A new booklet on preventing and dealing with the trauma of child sexual abuse comes as a reassurance to parents seeking information

The myth that “this can’t happen to us, or our children” is one of the biggest roadblocks to creating awareness about Child Sexual Abuse (CSA), specially in urban areas, says Swati Popat Vats. Swati, the president of Podar Education Network and Early Childhood Association (India), has been a part of a series of panel discussions, workshops, booklet distribution, and video-based awareness and prevention programmes since April 2014, which was CSA Awareness month. As an outcome of the interactions, a handbook called A New Normal Understand.Prevent.Heal. Winning the war against child sexual abuse was published.

The book is a multi-organisational effort spearheaded by Podar, Yowoto (Your World Tomorrow), Arpan, and Nirman Foundation and the book has brought together the contributions of several NGOs, authors, bloggers, parents whose children have faced abuse, and people who have faced abuse in their childhood. “We wanted to include as many people as possible because a parent in the situation should realise he or she is not alone, and should be reassured that there is a network of support available,” says Swati.

It’s a big myth that boys are safe. They are at as much risk as girls

“We want people to share their experiences, so that other people can learn from it.”

The number of children in India that have never experienced sexual abuse of any kind is 47 per cent according to a report by the Indian Ministry of Women and Child Development, says a prelude to the book, pointing out that the percentage is rather low and needs to rise fast.

“We found that urban parents still believe in the myth that this doesn’t happen to people like them. We also found schools and parents are clueless as to how they should deal with an investigation, how to deal with questions of ‘reputation’. Schools tend to hide such cases. The booklet is also for principals to educate their teachers on how to deal with the issue.”

The book also busts another myth — that boys are safe. More boys (53 per cent) than girls (47 per cent) are abused, according to a study by the Ministry.

It’s dealt with in an exclusive chapter ‘What about boys?’ “It’s another big myth that boys are safe. They are at as much risk as girls. Boys are being abused by men and women. Unfortunately it’s a very relaxed ‘chalta hai’ attitude when it happens to a boy whereas with a girl, the question of ‘izzat’ steps in,” says Swati.

Some of the chapters in the booklet that cover various aspects of CSA include myths about child sexual abuse, kinds of sexual offences, what to do when you doubt that there is abuse, understanding unusual behaviour in children, laws, role of schools, dealing with trauma, and most importantly, legal resources and helplines.

The book will also help parents and school staff understand and use the provisions of the Protection Of Children From Sexual Offences Act, 2012. “Many parents don’t know that a woman cop can come home to take a child’s statement while filing a compliant.”

There is a need to teach children about their bodies and help them develop “body intelligence”, she stresses. “Parents and teachers are put off when you call it ‘sex education’. It should be called body intelligence,” she insists in hope that the stigma and taboo associated with the topic is also easily dealt with.

Knowing “good touch bad touch” is necessary for children, stresses Swati, because early experiences of touch are extremely important for a child’s mental and physical development. And because they don’t have the awareness and language skills to express themselves, they are most at risk.

“Children yearn and thrive on touch. It’s their first step towards being loved. They must never associate touch with a traumatic experience, so it’s extremely important to protect them from improper touch.”

The book, released this weekend in Bangalore, is available for free download on www.jumbokids.com in the “Download Jumbo” link. You could also buy hard copies of the book, the proceeds of which will be donated to CSA-related causes. For details write to ecaorg@yahoo.com.