I am sure you have been as shocked and appalled as I, by the reports of repeated rape of a 12-year-old hearing impaired girl in Chennai, by as many as 22 men, some old enough to be her grandfathers, over a prolonged period of seven months. It is also equally, if not more, disturbing that her parents didn’t suspect anything for seven months.
The onus of protecting a child from sexual abuse lies primarily with parents — and then to a lesser extent with teachers, school authorities, other care givers and government authorities, in that order. So, to protect a child, parents have to educate themselves about the dangers faced by children today and they must be well-informed, so that they can detect any signs of sexual abuse.
But prevention is better than cure; so, I would like to tell you, parents, to do all that you can to ensure that your children are never ever abused sexually. And also, what you must do if you find out that your child has been abused.
Educate – yourself and your child
Here’s the first thing: please know is that no child is safe. Studies, several of them, have shown that all children are vulnerable, so you need to ensure that you are able to protect your child and also be able to detect signs of sexual abuse, if it occurs.
What has proven to drastically reduce sexual abuse of children is teaching the child about CSA and telling them what they need to do in case someone is trying to abuse them. Teaching a child about good touch, bad touch and even confusing touch ensures that the child is much less likely to be abused.
Parents, also know that as many as 70-80 percent of Child Sexual Abuse survivors never tell anyone about their abuse. But if a child, who has been taught about CSA, does fall prey to abuse, then that child is much more likely to confide in an adult who can be trusted. This will ensure that the abuse is stopped early and reported.
Education alone is not enough!
Even if you have educated your child about CSA, you still have to keep an eye on your child to detect if there is any behavioural change, any marked difference in academic performance, any noticeable upset in eating and sleeping patterns or other tell-tale signs. A child is unable to protect himself or herself, so the onus is on the parent and no parent can or should absolve themselves of this responsibility.
God forbid, but should your child be a victim…
… face it and do the right thing. Parents must know that a child who has been abused sexually suffers huge trauma that can have long-term negative impact on future development and progress. An abused child suffers from irreparable brain damage. In fact, CSA survivors have brain damage comparable to that in brain trauma, so don’t take it lightly.
Any CSA survivor needs proper and sound counselling for a sustained period of time. It takes anywhere from three to five years to get over the trauma of abuse and parents have to ensure that their child gets the support and counselling that is needed in that very critical period. Otherwise, your child will perform poorly, have problems in professional as well as personal life, and is very likely to get into substance abuse at some stage. Also CSA survivors are 13.7 times more likely to be re-victimised as compared to others in their adulthood.
Keep hammering at it
As a survivor of long term sexual abuse by an uncle, there are two things I like to tell parents.
First, ensure that your child is aware about what constitutes sexual abuse and what they need to do if someone tries to abuse them. Second, if they are ever sexually abused, they need to tell you as soon as it occurs.
Also a child needs to be taught to keep on repeatedly telling someone, till they are heard because often children’s complaints of CSA are not taken seriously.
The perpetrator could be anyone!
Usually, a child can trust one’s parents, grandparents and also school teachers. But sometimes, rarely though, fathers or grandfathers are the abusers and then it becomes difficult for a child to figure out whom they can trust.
Often mothers are not in a position to stand up to male figures in their house but in such a case, it is the responsibility of the mother to support and protect her child; she mustn’t let her child down. Also under the POCSO Act 2012, there is a provision of mandatory reporting, so the law is also on your side.
Protecting kids with disability
A child with a handicap is even more vulnerable to sexual abuse and if the child can’t communicate properly, then the problem becomes even more complex. Stay alert and do not be overtly trusting of anyone.
Remember that 50 percent of children are abused by their own uncles and older cousins so don’t keep on leaving you children in the care of male family members without properly ensuring that your child is safe.
Also, and this is something which has been constantly reiterated but somehow just doesn’t seem to register, young boys are as susceptible to sexual abuse as girls. So don’t take all attention off your boys.
Finally, if you find your child is being abused by a family member, do not hush it up. From my experience, I can say that when family members are the abusers, parents have a tendency to remain mum and not report the crime. This is because most people don’t want to get the male members of their families put behind bars. But in doing so, you are letting down a child, who has no one else to turn to.
You need to be solid and square in your child’s corner, whoever the abuser may be, and you must ensure that your child gets quality counselling. Otherwise your child will never overcome the terrible psychological impact of Child Sexual Abuse.
In India, CSA has taken on pandemic proportions as news reveals, almost on a daily basis now. The only protection to CSA is educating children and staying alert as parents.
[Also see: A complete guide to understanding CSA]