Child sexual abuse : Why changing perspective is necessary ?

Ngairangbam Zevina Chanu *

Child sexual abuse (CSA) is a stark reality worldwide. It can occur to children of any gender, boys or girls alike, and across a range of caste, religion, cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds. In India, the Juvenile Justice Act 2000, any persons below age 18 years are considered as a child.

As per the National Study on Child Sexual Abuse, released by the Ministry of Women and Child Development in India, Prayas and UNICEF (2007), 53% of children were sexually abused out of which 47% are girls and 53% are boys. The study shows that 50% of the perpetrators were known to the child and majority of the cases took place within the family environments or close neighbors.

A common misconception about CSA is that CSA encompasses only rape or molestation. However, it also includes various forms of other sexual violence. According to Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, sexual abusive acts towards children includes, inserting the perpetrator’s private parts/hands/objects to the child’s private part, touching the child’s private parts, breast or buttock and making the child do the same, exposing childrento adult sexual activity or pornography, commercial sexual exploitation of children such as putting up a child’s image on media for pornographic purpose, passing sexual remark and sexual gestures or noise.The prevalence of CSA transcends cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds. However, some children are more at risks than other.

They include children with physical or mental disabilities, children from lower socioeconomic background, children who are bullied often, children who lack adult’s supervision and children whose parents are abusive or alcoholic, etc.

In India, any abetment or attempts to commit any of the sexual acts mentioned above is punishable under the POCSO Act. However, it paradoxically has not deterred the perpetrators from committing the heinous crime against children. There seems to be no full stop. There are many reasons as to why CSA has become rampant.

Some of the reasons could be:-

1. Indian society is very conservative. The issue of CSA is still considered a stigma. Victim’s character is often questioned. Therefore, majority of the parents or caregivers chose it to remain undisclosed. This silence is mainly due to the fear of social stigma and indignity.

2. The children could be threatened by the perpetrator. Sometimes, they threaten the child like they will kill or do the same to their family members and so on.

3. Another reason is ‘grooming’ which is a process where the perpetrator earns trust from the child and their family first. They help the family in their financial needs, emotional needs or even teach books to the child. And once they gained their trust, they begin to take control of the child and sexualize the relationship.

4. The child could not tell the parent because of fear of getting scolded or being disbelieved or they do not fully comprehend what has happened to them.

5. Sometimes, many of us do not even know that we are being bused. For example, when somebody said ‘nice butt’ we just thought she/he is a pervert or she/he is disgusted, but what we fail to understand is that it is a verbal abuse. One of the reasons why many of the cases go unreported is that we don’t even know when we were abused. We don’t know before but now we should.

6. When it comes to cases of adolescents, the reasons could be blaming the victims.

Questioning the victim’s character especially, if the victim is female child. Our society often judge female child victim on what they wear, slut shame them, delivers comments such as ‘the girls shouldn’t go out at night’, etc. this encourage the perpetrators and consequently perpetuates more sexual crime against children.

What we should keep in mind is that children remember. They do not forget and this memory will haunt them forever causing grave life-long outcomes both physically and mentally. Some of the short term outcomes include, drop out of school, behavioral changes like the child might become more aggressive or quitter than usual, nightmares, bed-wetting, complaining of body ache, social withdrawal, terrified or scared, etc.

While in long-term consequences comprise, psychological problems such as psychosomatic disorder, body-image dissatisfaction, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety, etc., developing harmful sexual behavior (engage in prostitution or the child may himself/herself become the offender when they grow up), substance abuse, difficulty in maintaining relationships, it sometimes even lead to failed marriage, suicidal risks, etc.

CSA is a social evil and any form of social evil can be eliminated. This can be achieved only through a changed sensibility of public opinion on the CSA issue. For this we need to stop stigmatizing a victim. Instead, we should emphasize any victim like we normally do when someone is injured or met with an accident or sick. We usually go and ask about their illness and wish for a quick recovery.

Why can’t we do the same to those who receive sexual abuse, they are emotionally, psychologically and physically injured. What we must keep in our mind is that, it’s not their fault, and it’s the fault of the offender.

Also, we should support and encourage the parent or child to report the CSA issue to the concerned authority so that the necessary steps against the offender is taken up and the issue is addressed. We can extend solidarity, love and care towards the victim and the family and assuring them that there’s nothing to be ashamed of because it’s not their fault. If it was anyone’s fault, it is the offender. As a parent and caregiver there are ways to protect our children from sexual abuse.

Below are the lists of some safe and unsafe rules which are supported by UNICEF that can be taught to our children to protect them:-

1. Naming the body parts: we can start teaching them the names of the whole body parts from 1.5 years to 2 years including our body parts from our chest to our private parts. We should teach the importance of these and remind them there’s no shame or guilt attached to our body parts.

2. Personal safety education (Safe and unsafe touch): it can be started at the age of 3-10 years. We must teach them that there are four personal areas that no one can touch without our permission and they are our lips, chest, private parts and our buttock. They should be made aware of their rights that their body belongs to them and no one can touch it without their permission.

3. Clothing rules: it includes the body parts that are needed to be covered in public. The parts includes the personal areas i.e., chest, private parts and buttock except for lips.

4. Sex education at the age of 11-18 years.

5. Teach them to say ‘NO’ if any one tries to break these personal safety rules, getting away or walking away from the abuser and to tell a safe adult about the abuser. They must be reminded that their bodies belong to them and they have their own right to say ‘NO’ or ‘GO AWAY’ to the offender.

6. We should respect and trust our children. Children do not lie about sexual act.

Children do not know the full details of a sexual act and if they happen to see a sexual act, they are not capable of describing it as it is. So, when children complain about someone touching them in their personal areas or when they describe a sexual act, they are telling the truth.

Reminder to the caregivers: When a child complains about any sexual abuse or anyone who breaks the safety rules with them, we should not scold the child or blame them. Instead we should listen, trust them and report the abuser so that such things never happen again.

And what we should remember that children always remember what happen to them, so it will be ignorant if we chose to stay silent and thought they will forget. And this will affect them in long term.

* Ngairangbam Zevina Chanu wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The writer is a clinical psychologist
This article was posted on Septemner 12, 2019 .

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