As primary caregivers, parents should empower their kids to speak out against child sexual abuse

What did the math tutor do when an eight-year-old girl got her sums wrong? He slipped his hands inside the child's undergarment. Right under the eyes of her unsuspecting mother and at home! Days later, the tutor took a day off. The child got a sum wrong. She asked her mother why she had not been punished that way yet.

“That is when the mother realised something was terribly wrong,” said Archana Dange of Anand Deep Enterprises, to a shocked audience of parents who had gathered for an evening session on preventing Child Sexual Abuse (CSA).

Anand Deep Enterprises has tied up with Tulir, a Chennai-based organisation that deals with CSA, to help spread awareness among children, parents, teachers and caregivers.

International Day for Prevention of Child Abuse fell on November 19, and this session was part of a series of events conducted by Coimbatore Collective, an association of NGOs and persons associated with preventing child abuse.

Prevention, the key

The event with parents was an attempt to shift focus from merely dealing with CSA to preventing it. And, parents have a big role to play as they are the primary caregivers. They can empower their child to learn to say ‘no', said Archana .

“Children of any age can be subject to abuse. Simple games, a heart-to-heart talk… all these help you know your kids better,” explained Archana as she gave the example of the ‘Trust Tree'.

Draw a tree for your children and some circles within. Ask your kids to name adults they meet in everyday life with whom they feel utterly safe and comfortable. Write their names inside the circle. Repeat the exercise every three months or so. Some names might go out, newer ones may come in.

“Every child goes through three stages of ‘feeling' in a relationship with an adult — safety, confusion and unsafe. What a child feels shines through in this exercise,” she said.

Archana was speaking to a mixed bunch of parents. Some of them were informed while others wondered if they were taking the innocence out of their child's life by exposing them to such information.

Respect a child

As part of the discussion, it was emphasised that the child's wish had to be respected. If a child is uncomfortable hugging someone, respect that decision.

Children look to you for reaffirmation. When you condone something they are not comfortable doing, it confuses them. They wonder: ‘Is what I am feeling right or is whatammasaying right?' At the same time, when you approve of their decision, it reinforces the fact that you stand by them, no matter what.

Draw up a family safety plan that incorporates the wishes of the child, and stick to it. Also, only a limited number of people must be allowed access to the child when it comes to bathing or helping him/her dress up. That is sacrosanct, said Archana.

Look out for code words or age-inappropriate behaviour. “Children love secrets. They find them exciting. That is what abusers bank on. They use threats; they try to make children feel they are more special than the other kids. Empower your children with this knowledge. An abuser usually backs off when he knows a child tells everything to his/her parents. Teach your children the magic words: ‘No', ‘Get away' and ‘Tell',” she said.

And finally, work with your child to ensure he/she feels loved. For, an abused child's greatest fear is losing love.

Parenting tips

Look out for age-inappropriate sexual behaviour among children

In case you spot an abuser from within the family, tell the others so that their kids can stay safe

Teach kids the difference between a safe and unsafe hug or touch

Be approachable so that kids open up to you

Spend time with children so that you can pick up non-verbal cues

WORKSHOPS

The Coimbatore Collective is willing to conduct workshops for any informal group of parents, or a more structured session in schools for teachers.

For details, call 98940-40227.

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MetroplusJune 28, 2012