India is home to 19% of the world’s children. Reports indicate that at least one out of every two children in India is sexually abused. In 2014, Indian researchers Singh, Parsekar and Nair conducted an Epidemiological Overview of Child Sexual Abuse (CSA) in India. Here are some startling findings.
- India has the world’s largest number of CSA cases. For every 155thminute a child below 16 years is molested.
- One in every 10 children sexually abused at any point of time.
- Over 7,200 children, including infants, are raped every year and it is believed that several cases go unreported.
- Similarly, organizations such as RAHI, Save the Children and Ministry of women and child development in Indiahave also 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 hard-hitting account on CSA, mentions some of the meanings of child sexual abuse.
- Child sexual abuse is also called child molestation where an adult or older adolescent uses a child for sexual stimulation
- Child Sexual Abuse refers to a wide variety of acts, (subtle or gross) which all amount to forced sexual relations between an adult and a child.
- CSA can be as subtle as kissing, fondling, sexually suggestive remarks or forcing the child to undress.
- Oral sex, voyeurism or making the child view pornography are also forms of sexual abuse.
Signs to watch for
Most often child sexual abuse is a gradual process and not a single event. By paying close attention to your child’s behavior, sexual abuse can be stopped before it harms the child.
Signals of abuse/molestation in children below age 10
- Physical changes-trouble urinating, complaining of pain in private parts, shying away from bathing rituals
- Fear of specific people, places, and activities
- Bed wetting, thumb sucking
- Loss of interest in food
- Trouble sleeping and nightmares
- Withdrawal from loved ones
- Sudden appearance of bullying behaviour
Signals of abuse/molestation in adolescents:
- Suddenly becoming aggressive or committing delinquency acts
- Looking dull, uninterested and sad
- Withdrawing from previously enjoyable activities.
- Nightmares, trouble sleeping
- Doing poorly in school
- Drug and alcohol abuse
- Running away from home
- Changes in appetite
- Suicidal thoughts and gestures
- Overly mature behavior
How can parents protect their child?
Caretakers alert: Over 80% of child sexual abuse happens 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 2 or 3 adults at the same time.
The undergarment rule: Kids as young as two years of age understand that certain body parts are private. Parents can choose words as close to the real body part (penis instead of pee pee). Don’t disapprove if the child is showing interest in their genitals or about sexual intimacy. Avoid awkwardness and answer their questions as naturally as possible. Most 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 a bathing suit are private” is an ideal way to begin sex education.
Safe travelling: Never allow very young children to travel alone by public transport. For girls travelling by school bus, the presence of a female attendant must be made mandatory.
Play watch: Very small children (below the age of 5) communicate best through play. In fact most psychologists discover sexual abuse by watching a child playing. Storytelling, drawings and playing with dolls are ways for parents to keep a check if their child is facing any kind of abuse. Aggressive or sexual content in stories or pointing to genitals of dolls are usual indicators of emotional disturbance.
Be vigilant: Don’t expect that there will be obvious signs if your child is being abused. Check the history of sites your child is visiting online. Are there porn sites or child sexual abuse related material in the cache? Follow up on it. Find out all details of the family your child goes to sleepovers for. Ask subtle questions about your child’s playmates to gauge if there is any inappropriate behavior in the name of “play”.
Shout! Warn your child that the moment a stranger touches any of his private areas, and this includes family members, the child should shout as loud as possible and attract attention of those nearby.
Stay away from touching: Indian culture encourages children to show respect and affection to adults by touching feet, hugging, or sitting in laps. All these are unnecessary; politeness and respect can be conveyed through a simple Namaste and warm smile.
What do you do if you suspect your child is being abused but are not sure?
- When confused ask the child’s teacher, a friend, pediatrician, or even a psychologist for advice about what course of action to take
- Keep a diary to note patterns of behavior in your child.
- If the child reports back to you about someone touching 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 them 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 adult.
- For more information, please watch the episode on child sexual abuse aired on the popular TV show Satyamev Jayate –https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hY8CyTeegrM
If the child reveals openly about sexual abuse
- Call ChildLine, a 24-hour phone outreach service for children in need. The number is 1098 or visit http://www.childlineindia.org.in/
- Take the matter to the police station who will register the crime under POCSO ‘Protection of Children against Sexual Offences’. POCSO 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 a criminal offence. It is the duty of parents and caregivers (doctors, psychologists and school authorities) to register any case of sexual offense against a child under POCSO.
- Keep calm and be empathic to the child. Manage your feelings as a parent and make the child’s security and comfort the priority. Never blame or suspect the child.
- Get the child medically examined by a calm and professional pediatrician
- Seek out individual psychotherapy for the child and family therapy sessions to cope appropriately with the abuse. Forms of therapy specially designed for managing PTSD (Post traumatic stress disorder) such as EMDR (Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing) can help the child completely recover from the event and regain their previous healthy self.
- Be vigilant but do not helicopter the child or restrict their freedom after an offense 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.
This post originally appeared in the RobinAge.