Divya Gandhi

The abuser need not necessarily be a stranger

  • November 19 is observed as World Day for the Prevention of Child Abuse
  • Often it takes years of abuse before a child gets the help it needs

    Bangalore: "Often the loudest noise that a child being abused makes is silence," states the newsletter of the Chennai-based Tulir, Centre for the Prevention and Healing of Child Sexual Abuse.

    Often it takes years of abuse before a child gets the help it needs, or the courage to voice its ordeal. Such is the power that the abuser wields, trapping the child in a web of secrecy that first confuses and then convinces it that it is she who is responsible."Victims of abuse often grow up with this overwhelming feeling of guilt, and they can take years to heal," says paediatrician and counsellor Chhaya Nair.

    Shocking as it may be, the abuser is not necessarily a stranger: he is in fact most likely to be a member of the family, or a close friend of the family, who methodically exploits the trust placed in him. The silence and the secrecy only deepen when matters of "family honour" and "shame" enter the picture.

    Sujata, coordinator of Makkala Sahaya Vani, whose help line receives dozens of calls every day, speaks of a certain phone call she received recently from a 16-year-old girl, who asked that she be "rescued". Vina (name changed) had just arrived in Bangalore with her extended family for a holiday from Bombay, when she decided to run away from the group and was reported missing. Dr. Sujata, who arranged for her to be rescued, soon gathered why the girl acted that way. Vina had been abused by none other than her own father for six years, while her mother was away on work abroad. Not surprisingly when the mother was called, she lashed out at her daughter for having accused her father of such "nonsense."

    Child abuse is not confined to any particular class and it is rarely a "one off" case. Most perpetrators are habitual abusers, and neither are girls the only victims of sexual abuse, boys are equally vulnerable to sexual predators. It becomes enormously important then for parents to be aware of the signs of abuse, to talk to children and to be receptive to what they might be trying to say. Children must be told at an early age about the difference "between a good touch and a bad touch," says Dr. Nair. Abused children might exhibit symptoms of depression they withdraw and ask to be left alone, or on the other hand, they might act out, turn aggressive or perform poorly in school. It is important, she says, to watch out for these warning signs.

    The fact that November 19 is now observed as World Day for the Prevention of Child Abuse, perhaps, indicates that society is beginning to speak out against this crime.

    Child help lines: Makkala Sahaya Vani 1098; BOSCO 26604770; Apsa 25232749.