I know what it is like to speak the unspeakable for the first time. It felt almost physically impossible for me. That was 30 years ago, and I can still feel how hard it was.

    I think you are doing exactly what you need to do right now. Keep writing, we all want to hear from you. And be good to yourself.

  • Sulris Campbell

    thanks for understanding.  i wish you the best and i am elated by the raw good will of the  people posting so many compassionate comments.  it’s nice to see the good side of humanity from time to time.

  • I use truecrypt at work, and it is very powerful. They put a lot of effort into “plausible deniability”, i.e. the possibility to say “no I don’t have anything suspicious here.” Often this takes the form of imposter files that look like the real thing and don’t contain anything interesting combined with hidden partitions that cannot be seen that contain your real information (or embedding the hidden volume in the non-hidden one, etc).

    The creators of truecrypt added these mechanisms explicitly for the case when someone is forced via threats of violence to unlock a volume, and they have done a very good job of it.

    The encryption itself is also top-notch. There is the story of “Operation Satyagraha,” in which the Brazilian government raided a banker’s home and seized his laptop. Even after enlisting the help of the FBI, they were unable to crack the truecrypt volume open.

  • Another option would be to use a USB thumb drive with a Linux Live CD copied onto it. LinuxMint or Ubuntu would probably be the easiest to use. That would give you the benefit of being able to surf the web without leaving any traces on the hard drive. If you’re parents found the thumb drive you could just tell them that you were interested in trying out Linux.

  • Wasd

    Speaking as a European who
    has seen and heard some awful engrish I have to say your English is
    excellent, make sure you keep working on it though. There is few
    corners of the world you cant navigate if you speak a little English.
    I had written some advice before but had worries about posting it.
    Here it is, though first some new advice :

    One easy computer privacy

    Many browser come with a
    option that ideal for people seeing your embarrassing
    porn browsing history. In your situation I feel it is not enough but
    it is a start so turn it on now or get a browser that has it.

    The big problems? You
    might accidentally use software, like outlook or thunderbird or and
    instant message clients like skype, msn or jabber or yahoo messenger.
    They tend to store things like contact lists or e-mail message on
    your computer.

    Another easy computer

    Most computers have a bios
    password function. If your computer starts up there is often a
    message like “press f12 to enter setup”, “press f6 to enter
    setup” or “press to enter setup”. If you press
    this key you can usually use the arrows keys to go to a menu named
    “set password” or “security”. Once you set this password the
    computer will ask for it every time you turn it on.

    There is a lot of big
    problems with this:

    – if you start your
    computer it asks for a password, obviously you are hiding something
    and you wouldn’t hide something unless it was bad right?

    – it does nothing to keep
    out computer nerds

    The only upsides:

    – it protects everything
    on your computer from the less technically literate

    – bypassing it is ever so
    slightly harder than bypassing windows passwords because it tends to
    involve opening the computer up

    – you can turn it on right

    Then again if you had nosy
    and tech literate family, you probably would be in trouble already.

    harder computer stuff:

    Try getting or burning a
    linux live CD and starting your laptop from that.
    You can get ubuntu
    live cd`s with many computer magazines or by asking any nearby
    computernerd and many computer shops should have cheap disks. Just
    look for linux live CD or linux live DVD, a common choice is ubuntu
    live cd`s.

    Then you have to boot from
    it. Often just putting it in the computer and restarting the computer
    works. If it doesn’t ask a nerd to change your bios so it boots from
    cd, this isn’t easy or easy to explain unfortunately.

    Then you have to figure
    out how to use a linux desktop to browse the internet which again
    isn’t easy, but google should help you along the way.

    And then it still isn’t
    convenient because by default you wont save anything to your
    computer. You will probably be stuck with keeping your e-mails and
    stuff in a webmail account like gmail or hotmail because once you
    turn your computer off everything else is lost… poof, gone. Most
    people would hate that.

    The reasons this is
    perfect for you:

    – accidentally storing
    something private on your computer is hard. Even if you use an email
    programs like thunderbird or instant message client like skype, msn
    or jabber or yahoo messenger that keeps a copy of things like your
    contacts once you turn off a computer

    – all your nosy family
    finds is an ordinary laptop which you use for ordinary things in the
    ordinary way plus an innocent looking CD that might have come with a
    magazine. If you turn off your computer there wont be any trace of
    you even using it at the time you used it let alone what you used it

    Details that your probably
    don’t need to bother with:

    – If you have a netbook
    without cd/dvd drive or cant find a disk a live linux USB might be an
    option. You run the risk of storing valuable stuff on the usb stick
    though. Then again, this might be convenient and easy to hide

    – Disk or file encryption
    would offer great privacy but it means your computer asks for a
    password when your start it which tells people you are hiding
    something and isn’t easy to set up.

    – There is the in practice
    theoretical option that people might find information from watching
    network traffic or from computers on the internet, like say Richards
    computers or servers. If you run into a nerd, ask about TOR and
    videlia just to be on the extra safe side.

    I wrote this before but
    chickened out of posting it:

    In the case of the
    Netherlands there is a specialist police unit that has experience in
    honor related violence cases called the Landelijk Expertise Centrum
    Eergerelateerd Geweld. If you feel that the local police isn’t
    working out, ask them to contact the experts. Everywhere in western
    Europe the Police ought to understand that if you or your siblings
    report violence that asking for your dads side of the story might not
    be the best option.

    If you run away to friends
    make sure its not friends which violent family members know and can
    end up at the doorstep of.

    Its not a pleasant
    precaution but make sure you know the nearest domestic violence
    shelter. One UK number has been mentioned. In the Netherlands
    the domestic violence help line is 0900-1262626

    there is a regional lists
    of shelters at
    and there is anonymous online chats with professionals at

    A big non profit that runs
    shelters has its on honor related violence help line at 020-6116022

    I guess I can stop copy
    and pasting from the website of the honor related violence and
    intimidation education foundation “hallo kezban” now

    Make sure you know a
    nearby youth hostel and have the cash and ID to check in. Its a place
    to sleep without the bureaucracy. Presumably it has slightly more
    upbeat roommates as well. In my experience big professional hostels
    wont even tell calling “parents” whether you are a guests there
    but YMMV.

    Make sure you know how to
    make phonecalls if your family takes your phone. Unlike in the US in
    western Europe GSM providers really have to compete so pre-paid
    phones are cheaper and literally work out of the box, the anonymous
    registration suggestion might be unnecessary.

    If there is threats,
    document them. Keep a copy of text and/or voice messages, for verbal
    threats keep notes of the date and the gist of the threat.

    If you fear violence from
    your family or spend even five minutes outside of the places they
    expect you to be, carry an emergency contact number for someone you
    trust other than your family. For example put the contact “ICE”
    or “in case of emergency” in your phone with the number of
    someone you trust. That way if you end up in hospital for whatever
    reason your family wont be the first to find out.

    If you are a minor and
    still a (dual) citizen of another country and your parents are
    nudging you toward marriage be VERY careful if they want you to take
    a trip to their country of origin. Getting back home without your
    parents permission can be really *really* complicated. If the Embassy
    were to start helping kids like this get back to their home country,
    the country they grew up in, it would technically be the Embassy
    doing the kidnapping. Taking kids out of a foreign country against
    the wishes of their parents isn’t exactly part of diplomatic protocol
    even if it is the right thing to do. Apparently the Dutch foreign
    office has some policy on this issue and if you show up at an embassy
    it my understanding they will try to do a little bit to help. Its
    probably better to just keep in regular contact with someone back
    home who understand the situation, who knows your identity down to
    your social security and passport numbers and calls the police if you
    stop contacting them. If you are not a minor and your parent take
    your passport then the Embassy should be able to give you a
    laiser-passer and all you need is a ticket and you are good to go.

    I am sorry for bringing
    this up but it is a particular detail that was left out when I got my
    sex-ed so you might have missed it as well. Western European kids are
    taught to be proud of their condoms and contraceptives etc etc but
    not everyone has the option of leaving condoms or pills laying
    around. Some of us have too many nosy parents or friends of the
    family who might find them, their packaging or the receipts for them.
    So remember there is also excellent contraceptive options that do not
    involve daily pills or regular condom shopping and keeping a stash of

    Regardless of
    exactly how far away from the wild side you want to stay today you
    should look into this in time. IE before you find yourself in the
    situation of hoping the guy is sober, capable of using a condom
    correctly and carrying one. Statistics show that condoms are
    effective but guys plus condoms… not so much. Non western
    guys are even worse.

    Unless you are outside of
    western Europe your GP will understand your situation, having helped
    lots of girls in the same situation, and they will be able to help
    you. In the Netherlands IIRC it might be possible to have the health
    insurance your parents have for you pay for your contraceptives
    without any paperwork ending at their doorstep. Health insurance
    covers contraceptives until you are 21. After 18 you have to get your
    own insurance meaning you can get your own billing address. Your
    minimum yearly out-of pocket cost for health insurance might be 170
    euros, so check if it covers contraceptives without that. In other
    words… lots of stuff to just ask your doctor.

    The dutch site allows you find a contraceptive that best
    fits your needs after answering various question including whether
    privacy is important to you an whether it is a problem for bills to
    end up in your insurance paperwork. It advices a coper IUD as a
    private lasting contraceptive for those 18 and over and 3 monthly
    depo shots or a hormone IUD for those 17 and under. Other options are
    implants or the nuvaring… there is plenty of options besides a
    rather obvious wrapper of pills next to your toothbrush or hoping
    there is condoms around even if you don’t proudly have your own.

    Also check out where
    you can get the morning after pill in time. Maybe in southern Europe
    this isn’t so easy. Its easy to find out how to get them now and
    since pregnancy doesn’t sound like much of an option if you ever do
    find yourself (or a friend/family member) needing one knowing where
    to get them might take away a lot of stress and doubts.

    Sorry for bringing that up
    but like I said my European sex ed only really covered proud
    pil+condom users. So, statistically in the Netherlands you and your
    hypothetical statistical partner are up to four times less likely to
    be safe than pale secular white kids, probably in part as a result of
    this disregard for the particular concerns of girls in your

    No use in being an atheist
    if you don’t take full advantage of modern medicine 😉

    someone wrote:

    > if she can make it
    out she’ll be able to make contributions to society as a whole, and
    particularly by setting an example to others following the same path,
    and we need people like that.

    F@#$ that shit… thats
    easy for us western pale people to say. The only one she needs to
    fight for is herself anything else just does not matter. For now forget the girls from other families, safe yourself first you will be glad you did. There is a
    couple of situations where being thinking of yourself first is
    perfectly acceptable and you are smack in the middle of probably
    biggest one of them.

  • There is a possibility to delete sections of your history (at least with my computer, a mac) and leaving other sections.  So as long as you go to other sites you should be able to get away with that.

  • Tyler

    Google Chrome has a browser history option that lets you delete specific parts of your browser history.  If you aren’t already using it at home, what I would do is download Chrome, delete all desktop/startup menu/taskbar icons for Chrome and use it from the command prompt.   Then delete selective bits that could be compromising.  

    Looking at your situation, it would be wise to get an education first, preferably a marketable skill that is useful throughout Europe/the world.  Something like nursing would be perfect because you can do it nearly anywhere.   Once you have good job prospects and are able to save a little money outside the home, 

  • cbc

    Hey everyone, I know you all have good intentions and I admire the willingness to help Reader financially, but she specifically said she’s uncomfortable taking monetary donations: “And financial help is honestly so much more than I could accept and be comfortable with. “

  • Flaminleopard

    Hello, Faithful Reader. I’m afraid I don’t check this blog often, so I missed your post until now.

    A lot of other people have addressed your technical issues, so there isn’t anything I can add there, but I would like to try and advise you on how to help your sister.

    Obviously, I cannot know your exact relationship with her, but even though she may not be willing to listen to you now, she may come around in time, especially added with very gentle persistence. Also, as much as you can, if you can set an example as having self-respect, and making it clear you still have respect for her, that may help her gain some self-respect of her own. And EVERYONE deserves respect, especially from themselves.

    You may be right to worry about your parents coming down harder on your siblings once you’ve successfully left, but there are things you can do to make it easier on them  if you decide you must leave before they have gained their independence. And please, always be ready to do so; you are important! But, if you are not already close to them, you may try distancing yourself even further, to help your parents assume you haven’t imparted your heretical ideas onto them. If you are close to them, you could covertly encourage their independence; and right before you walk out the door, you leave them hidden notes (in a dresser underneath their clothes, for example) explaining your reasoning, your desire for freedom, the technical advice you’ve been given, encouraging them to free themselves and get an education, and emphasizing that you love them and respect them and wish for the best no matter what they choose to do. This will give them information they could need if they decide to break free and some motivation to break free, possibly.

    Also, it will probably be useful for you to study psychology; even reading Wikipedia articles or other free basic sources counts. If you know why you/other people act/think/react in certain ways, it becomes easier to protect yourself and defuse others. Like how many other commenters pointed out that your father’s suicide attempts look a great deal like emotional blackmail, thus helping you allow yourself to free yourself from “being responsible” for it.

    I wish you luck, whether you decide to stay or leave, and I know your intelligence, bravery (and you ARE being brave), and compassion will serve you well, both in the short-term and long-term.

  • Ceryle

    Don’t knock the “fake-it-till-you-make-it” approach. It has been shown that girls don’t often appear as often on the Asperger’s spectrum (one symptom of which is social), because they learn early on to fake it. I will be 39 next week, and still don’t know how to work out what a “friend” is… yet most people don’t realise that I have problems 🙂

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