The headline of my article can be a little disconcerting to some.
To some the word Child Sexual Abuse will be something people don’t want to acknowledge it exists and to other people the possibility of a boy child being abused doesn’t exist.
A very hushed up topic in Indian society, this unfortunately, is the most pervasive form of abuse that children face, that transcends class and sex of the child. More than 53% of children in India are subjected to sexual abuse, as per a study commission by the Ministry of Women and Child Development. Of this, 53% of the victims were boys and 47% were girls. And in more than 50% of the cases the abuser is a person the child knows or trusts.
April was the month of child sexual abuse awareness and I got myself involved in several activities to support the cause – from launching a book (The Bad Touch), to organising an event (Making Connections) and engaging several mothers groups to accept and discuss this stark reality.
We parents tend to think that kids imagine that someone behaves with them inappropriately and therefore tend to ignore the child’s attempt to explain their experience. And this is what the abuser takes advantage of – that you will not suspect and that it will be his word against the child’s. The societal stigma associated with abuse – where the abused is looked down upon as against the abuser – prevents parents from taking legal action or even talk about the abuse. This empowers the abuser more – to simply move on to the next child when they are found out.
Here are some concrete steps that you can take to protect your child from abuse, from becoming just another statistic:
1. Speak about it: Sexuality is never discussed at home. Sex is considered as taboo and children are never exposed to sex though the television is rife with sexual scenes and dialogues. A more open discussion of the subject with your children opens up several doors of discussion between parents and children as they grow. Speaking about sex in an open manner allows children to understand that this is not a banned subject at home and anything related to this subject can be discussed with their parents with ease.
2. Teach your child about their body: From a very early age you can establish names for private parts of their body. While we teach them about their head, shoulders, knees and toes, their privates should be called what they are – penis, buttocks and vagina.
3. Know your child’s whereabouts: Know where your child goes and with whom. Keep a close watch on your child’s caretakers, teachers and anyone the child comes in contact with during the course of the day. If you keep your child in day care, make sure that the staff has strict rules regarding safety. Do a thorough check before hiring domestic help at home.
4. Teach your child about safe and unsafe touch: Tell your child no one can touch their lips, chest, genitals and bottom and they cannot touch anyone else’s. Only mummy and the person who gives them a bath can touch them there. Anyone else touching them there they are to shout ‘NO’ loudly and immediately go to mummy (at home) or the teacher (at school) and tell them what happened. Keep it simple when they are younger. As they grow older, you can further clarify what safe and unsafe touch is.
Safe Touch: makes you feel good, leaves us happy and comfortable.
Unsafe Touch is anything that involves:
- Feelings such as anger, fear, confusion and leaves us uncomfortable
- Touching private parts of the body
- Any kind of touch that we are told to keep secret
5. Understand cues: Look for physical indicators during bath times – redness or pain in genital or anal areas. Difficulty in walking and sitting, anorexia or loss in appetite and recurrent urinary infections are also signs to watch for.
Sleeping disorders, regressive behaviour, a reluctance to go to some place or with someone, sudden use of new names for body parts, loss of interest in routine activities and use of abusive sexual language or actions are some behavioural cues.
A development of phobias, suicidal tendencies or thoughts and social withdrawal are some other psychological indicators to watch for.
6. Talk to them often: Talk to your children about their day before they go to sleep. Pay attention to words they use in your casual chat, look for incidents that made them sad or happy during the day. Remind them casually not to play secret games with anyone. If they do tell you anything upsetting, don’t react with anger.
7. Be on your child’s side: If you child has faced abuse, be on your child’s side. It is never the child’s fault. Support your child to overcome the trauma by talking it out. Take action against the abuser but never in front of the child, should the abuser turn against the child. Assure your child that it is alright and he / she isn’t at fault.
It is sad but true that the abusers find children to be easy targets. This is primarily because children thrive on touch and it is one of the first senses that develop. They associate touch with acceptance and love. Touch needs to be associated with good – early experiences of unsafe touch can impact their overall development. So unless children are explained what unsafe touch is, they do not understand it. Efforts need to be made to share their experiences because they lack understanding to explain what unsafe touch is.
Janice is a communications professional, a social media enthusiast and a mother of two boys (one deceased). A keen follower of parenting trends, she dotes on her son while photographing him and anything that catches her fancy. An ardent foodie, she cooks traditional and modern recipes – compiling all of it on her blog – ilivetoeatblog.wordpress.com. Working with startups and entrepreneurs on their communications strategies with her partner during the day, she has just enough time in the day to read, write and tweet @janoella.