Preventing Child Sexual Abuse
BY NIKITA BHUTANI
April is Child Sexual Abuse (CSA) Awareness Month. With the ongoing lockdown, it is possible that children are trapped with their abuser. This post is about what you can do as a parent or caregiver to prevent CSA.
What can you do to prevent CSA?
✔️ Start with using the correct names for genitals. If eyes are eyes and hands are hands - why special names for genitals? Use words like penis, vulva, buttocks, vagina, testicles. Using different names might make the child feel that genitals are something to be ashamed of. If you hear the child using a different name for genitals, dig deeper.
✔️ Talk to kids about safe and unsafe touch. Define their private parts and tell them that their body belongs only to them and nobody should touch them. This is an important part of sex education - and contrary to common misconception, sex education is so much more than just talking about sex.
✔️ Welcome curiosity and and answer questions truthfully in an age appropriate manner.
✔️ Do not stop the child or react strongly if they're exploring their bodies by touching themselves. Instead, request them to do so in private. That will prevent them from associating private parts with shame.
✔️ Give them complete autonomy on their body. During play time, if they ask you to stop tickling, or they say no to pillow fight - respect that and stop. Seek permission before giving them hugs and kisses. Tell them it's okay to say no and mean it with actions. Same way, teach them about consent and boundaries with other people.
✔️ More often than not, abusers are people the child is familiar with - and they may hold a position of trust. Encourage the child to let you know if someone asks them to keep a secret. Do not ask your child to keep secrets for you.
✔️ Abusers often address children as their boyfriend/girlfriend/husband/wife, or treat children to be older than they are. If you notice this behavior, discourage it strongly and limit this adult's access to the child.
✔️ Teach the child to say No if someone tries to touch them inappropriately or if they are not comfortable with any person, run to a safe place/adult, and report what happened. Listen to them without dismissing their discomfort.
CSA MYTHS DEBUNKED
Now that we know what to do to prevent child sexual abuse, let's also take a look at debunking a few myths, and how you can help if a child confides of any inappropriate behavior they've experienced:
Myth #1 - Only girl children are sexually abused.
Fact: In India, as many as 47% boys and 53% girls are abused as kids.
Myth #2 - Sexual abuse is limited to inappropriate touching/penetration.
Fact: Sexual abuse can be in many forms and may not be limited to touch. Some behaviors include exposing one's genitals to children or asking them to expose theirs, showing pornography, or watching them use the bathroom without consent, etc.
Myth #3: Children can misinterpret sexual assault.
Fact: Sexual assault may start as harmless touching of hair or cheeks, tickling, etc,.and balloon into more inappropriate territory when it goes unchallenged. When the child tells you they're uncomfortable with someone's touch, do not take this lightly.
Myth #4: If the act is consensual, it does not qualify as Child sexual abuse.
Fact: If one of the persons involved is under the age of 18, it is still child sexual abuse even if they gave consent.
What can you do to help?
If a child confides in you about any such incident, here are a few things you can do:
- Trust the child: We cannot emphasize this enough. Children do not lie about sexual abuse
- Be calm: Do not react or express anger in front of the child, even towards the perpetrator. This may make the child feel insecure.
- Tell them it's not their fault and never will be: The child needs constant reassurance that they did not do anything wrong.
- Report: If you are in India, report the abuser at 1098. Do not let this go even if the abuser is someone you know. When unreported, it trivialises the child's trauma, and abusers repeat this behavior. It tells the child that you will not help and that they need to accept this behaviour. 1098 is the Childline number to report these cases in India.
Important to note that it is it not just ethically important to report such cases, it is also your legal responsibility. Even if the child in question requests you to keep it a secret, it is illegal to know about an event of CSA and not report it.
- Therapy: It might be a good idea to enroll the child for therapy to cope with the trauma.
Remember, the child confided in you because they trust you. How you respond to this information can either break their trust in you and people in general, or reinforce it. Child sexual abuse can lead to a lifelong trauma and mental health issues. Take this seriously.
Here are additional helplines where you should report any incidents that are brought to your attention:
These are 24*7 Government helpline numbers and it is a good idea to share them with your older children.