"People die with this secret": Local restauranteur helps fellow survivors of sexual abuse

Dianne Khan poses with "Recognizing the Signs" which can be picked up at her restaurant, Carib Kitchen.

Dianne Khan started writing poetry as a girl. The poems were dark — “I’ll never forget / you took my innocence / left me with this pain, and regret,” reads one titled “My Blood.”

Khan is also a survivor of childhood sexual abuse.  

“I was abused from age 4 to when I was 13 by five different men,” she said. “Four of those men were my family members.”

Today, Khan is transparent about her story and advocates for young victims and survivors, who she encourages to open up through writing and poetry. Next month, she will start a monthly poetry group for middle- and high-school-aged children.

“I wrote about my abuse when I started writing about age 10,” she said. “I was 16 years old when I remembered everything. My mind had known but I had blocked it.”

Owner and chef at Carib Kitchen in Alexander City, Khan is also the author of two self-published books about childhood sexual abuse: “Recognizing the Signs” (2013) and “Vile Intent: The truth behind the lies.”

The first order of copies for “Vile Intent” will be available at Carib Kitchen next week.

The poetry group, meanwhile, will commence Nov. 7 at Carib Kitchen and will continue to meet on the first Saturday of every month. Further details will be announced on the restaurant’s Facebook page.

Khan, who is Trinidadian, first came to know the Lake Martin area when a pen pal service paired her up with a boy in Dadeville. The boy lost interest, but his mom, attorney Faye Edmondson, and Khan became regular correspondents. In 1998 Edmondson convinced her to move to Alabama — by then, Khan was married with children of her own.

Her victimhood was also a factor.

“I had to leave because the people who abused me, I still had to interact with them and it was getting difficult because now I was having kids,” Khan said. “That was my main reason why I left Trinidad.” 

Khan may have escaped her own abusers, but she still recognizes signs of sexual abuse in other victims. Some, after coming across her books, open up over time.

“One customer came in with a work group first (and) didn’t speak a lot,” Khan said. “But after she started coming back, every time she came she would buy one of my books. Eventually we started to talk and I found out she is a survivor too. So, we kind of find each other.”

Khan has not always been so open about her abuse.

“I had a classmate reach out to me on Facebook a couple of years ago and he said ‘there’s two things I remember about you,’” she said. “‘You were very emotional and you were always alone.’”

Khan would act out as a teenager by cutting class — in Trinidad, this meant walking across the street to the beach. One day the school called her father and told him that she didn’t behave.

“What it was, I was showing all the signs of childhood sexual abuse but nobody could recognize it,” Khan said. “Hence the book, ‘Recognizing the Signs.’”

The book is intended as a guide for parents but it can also help victims recognize the signs in themselves.

“For a long time I couldn’t understand myself,” Khan said. “Why would I do this? Why would I do that? The book helps.”

Khan is also a spiritual person who practices three religions. Born to Hindu parents, Khan went to church with her neighbors growing up then converted to Islam when she married her husband, a Muslim.

“One of the after-effects of growing up with (abuse) is you’re not very spiritual, because you ask yourself if there’s a god and how this is happening to a child,” she said. “But I’m past that and I think the only thing that makes me better is when I talk.”

Since then, Khan has talked to many fellow survivors, sometimes complete strangers. Some reach out to her through Facebook. Some pull her aside after her book events, which she’s held in schools and libraries around Tallapoosa County. Some tell Khan she’s the first person they’ve ever confided in.

One family told Khan about how they had just buried their relative who was a lifelong abuser.

“Some of the sisters in that family never spoke, but they know it happened to them,” Khan said. “A lot of people die with this secret. That’s why they call it a silent crime. Nobody wants to talk about it.”

Family members can also be enablers, Khan said. One woman told her of how she was abused at the hands of her grandfather, right under her grandmother’s nose.

“That’s in Alabama — Alex City,” she said.

Thus far, Khan has not identified her abusers in her books. That’s about to change with “Vile Intent.”

“My abusers were my neighbor, my uncle, my own brother,” she said. “I put everything in there because after I’m done with this book I’m not writing about sexual child abuse.”

Khan said she has forgiven her abusers.

“It took forever, but I have,” she said.

Khan’s goal for her poetry group is to provide a safe space for young people, whether they’re seeking help themselves or showing up to support a peer. She encourages parents, however, to stay home, as not everyone is willing to open up in front of their family members.

Above all, Khan wants children to have the support no one recognized she needed when she was a child.  

“People think you are going to forget,” she said. “I was 4. I didn’t forget. One of my abusers recently went through a lot of life change and I noticed his actions, his behavior, his emotional state. And I recognize him now as a survivor. Hurt people hurt people.”