Be Alert to Sexual Abuse

Be Alert to Sexual Abuse
by H’vovi Bhagwagar 

India is home to 19% of the world’s children. Reports indicate that at least one out of every two children in India is abused.

In 2014, Indian researchers Mannat Mohanjeet Singh, Shradha S Parsekar and Sreekumaran N Nair conducted a study called ‘Epidemiological Overview of Child Sexual Abuse’ in India. Here are some startling findings.
  • India has the world’s largest number of child sexual abuse (CSA) cases.
  • Every 155th minute, a child below 16 years is molested.
  • One in every 10 children is sexually abused at some point in time.
  • Over 7,200 children, including infants, are raped every year and it is believed that several cases go unreported.
  • Organisations such as RAHI, Save the Children and the Ministry of Women and Child Development in India have reported that over 69% of Indian children are victims of sexual, physical, mental or emotional abuse.

What Does Child Sexual Abuse Mean?
  • Pinki Virani’s book ‘Bitter Chocolate’, a hardhitting account on CSA, mentions some of the meanings.
  • CSA is also called child molestation where an adult or older adolescent uses a child for sexual stimulation.
  • CSA can be as subtle as kissing, fondling, suggestive remarks or forcing a child to undress.
  • Making a child watch pornography is also a form of CSA.

Signs to Watch Out For
Most often, CSA is a gradual process and not a single event. By paying close attention to your child’s behaviour, abuse can be stopped before it harms the child.

Signs of Abuse/ Molestation in Children Below Age 10
  • Physical changes—trouble urinating,complaining of pain in private parts or shying away from bathing rituals
  • Fear of specific people, places and activities
  • Bedwetting and thumb-sucking
  • Loss of interest in food
  • Trouble sleeping and nightmares
  • Withdrawal from loved ones
  • Sudden appearance of bullying behaviour

Signs of Abuse/ Molestation in Adolescents
  • Suddenly becoming aggressive or committing acts of delinquency
  • Looking dull, uninterested and sad
  • Withdrawing from previously enjoyable activities
  • Nightmares and trouble sleeping
  • Doing poorly in school
  • Drug and alcohol abuse
  • Running away from home
  • Changes in appetite
  • Suicidal thoughts and gestures
  • Overly mature behaviour

How Can Parents Protect Their Child?
  • Caretaker Alert: Over 80% of CSA takes place in single-adult-single-child situations. Avoid leaving a young child with a single adult for long periods of time. This includes tuition teachers, house-help, relatives and neighbours. Ideally, let the child be supervised by two or three adults at the same time.
  • The Undergarment Rule: Kids as young as two years of age understand that certain body parts are private. Avoid awkwardness about body parts and answer questions as naturally as possible. More importantly, educate your child on the difference between a “good touch” and a “bad touch” from a young age. Telling kids, “The areas of the body covered by your undergarments are private" is an ideal way to begin sex education.
  • Safe Travelling: Never allow young children to travel alone by public transport. For children travelling by school bus, the presence of a female attendant must be made mandatory.
  • Play Watch:Young children (below the age of five) communicate best through play. In fact, most psychologists discover sexual abuse by watching a child playing. A child will show signs of abuse in the way he/ she deals with storytelling, drawing and playing with dolls. Aggressive or sexual content in stories or pointing to genitals of dolls are usual indicators of emotional disturbance.
  • Be Vigilant: Not all abused children show obvious signs. Check the history of the sites your child visits when he/ she is online and follow up on it. If your child goes for sleepovers, ensure you know the family well enough. Ask subtle questions about your child’s playmates to gauge if there is any inappropriate behaviour in the name of “play”.
  • Shout!: Warn your child that the moment a stranger touches any of his/ her private areas, and this includes family members, the child should shout as loudly as possible and attract the attention of those nearby.
  • Stay Away from Touching: Children are often encouraged to show respect and affection to adults by touching feet, hugging or sitting on their lap. All these are unnecessary; politeness and respect can be conveyed through a simple namaste and warm smile.

            What to Do if You Suspect Your Child Is Being Abused?
            • Talk to the child’s teacher, a friend, a paediatrician or even a psychologist for advice on the best course of action to take.
            • Keep a diary to note your child’s behavioural patterns.
            • If the child reports back to you about someone touching him/ her inappropriately in the family, never ignore the plea no matter how close the person may be. Tackle the issue diplomatically by taking the person aside and warning him/ her about taking action. Similarly, if the child shows fear of a particular adult, always follow up. Question the child gently and keep a watch on interactions between the child and the adult.
            • For more information, please watch the episode on CSA of the popular TV show ‘Satyamev Jayate’ on www.bit.ly/SatyamevJayateCSA

            If a Child Reports Sexual Abuse
            • Take the matter to the police station, which will register the crime under the Protection of Children against Sexual Offences Act (POCSOA). POCSOA is a relatively new law (2012) that views sexual abuse as a broader term and considers even subtle acts such as immodesty against children as criminal offences. It is the duty of parents and caregivers (doctors, psychologists and school authorities) to register any case of sexual offence against a child under POCSOA.
            • Keep calm and be empathic to the child. Manage your feelings as a parent and make the child’s security and comfort a priority. Never blame or suspect the child.
            • Get the child medically examined by a calm and professional paediatrician.
            • Seek out individual psychotherapy for the child and family therapy sessions to cope with the abuse.
            • Be vigilant but do not helicopter the child or restrict his/ her freedom after an offence occurs. More damage can be done by improperly managing post-trauma care.

            One of the saddest moments I face as a trauma therapist is when a child confesses to sexual abuse in therapy sessions but parents turn a blind eye to the same or drop out of treatment claiming the child is exaggerating. Take the above steps to be an informed, alert and supportive parent.

            H'vovi Bhagwagar is a clinical psychologist and trauma therapist with a private practice at Manashni, Mumbai. She works with adults and teens and specialises in trauma- and stress-related issues. You can reach her at hvovi.bhagwagar@gmail.com

            (Image Courtesy ThinkStock)

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