What is child sexual abuse? How can you identify if your child is a victim of sexual abuse? Who can be the perpetrators? Read on to know the answers to all these questions and more.
By Arundhati Swamy
How can you keep your young children safe from the unseen, unsuspecting individuals who prey upon their innocence and trust? Contemporary studies reveal alarming statistics about the harsh truths about child abuse. News reports, books, films, social media and awareness campaigns are drawing a lot of attention to the distressing frequency with which cases are reported or discovered, escalating our fears for our children’s safety.
A hitherto taboo subject, child sexual abuse is gradually receiving its due consideration in our society that once ignored, or refused to believe that it has been widely prevalent since yore. Spurred by emboldened activists and the right of all children to be protected from all forms of abuse, neglect, exploitation and violence, as set out in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child 1989, the Indian Parliament in 2012, passed the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (POCSO).
CSA occurs when an adult or older adolescent uses a child for sexual stimulation.
The following information has been reproduced with permission from TULIR, Centre for the Healing and Prevention of child Sexual Abuse, Chennai. http://www.tulir.org/childsexualabuse.htm
Child Sexual Abuse includes the following Touching and Non-Touching Behaviors (but need not be limited only to these acts).
All children are at risk for abuse. The abusers ‘groom’ the victims carefully, building their trust by giving them gifts and making them feel special. Typical socio-cultural values such as implicit obedience and respect, and compliance towards adults also make children vulnerable. Furthermore, many parents/care-givers are either uncomfortable talking to their children about sexuality, or they don’t know how or what to say. Statistics indicate that both boys and girls are equally vulnerable to sexual abuse. Domestic violence, drug or alcohol abuse at home and disabilities may also make children vulnerable, who would therefore need more support and protection.
Whom do you keep your children safe from? Distressing as it may sound, family members, both male and female, are not beyond suspicion. Friends, acquaintances, strangers, neighbours, care-takers, visitors, persons with authority, drivers, domestic staff, school staff and just about anyone could be a potential predator.
Why are children afraid to disclose abuse?
Children don’t know how to handle the difficult feelings of guilt and fear.
Guilt – it’s my fault, I put myself in the situation, I deserve it, sometimes it felt nice, I am bad.
Fear – will I be believed, will I be blamed, what will my family say, will I hurt them, will they stop loving me, frightful threats from the abuser, betraying the self, changes in relationships, shame.
Since guilt and fear prevent children from seeking help, there are possible signs and symptoms of CSA to look for in their behaviours. Children who are sexually abused may:
1. Stay away from certain individuals
2. Show sexual behaviour that is inappropriate for their age
a. Advanced sexual knowledge/behaviour beyond their level of development/visual detail of sexual activity
b. Sexualized behaviours (can also be present in non-abused children)
c. Show physical symptoms
Warning signs in teens/adults who interact with children
The touching rules
When teaching children to be safe, avoid using the terms ‘good touch’ and ‘bad touch’, because abusers can very easily manipulate children into believing that what is being done to them is ‘good’.
The correct terms to use are ‘safe touch’, ‘unsafe touch’ and ‘confusing touch’.
The safe touch makes a child feel loved, supported and cared for and comfortable with self and the person.
The unsafe touch makes a child feel doubtful, uncomfortable, physically and emotionally hurt, afraid and repulsed.
The confusing touch makes a child experience mixed feelings. The touch can ‘feel good’ because of the stimulation, and yet instinctively guilt may arise. The child is led to believe the touch is a special privilege but also feels uncomfortable and unsure.
What you must teach your children
How to respond to a child’s disclosure
When a child discloses sexual abuse or molestation it is one of the most devastating experiences for parents and care-givers, and an alarming experience for the child.
The first step to take in dealing with the situation is to take care of yourself. The matter could leave you feeling shocked, angry, confused, emotionally drained and helpless.
Reassuring things to say when a child discloses:
Things not to say when a child discloses:
Things to do
Things not to do
Where to get help
About the author:
Written by Arundhati Swamy on 27 April 2017.
Arundhati Swamy is a family counsellor and Head of the Parent Engagement Program at ParentCircle.
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