Sexual abuse during childhood causes severe psychological trauma to a child. Here are some tips on what to keep in mind while educating your child about protecting herself from being abused.
By Mahalakshmi Rajagopal
India’s justice system needs complete overhaul, says Justice Gogoi on child sexual abuse cases — The Print (6 June 2018)
With prominent citizens expressing such concerns and an increase in the number of cases of child sexual abuse, the issue is now a major concern. And, it is the role of parents to educate their children about protecting themselves from sexual abuse.
1. Know the symptoms of abuse: The psychological effect of abuse on a child can be long-lasting, irrespective of the type, frequency and intensity. The symptoms of abuse may manifest immediately, after a short period, or at a later stage in life. Some of the common signs an abused child manifests are:
2. Alert your child about non-touch forms of abuse: Non-touch forms of abuse are as traumatic as abuse by unwanted touch, sometimes even more. Some common non-touch forms of child abuse include exhibitionism, pressurising the child to view inappropriate content/messages, forcibly undressing the child, undressing in the presence of the child, stalking, staring in a way that makes the child feel uncomfortable, and trying to have conversations related to sex and sexuality. Most of the time, children do not complain about non-touch forms of abuse and, thus, suffer in silence. So, tell your child that if he is ever exposed to any of the experiences mentioned above, he should immediately bring it to your notice.
3. Ask your child to beware of both strangers and familiar faces: Most children are taught to beware of strangers like the ice cream vendor or bus driver. Rarely are they told to be on guard against abuse from known quarters. As a parent, wake up to the fact that even one of your loved ones could be a child abuser. So, educate your child and give her the courage and confidence to share with you any ‘uncomfortable’ experience she may have had with any family member or someone close to the family. And, when your child does share any such experience with you, help her overcome the trauma, and assure her that you trust her and will do everything possible to keep her safe. Parents would do well to remember this fact, as children who have been abused by their loved ones often nurture the feeling that their parents did not do enough to protect them. This feeling is a major obstacle to healing the emotional scars and so needs to be addressed at the earliest. Also, address the issue swiftly and firmly by taking it up with the culprit. In case things are beyond your control, do not hesitate to knock on the doors of the law.
An experience of abuse need not be physically or emotionally painful. Young children and adolescents can be made to believe that an activity, which is considered a form of abuse, is enjoyable, interesting or exciting. They can also be lured or tempted to indulge in the same or similar acts repeatedly. It is only when they grow up that children realise their folly and begin feeling guilty, worthless and ashamed of themselves. So, when you hear a child voicing his experience of sexual misconduct as an enjoyable experience, do not jump to the wrong conclusions about the character of the child. Instead, educate the child about the dangers that she is exposing herself to by indulging in such acts. A 17-year-old girl came to me with complaints of depression. As the counselling sessions progressed, the root cause of her depression came to light. At the early age of 8 or 9, for a short period, she got interested in pornography. Feeling guilty about what she had done, and having hid her misdemeanour from her parents, she had a breakdown at the age of 17. However, with therapy, she was able to get her life back on track soon.
Most child abusers, especially those indulging in non-touch forms of abuse, are not appropriately educated on matters of sex and sexuality. Therefore, they indulge in such unhealthy conduct. Some are simply irresponsible and indulge in abuse for ‘fun’, oblivious of the trauma they cause to their victims. Others derive a sadistic pleasure by ‘overpowering’ the weak, that is innocent children. So, if you know someone around you who is involved in child abuse, it is your responsibility to address the abuser. Another important point to keep in mind is that not all child abusers are male, an equal number of females are also involved in this heinous act.
A question that most parents ask me is, “How should we educate our children?” According to me, parents should use need-based, age-appropriate language to make their child understand. For example, if you‘re advising a two-year-old about eating food from roadside shops, you may say, “Oh dear, that’s not good.” But, to a 10-year-old, you would probably say, “That food could be unhealthy and you may fall sick.” So, while the subject is the same, the amount of information given varies with age. The same principle holds good for sex education and educating your child about preventing abuse. Remember, the objective behind the exercise should be to empower the child, and not to instil fear and suspicion in her mind.
My parting message is that we must remind ourselves that the world is not a horrible place. It is a beautiful haven full of lovely people; of whom, a few come across as abusers. So, if all of us become proactive in protecting children, we will be able to overcome the menace of child abuse. Let us pledge to care better for our loved ones today!!
Mahalakshmi Rajagopal, Director of Sahayam Intervention Centre and Sahayam Charitable Trust, Delhi
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