These days Child Sexual Abuse (CSA) is more in the news than ever before. Television, radio and newspapers seem to be full of horrific stories about children who are abused, exploited, abducted and even murdered. Since it affects the health and well-being of individuals, families, communities and society, it is imperative that this issue is not pushed under the carpet. There is an urgent need to take measures to prevent such disturbing and abhorrent acts.
Recently, a workshop on CSA was conducted by “Break the Silence”, a voluntary organisation of concerned citizens of Hyderabad, to create awareness among school teachers, principals and parents. They believe that awareness is the key to prevention of CSA.
It is easy to believe that only strangers abuse children sexually, but the facts contradict this. Evidence from research the world over indicates that 85 per cent of reported CSA cases are committed by family members, family friends, or others in a trusted position. To effectively protect your children from the dangers of abduction and sexual abuse, you have to ‘empower’ them. In short, equip them with the tools they need to protect themselves.
The following principles will help them be safer:
As a first step in prevention, you can tell your children:
Your body belongs to…
It is a fact that most children can’t identify all their body parts or are embarrassed to talk about them. How can a child who is unable to talk about his body, be expected to tell someone if he is touched in a way he does not like? Tell your children; “Your body belongs to you. You have a right to say who touches you and how. If you feel uncomfortable it is perfectly okay to say “No, please stop it.” Make children feel comfortable about their bodies. Give them the vocabulary to describe the private parts of the body.
Do not talk to strangers
We often use this phrase. But who are strangers? The problem is your definition of who a stranger is probably differs considerably from your child’s perception. You must broaden your definition of a stranger and tell your child that it means anyone who has not been introduced by someone he knows well, such as parents, a teacher or a trusted friend or relative. Sherryl Kraizer, an education/health expert writes in her book Safe Child: “As adults, we know that strangers who are dangerous can often appear kind, solicitous and friendly. The dilemma is we really have not expressed this to our children in a way they can understand.”
No more secrets
Since most often sexual molesters are known to the children, sexual abuse cannot take place without secrecy. The modus operandi of a potential perpetrator is to “groom” the child by gaining his trust and breaking down his defenses. He spends considerable time observing the child and then tricks him into sexual act, thus manipulating an apparently “willing victim” through encouragement and coercion. You must make a pact with your children that they won’t keep secrets from you. Remember, molesters almost always try to get children to keep a secret, just ‘between you and me’. This must not be allowed to happen.
Being affectionate should be voluntary, never forced
How many times have you said to your child, “You must kiss grandfather goodbye, give uncle a big hug for that lovely gift, you must kiss aunty goodnight”? Don’t order your child to be physically affectionate when he is not comfortable about it. This could send out a signal to him that forced physical contact it acceptable to you. Let your child know that it is okay to say hello or bye in any way he wants. Children will hug and kiss when they feel it is natural.
In many families, talk about sex is not easy between parents and children. Don’t treat sex as a forbidden topic, because if your child is sexually molested, he may not be able to tell you if he’s been taught not to discuss sex. Give him the vocabulary to describe abuse.
The abusers are rarely brought to justice. We need to teach our children/ people / everyone to speak out when it happens. Schools must redouble their efforts to include parents in the battle against perpetrators of CSA at an early stage and no one must be under any illusion that this could never happen to their child.
The fact that child molester does not want to be caught forms the foundation of an effective preventive approach to the problem of CSA. By making your child aware of the existence of a person such as a molester, the methods he uses, the places he might strike and by instructing your child how to react, you can make your child a difficult target, whom the molester won’t want to prey on, simply because the risk of being caught is too great.
Finally, let your children know you cherish them, love them and express that love openly. This advice emerges from feedback from those molesters who have been convicted of sexual abuse. According to them those children who are most love starved or feel that way, fall into the web spun by them. Be receptive to your children so that they feel comfortable coming to you if something is wrong.
The writer is a Remedial Educator
Compiled from the writings of leading child-safety experts
Important Contact Numbers
District Child Protection Unit
Child Helpline All India
“Break The Silence”
E-mail : firstname.lastname@example.org
Mobile : 09248800963, 09391184439, 09848029625.