Imagine youre sitting in the beach or coffee shop (or whichever is your haunt) with your friends. What would you do if someone casually mentioned that they had been sexually abused? Would you stop and stare? Would you be stunned and not know how to react, what to say? Would you feel angry with the abuser and upset? Would you feel dirty having touched such a person? Would you be irritated that such a serious “dirty” topic had come up socially? Would you wonder “but he (or she) seems so normal! …” Start thinking about it - this is not too far fetched you know.
According to the FPA, every 1 of 2 girl children is abused. Every 1 of 6 boys is abused. Quite scary isn’t that.
an abuser need not be just a stranger (it usually isn’t). it could be a parent, teacher, grandparent, relative, neighbour, driver, servant…anyone. There is absolutely NO classification like only people of a particular race or socio economic background are abusers.
Child sexual abuse may be defined as the coercion of a child by a more powerful person into sex for his/her gratification.
These constitute abuse:
1.Asking to be touched sexually
2.Peeping at children when they are bathing or dressing
4.Touching a child’s private areas (other than for cleansing)
7.Pornography – filming/showing
8.Obscene language, speech, innuendos
children who are left alone a lot, are insecure, unprotected, in dangerous or unstable environments, etc are more vulnerable to abuse.
Though a lot of abuse goes undetected and unreported, sometimes you may have a clue – im putting down a list of possible symptoms. Please note that these are more or less the general responses to traumatising events. Use your judgement and check whats going on : you cant use this as a blind check list.
1. Enlarged anus, vagina due to fisting or penetration (could be with objects also)
4. Tearing of tissues (hymen, anal tract, vaginal tract)
5. STD/HIV transmission
6. Vaginal discharge (this is abnormal before puberty. Suspect abuse)
7. Abnormally late or early onset of puberty
9. Pain, swelling
10. Irritation, burning sensation
11. Loss of appetite
12. self injury (the child may try to keep hurting itself after the abuse)
14. sexual dysfunction, impaired response to sexual stimuli (for survivors)
4. Sleep disorders
5. Aversion to sex or to the gender of the abuser
6. Suicide ideation
8. Post traumatic stress disorder
9. Repressed memory syndrome (the memory gets involuntarily blocked out, and surfaces later in life. So if you ask the child soon after it may not remember, but may much later)
11. Fear of homosexuality
4. exhibitionism (the child may keep displaying the part of the body which was abused)
5. may become an abusive adult if it doesn’t get help and counselling.
Just as important is how to identify an abuser. First, child sexual abusers are of two kinds – molesters and paedophiles. Molesters are more dangerous than abusers in that they simply make use of an “opportunity” to molest a person who is vulnerable (in this case, a child). They are adults who may otherwise be in healthy working relationships with other adults. Paedophiles are people who enjoy sex only with children. They find only children sexually attractive. Most abuse is perpetrated by molesters than by paedophiles. Each molester abuses an average of 300 children in his lifetime. If one of those children grows up to be a molester himself, that’s another 300 children – it grows exponentially.
This is how you respond to abuse:
1. BELIEVE the child. No child is capable of fabricating a thing like abuse.
Don’t blame the child. Nothing a child did could “deserve” a response like abuse.
2. Be calm. Don’t panic, don’t start shouting in fury even if its with the abuser, don’t cry – youll scare the child.
3. Affirm the feelings of the child are real. Don’t deny or ascribe feelings about the incident. Keep an open mind.
4. Be supportive. LISTEN to the child.
5.Report the abuse only if the child is ok, depending on the kind of abuse etc. a court case is a long traumatising process during which the child may have to relive the abusive experience several times. Though it would be great to nail the abuser, our priority is the child. See to its needs first. Help it heal. Then think of the abuser. Sad, but that’s the way it is for the Indian legal scenario.
I had gone for a child sexual abuse prevention and healing workshop some time back. (All this is from the workshop). It was conducted by this ngo that’s doing really great work – theyre called Tulir (Center for Prevention and Healing of Child Sexual Abuse). They counsel the children, get them help, help fight cases in court… the works. If you know any child in need of help, that’s a good place to start. This is a good number to know : the national child helpline number is 1098 (remember as 10-9-8)
If youre an adult survivor in india, it is more difficult but not impossible to get help – I hear there is an ngo called Rahe in delhi that works with adult survivors. In madras tulir mentioned that there may be a self help group started. (ill let you know if that comes through).meanwhile, hopefully psychiatrists are becoming more sensitive to this problem.
Ill also see if i can find links for help for adult victims of abuse, and post them here if i do. Meanwhile, spread the word. You don’t have to be in some social service organisation for this – talk to siblings, family, friends, colleagues, go to your alma mater and talk to juniors… theres heaps we can do. Lets make sure as many of us as possible is aware of what to do to prevent abuse and to help victims of abuse.