Preventing child sexual abuse
Sharmila Govande | 01 Apr 2008

Child sesxual abuse is a very complex issue especially when the perpetrators are known and trusted by the child's family. The article provides information to the reader about child sexual abuse and certain tips to prevent child sexual abuse.

“I was so scared, I rushed to my mother. I told her everything. However, she did not believe me and asked to go to my room. This was probably a shock for her too. I do not know. It has been so many years. I sat in my room wondering how someone so dear to me could do this to me. All I wanted was to feel the warmth of my mother’s arms. All I wanted to hear from her was that she would stop all this, that she believed me and that she was there for me, to protect me. However, what I faced was her denial. She could not get herself to believe that her husband would do this to his own daughter.”
Suddenly the entire room was silent. The entire group was so shocked that we did not know what to say. The young lady about twenty years of age continued talking amidst her sobs, “What is the use of a law, when the family keeps such cases a secret? What is the use of a law, when we victims are told to suffer silently and to keep quiet?”
For many of us her story was horrifying. Until now, we had read and discussed cases where the perpetrator was a distant uncle, a servant, a cousin, a grandfather, a stepfather, a teacher. Now here we were listening to someone say that her biological father had sexually abused her.
We were into a serious discussion of how to handle cases of abuse. Most of the members were keen on having a law passed on child sexual abuse. However, every time we discussed on ‘how to handle such a situation?’ our conversation reached a dead end.
We realized that the issue was very complex and simply fighting for a law was not going to prevent child sexual abuse. What we realized was that along with a law against child sexual abuse, we needed to build a system for educating children, parents, caregivers and teachers on child sexual abuse and build a support system to help the abused from any further abuse.
In this article, I aim to make readers aware of child sexual abuse and equip them with information that would help them prevent child sexual abuse.
What is Child Sexual Abuse?
‘Any child may be deemed to have been sexually abused when any person(s), by design or by neglect, exploits the child, directly or indirectly, in any activity intended to lead to the sexual arousal or other forms of gratification of that person(s). This definition holds whether or not there has been genital contact and whether or not the child is said to have initiated or consented to, the behaviour.’
Sexual abuse would include:
·         Forcing or enticing a child to take part in sexual activities (incest, intercourse, rape, sodomy)
·         Forcing or enticing children to be part of pornographic material
·         Forcing or enticing children to watch sexual activities.
·         Encouraging them to behave in sexually inappropriate ways.
·         Exposure to sexually explicit, inappropriate language, jokes and images
·         Touching a child in inappropriate ways.
Who can sexually abuse a child?
A survey carried out by Women and Child Welfare department along with NGO Prayas in association with UNICEF and Save the Children in the year 06 - 07 revealed that 53.22% of children reported having faced one or more forms of sexual abuse, with Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Assam and Delhi reporting the highest percentage of such incidents.
Major findings of the Study:
·      Boys, as compared to girls, are equally at risk of abuse.
·      Persons in trust and authority are major abusers.
·      5-12 year old children are in the high-risk category: across the forms of abuse, the percentage of abuse among them is the highest.
·      70% of the children have not reported abuse to anyone.
·      Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Bihar and Delhi almost consistently report high rates of abuse in all forms as compared to other States.
·      2 out of every 3 children have been physically abused.
·      Two out of every three-school going children are victims of corporal punishment. Half of these incidents are in government run schools.
·      More than half of the child respondents reported facing one or more forms of sexual abuse.
·      Every second child reported facing emotional abuse. In more than 80% of the cases parents were the abusers.
 Most other studies too have revealed that very often, the child knows the abusers. The abusers were in fact in a position of trust and had responsibility toward the child. Thus, anybody can abuse a child – servant, uncle, family friend, father, grandfather, teacher, neighbour etc.
Though studies have shown that usually girls are vulnerable to abuse, there have been incidents where boys have had to face sexual abuse making boys equally at risk to abuse.
Impact of child sexual abuse?
Put yourself in the shoes of the abused child. Feel what is to be sexually abused and multiply the intensity of your feelings by ten. This is the minimum level of stress, trauma and emotional disturbance that a child would face on being abused. Sexually abused children are stressed out emotionally and mentally. They suffer from trauma and repeated abuse leads to disturbed behaviour such as self-harm, sadness, inappropriate sexual behaviour, depression, withdrawal and loss of self-esteem. The children very often suffer from lasting impact, which plays an important role in shaping their personality as adults and their sexual behaviour as adults.
Some research findings on the extent and intensity of the impact:
  1. The longer the abuse continues and the more extensive it is, the more severe the impact will be.
  2. The impact of abuse is more severe if the child is older.
  3. The degree of threat and coercion, sadism and bizarre or unusual elements will also affect the degree of impact of the abuse.
  4. A child’s ability to cope with the experience of sexual abuse, once recognised or disclosed, is strengthened by the support of a non-abusive adult carer who believes the child, helps the child to understand the abuse, and is able to offer help and protection.
  5. Some adults who sexually abuse children have themselves been abused. However, it would be wrong to suggest that most children who are abused will inevitably go on to become abusers themselves.
Most importantly, a child loses the innocence of childhood, sheer joy of being a child – exploring and experiencing everything with gay abandon, the essence of life, the positivism, the fun and the hope when subject to abuse.
What can you do as a parent, teacher or caregiver in order to prevent abuse?
  1. Educate yourself: The first step to prevention of child sexual abuse is to educate oneself on child rights, child sexual abuse and its impact, sex and sexuality, the support system available and the law. Today a lot of information is available on the internet, in magazines, journals and books.
  2. Giving Correct Information: Whenever we teach children different body parts, we conveniently skip telling them about breasts, uterus, the penis and the vagina. Give them enough information as per their age.
    • The correct terminology for these parts.  Do not feel shy to call a penis a penis and a vagina a vagina.
    • Give them correct information about the functions of these parts.
    • Teach them to respect and care for these parts. 
  3. Good Touch and Bad Touch: Teach the children about what is good touch or bad touch. Too much kissing, kissing on the lips, touching and fondling private parts are all bad touches. Tell your child that if he feels uncomfortable with any touch, it is bad touch. Teach the child that no one can treat him in a way that makes him / her scared and uncomfortable. No one has the right to force him / her to do things he does not like or things that hurt him.
  4. Teaching the child to say NO: Every child must know that he / she has the right to say no if they do not like or feel uncomfortable with someone’s touch. At the same time, tell your child that you as a parent / teacher / caregiver will respect his decision to say ‘no’ to someone and will be on his / her side.
  5. Teach the child to confide in someone: Tell the child that it is imperative for him / her to talk to somebody he trusts, if he is facing sexual abuse. Most children keep quiet because they feel that no one will believe them. Most often, the abusers threaten them to keep silent increasing their fear.
  6. Trust the child when he / she confides in you: If a child confides in you trust the child. Children are very innocent. They will not make up a story of abuse.
  7. Do not panic: By panicking, you will make matters worse for the child. It is very important for you to be calm and cool. If the child has shared with you, it is obvious that he trusts that you will stop any further abuse.
  8. Using confrontation carefully: if you know the abuser, be careful of how you will use confrontation. A child does not want to make matters worse for you – most often, the child also feels guilty. Judge the situation before confronting the abuser – most often a confrontation works, however if the abuser is a seasoned one or is in a state of power, he will not pay any heed to your confrontation.
  9. Be sure to keep the child away from the abuser: take all precautions to ensure that the child is never alone in the company of the abuser.
  10. If you are working with children – emphasize on the need to have a child protection policy. Every organization working directly with children should have a child protection policy to ensure the safety of every child on their programme.
  11. Seek help: If you do not know what to do seek help. Many organizations provide legal and healing support. Do not hesitate to contact them. Following is a list of a few organizations working on the issue of child sexual abuse:

Area / State
Phone numbers
26192026, 26190771
Forum against child sexual exploitation
New Delhi
011-6253289, 011-6253298
New Delhi
011-6419849, 011-6238466
New Delhi
011-4623295, 011-4643946
New Delhi
11-2437-9070, 2437-9071
International Foundation for crime prevention and Victim Care
044-55515921, 044-42317788
Crisis Line: 91-44-43111143

Original post on: http://sharmilagovande.sulekha.com