Adults have to try and understand why children do not tell them about sexual abuse or why it takes them a long time to tell them, says Carol A. Plummer who has worked in the area of prevention of child sexual abuse for over three decades in the United States.

In the city to anchor a workshop series focusing on prevention of child sexual abuse, being organised by Tulir - Centre for the Prevention and Healing Child Sexual Abuse, Prof. Plummer spoke to The Hindu on Wednesday on the need to give adequate importance to prevention.

“We should not be angry or punitive if we think children do not tell us about sexual abuse when they should or how they should because, in a way, it is really our [adults'] fault if they do not know what is happening,” she says.

“How can they tell us? They may not even have the words. In our societies, unfortunately, adults don't believe children. Children really get trapped with the offender,” she says. When children report any incident that made them uncomfortable, the first reaction of parents should be to believe. “Mostly children do not want to talk about this and they are much more likely to lie and say it did not happen than to lie and say it did happen.” Children do not know that it is not normal for someone to touch their private parts if they are not educated about it. “Tell them how to talk to adults that they trust if they start feeling uncomfortable about anything. That gives them an opportunity to bring up questions, to talk about things before it is really abuse – what we call grooming when they [offenders] are starting to do things to children that make them uncomfortable.” So, what could parents do? Prof. Plummer believes that one thing that parents can definitely do is to learn as much as they can about sexual abuse.

“They should keep the lines of communication open and talk to their children at an age-appropriate level.” Parents also need to be careful where they send their child — day care centres, schools and baby sitters. Children who are watched and supervised are less likely to be abused.

“Parents should know that offenders target children who are not getting good attention,” says Prof. Plummer who has also authored ‘Preventing Sexual Abuse – a prevention curriculum'.

A prevention curriculum helps teachers, educators and parents understand exactly how to work with children and help prevent abuse.

If children have adults to go to, they are already off to a much better start than children who have no adults they trust. There are many different ways we need to work to keep children safe.

“If we go just in the direction of very strong punishment for the offence, without good treatment for victims, without interventions for youth who have sexual behaviour problems, then we end up with throwing everybody in prison but not necessarily stopping sexual abuse from happening.

“Child sexual abuse and prevention strategies can operate very differently depending on where you are. It is important to contextualise prevention strategies to one's culture. We have to train ourselves to prevent it,” Prof. Plummer says.

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Meera SrinivasanJune 28, 2012

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