Being a parent and caring for your child is the most fulfilling role of our lives. The tender touch, the unquestioning trust & the warm smile is enough to melt your heart a dozen times. We teach our children almost everything, from how to eat and speak to how to be successful in life. Do we teach them how to save themselves?
Now consider this. 53.7% children in India have been sexually abused, which means, give or take a few percentage points, roughly more than half the children in Dehra Dun today have been abused. This abuse cuts across all regions, religions and economic barriers. It is common in educated and well to do families. So, please do not be lulled into “this cannot happen to my child” complacency. Remember that around 74% of sexual abuse goes unnoticed.
Just as you teach your child how to cross a road safely, you must teach your child how to protect himself or herself from prying adults. Children instinctively trust adults and closer the adult to the child, the more the trust. Sadly, children are abused mostly by adults they trust. Abuse by total strangers is less common. Please read the following paragraphs very carefully, if you love your child, which I’m sure you do.
What is Child Sexual Abuse?
Child sexual abuse is inappropriately exposing or subjecting a child to sexual contact, activity or behavior. Sexual abuse includes touching and non-touching behaviors. Touching behaviors involve touching of private parts, oral-genital contact, or sexual intercourse. Non-touching behaviors includes voyeurism (trying to look at a child’s naked body), exhibitionism, or exposing the child to pornography.
In about three fourths of the cases the abuser is in the inner circle of the child’s family: parents, relatives, family friends, servants, bus/ car drivers, day care centers and other such people a child has grown to trust. A study on Child Sexual Abuse by Govt of India in 2007 revealed that about an overwhelming majority of abuse occurs at home, the very place which should be most secure for the child. 30% of abuses occurred while travelling in cars / buses & 11% during marriages. An astonishingly high percentage of 5% children reported being photographed in the nude and 30% abused children said that they were forcible shown pornography.
What are signs that a child is being sexually abused?
Sexually abused children may appear perfectly normal to the casual eye most of the times.
If you see any of the following, rule out abuse:
- Has your child been suddenly speaking less with you?
- Does your child become distressed on meeting someone or on going somewhere? A child who is talkative or bubbly becomes quiet and stiff in presence of someone. Does he protest going to school or day care or someone’s house a bit too much?
- Does your child avoid being with someone?
- Does your child get nightmares or panic attacks?
- Has his /her school performance taken a sudden downturn?
- Has he /she suddenly started wanting to be alone, away from their friends?
- Has your child’s appetite suddenly disappeared or become excessive?
- Has he or she being crying a lot without any apparent reason?
- Does your child have unexplained injuries, aches or pains?
- A child may re-start bedwetting or thumb sucking.
- Has your child started stammering recently?
- Does your child insist on covering himself or herself? Could he or she be covering injuries? Insisting on wearing multiple undergarments is a strong sign of abuse.
- Demonstrating age inappropriate sexual awareness.
“Grooming” refers to the preparation an abuser makes before abusing a child. If the person is not close to the family, he will gradually work his way into the family inner circle. If he is already in the inner circle, then he will start “grooming” the child. It usually starts with gradually increasing non-sexual contact with the child, like hugging and kissing on cheeks. They then indulge the child, getting her gifts and letting her do things which parents forbid, like too many chocolates, alcohol, cigarettes or drugs. They look for a “secret” to share and then manipulate the child into sexual activities by using a combination of threats and “love”.
How to prevent childhood sexual abuse?
What to do if you doubt that your child has been sexually abused??
- Training your children to take care of themselves early is an important preventive measure. Teach them how to clean themselves without the help of adults or elder children.
- Give them the authority to say “NO” to anything which makes them uncomfortable even if the order to do so comes from an adult close to them. Give them a right to refuse hugs and kisses from elders if it makes them uncomfortable. Tell them that respect does not mean blind obedience for anyone.
- Talk to them, choose a time and a place when both of you are relaxed without any distractions. Do not focus on “Stranger Danger” as most abusers are not strangers.
- Talk about public and private body parts, parts which are covered by undergarments are private parts, which no one is supposed to see nor touch, nor anyone should show them their private parts. Tell them that this is a “rule” and to tell you if such a thing were to happen.
- Tell your children names of various private parts clearly.
- Explain the concept of “good” and “bad” touch. A good touch can be explained as a way for people to show they care for each other and help each other like hugging & holding hands. A bad touch can be explained as the kind you don’t like and would want to stop right away, such as hitting, kicking or touching private parts.
- Explain the difference between “good secrets” and “bad secrets”. Good secrets are like getting a surprise gift for someone and are OK because they are not meant to be kept secret for long, while bad secrets are those which are to be kept forever, which is not OK. It is all right to share bad secrets with your parents. Prepare them to react immediately to a “bad secret”.
- Play the “What if” game with them. Start with innocuous things like asking what if they were crossing a street and a car came along to what if someone touched their private parts.
- Talk to them and then listen to them. They may not talk about you ask them, when you ask them. The truth may come days later, keep your ears open. Remember that most children will tell the truth when asked, they may be reluctant at first due to a feeling of guilt (as if they were responsible for the sexual act); a feeling of not wanting to get the person in trouble (since he or she is close to them); because they feel what happened to them was “bad”; shame and guilt or because of direct threats by the abuser (“I will go to jail if you tell this to anyone” is a common cliché used by abusers). Very young children simply do not have the vocabulary to express clearly.
- Ask them direct questions gently like “Did anything happen to you in school today?” or “Have you ever felt frightened in school”.
- If you have any person in mind, ask “Did so and so ever tickle or touch you? show me how and where he tickled you”.
- Check for hidden promises “Has anyone ever scared you and asked you not to tell Mummy?”
- If you see inappropriate sexual behavior, ask “Who did you see doing that?”
- Go over the list of people your child meets on a daily basis, talk to each of them. Watch for inappropriately defensive or excessively “feeling offended” behavior. Talk to the school authorities, ask if they have abuse prevention policies in place (for example, no one should be allowed to be alone with a single child in a class room, irrespective of the sex).
- Talk to other parents in the school bus, school, day care center to see if they have noticed any unusual behavior or physical symptoms in their children.
- Talk to other children who are in close contact with your child.
- Look carefully all over your child’s body for injuries, especially the private parts.
Trust your instinct. If you still cannot be sure that your child is not abused, contact a self-help group or a therapist.
Dear Parent, even one incidence of sexual abuse is enough to damage your child’s life. Prevention is always better than cure. Do not simply think that this cannot happen to your child; make sure it does not happen to your child. For that you need to talk to your child and the best time to talk to your child about sexual abuse is NOW.
Cut and keep this article. Display it on a notice board for parents and children to read.