Baraa Melhem, a 20 year old woman kept locked in a bathroom for ten years and allowed out only to clean the house in the dead of night, has spoken to the press of the terrible suffering she underwent in the ordeal.
Baraa Melhem was locked in the bathroom when, aged ten, she was returned home by the police after attempting to run away from home, seeking sanctuary from her abusive father. When she was bought back, her father forced her first to sign a letter saying she didn’t want to complete her education or go to school anymore. She was then locked into the family bathroom – for what would eventually become ten entire years. She was, from the start, not allowed to visit her mother – whom her father had divorced when she was 4 years old – or go to school. The only possessions she was allowed were a single blanket, a radio and a razor blade, with which she was frequently encouraged to commit suicide. Whilst her father continued his normal life with his new wife, taking care of the home and considering their home insurance options, Miss Melhem was condemned to her bathroom cell.
She experienced frequent physical violence, which worsened the mental agony of having no freedom whatsoever. Miss Melhem said her father would beat her almost every day with sticks and electric cable. If she asked for her mother, she would have cold water poured on her, and on occasion he shaved her head and eyebrows. While she dreamed of running away to freedom, her father threatened to rape her until she got pregnant if she did so – after which her father would’ve killed her in an ‘honor killing’. For food, all she was given was bread with some olive oil, and an apple every day.
Miss Melhem said that when she was given a razor blade and instructions to kill herself, her stepmother – who collaborated in keeping her locked up – told her that she was a ‘nobody’, and that it would be ‘better if you killed yourself’.
Miss Melhem said that, with such a limited existence, ways of finding distraction were vital. Many people kept imprisoned for long periods of time in confined spaces or with little in the way of diversions go quickly insane and withdraw totally from reality unless they find some way to keep their minds relatively busy. To cope with her captivity, Miss Melhem said that she spent most of her days jumping up and down for exercise and to stay in a fit shape, cleaning her bathroom, dusting her blanket and listening to the radio for the remainder of the day. Miss Melhem believes that the radio was a source of great strength for her, being that it supplied her with a steady connection with the real world. She said that one day of particular inspiration came when she learnt from a radio show that her star sign was Leo, which is known for its fiery personality and gritty determination.
The family moved three times in the course of Miss Melhem’s captivity. In her final home in Qalqiliya, West Bank, the size of the bathroom she was confined to was merely 3 by 3 feet. Police said that, when they finally found Miss Melhem in this house, she was living in a room with one small window, and she was wrapped in a blanket, wearing clothing so thin and old they were disintegrating with age.
When police rescued Miss Melhem, they said that she appeared visibly shocked and startled upon seeing the outside world – her first view of it in ten years. She said that the light from the sun burnt her eyes for a while, being that it was the brightest light she had seen in all those years. When she saw it she said, ‘Is that the sun? Is that the sun I was dreaming of? and that the sight of people in great numbers walking the streets was a surprise too. She is said to have asked, ‘Are those the people I was hearing on the radio?’.
Her first request upon being rescued was for some hard candy, of the sort she loved to eat as a child but was strictly forbidden while imprisoned by her father. Her second request was to see her mother, with whom she is currently living. Her mother, Mrs Melhem, says that when she asked the girls father about her whereabouts, he told her to mind her own business. Mr Melhem is currently awaiting trial in Israel alongside Miss Melhem’s stepmother, since he has Israeli citizenship and the West Bank is within Israel’s jurisdiction.