Time and again we hear about cases of Child Sexual Abuse (CSA) getting reported and complaints being filed. While this is a sign of awareness among public on CSA itself and the legal steps they can take, there are many who are unaware of the law, because of which there might be some cases of abuse which may not have got the attention they deserve.
What is Child Sexual Abuse?
Child Sexual Abuse (CSA) is the exploitation of a child by an adult or an older adolescent for sexual stimulation. It can include engaging in sexual activities with a child, indecent exposure, physical sexual contact with a child, exposing a child to sexually explicit content or using a child for pornography.
The repercussions of CSA can include depression, PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder), psychological trauma, anxiety, withdrawal from social settings, increased possibility of being victimised in adulthood and physical injury, antisocial tendencies later in life, among others.
How can a parent recognise the signs of CSA?
A sudden change in the behaviour pattern of a child is typically indicative of trauma. A parent needs to watch out for the following signs in their child, as they could very well be an indicative of CSA.
- If the child displays any difficulty in walking and sitting
- If the child has trouble urinating or defecating or there is any evidence of physical trauma to the oral, genital or anal areas
- If the child becomes introverted or silent
- If the child is afraid of being alone or of the darkness suddenly
- If the child shies away from group activities
- If the child becomes enraged or loses his/her temper more often than usual
- If the child avoids contact with a particular individual
- If the child neglects personal appearance and deliberately tries to look shabby or unattractive
- If the child begins to wear multiple layers of clothing
- If there is a change in the academic performance of the child
- If the child seems distracted or sleepy most of the time, or displays a lack of interest
- If there is a change in the eating habits of the child
- If the child replays the abuse with another child (sexualised behaviour)
While these are not definitive signs, and can sometimes be a consequence of a fall out with friends or an embarrassing event at school, it is important that parents keep an open line of communication, so that the child can confide in them, without fear of being reprimanded or being disbelieved. Talk to your child everyday.
How can parents broach the topic with children?
Research indicates that only a very small percentage of children report CSA - only about 12%. Traditionally, Indian families find it difficult to discuss sex and sexuality with their children. Though times are certainly changing and children are more open with the parents, parents should speak to their children on a regular basis about what is fine and what is not.
Here are some tips that can help you broach the subject:
- Use the language and terms that your child is familiar with.
- Tell your child about private areas of the body - the mouth, chest, genitals and buttocks. Let them know that nobody should touch them in these areas, and neither should they touch anyone. The only exception to this rule is the parent, who bathes the child to keep the child clean, or a doctor, in the presence of the parents.
- Tell your child about safe touch and unsafe touch. Inform that following actions should be thought of as unsafe:
- If any person’s actions and behaviour makes them feel shy, scared, uncomfortable, ‘yucky’ or unhappy
- If anyone touches them in their private areas of the body
- If anyone shows them dirty films or pictures
- If anyone takes off their clothes in front of them
- If anyone makes them undress
- Tell your child to loudly say ‘NO’ in case he/she is subject to any of the above behaviour by a known or unknown person. Ask him/her to run from there to a nearby safest place that he/she is familiar with - at home or at school.
- Tell your child to approach someone he/she trusts — a parent or a teacher.
- In case the parent or teacher is dismissive or does not seem to acknowledge what he/she has heard, ask your child to keep saying it till the person listens, or go to others.
- Emphasise to your child, that he/she absolutely needs to talk to somebody about such an incident, as it will ensure that it does not happen to them or any other child again.
- Tell them that it is okay to talk about such issues, and they need not feel ashamed.
Videos on safe and unsafe touch that can be shown to children
What should a parent do when a child reports a case of CSA?
- Tell your child that you believe him/her
- Reassure your child that he/she is safe
- Tell your child that what happened to him/her was wrong, but it was not his/her fault
- Ask your child to recount the incident that took place. Do ask a couple of questions that allow you determine the authenticity of your child’s claim
- Ensure that your child is not exposed to his/her abuser unless absolutely necessary
- Ask your child for permission before you approach other parties to help you
- Show your child how he/she can keep themselves safe
- Praise your child for coming forward; do tell him/her that other children would possibly saved as a result of him/her being open about what happened to him/her
- Do not blame the child
- Do not be worried about what family members or society will say, if the incident comes to light. Your child’s safety and peace of mind is of utmost importance.
- Do not make any false promises to the child with respect to the action that will be taken against the offender.
Who can parents reach out in case of CSA?
A parent can reach out either to the police to file a complaint, or to Childline (1098) to report the case. Both parties will typically advise on how you should proceed. If the police is not supportive, the complainant can approach the superior of the police.
On calling Childline, the call goes to a Childline agency that deals with the concerned area. There are two such agencies for Bangalore — Bangalore Oniyavara Seva Coota (BOSCO) and Association for Promoting Social Action (APSA). For instance, if the call is made from Shivajinagar, the call goes to an agency called BOSCO and if it is made from Old Airport Road, the call is directed to APSA.
On receiving a call, the Childline counsellors typically visit the place alongwith concerned police (who are not in uniforms, according to POCSO act), talk to the affected party and give a report on the child to the Child Welfare Committee(CWC). CWC will separately talk to the child and collect its statement under section 164 of POCSO act. This will be produced in magistrate court if the court asks. Jennifer Y, the co-ordinator of BOSCO, says that the complaint can be filed by the police, by the childline or by the parents of the child.
Childline’s work will typically involve hand-holding the child and the family through the entire process that involves seeking justice for the child. This will include reaching out to the police, medical examination, getting in touch with counsellors, through the legal process etc. CWC takes care of the child by counselling and helping the child settle back to normal, as well as checking the regulatory mechanisms that enable prevention of more such incidents.
Where else do you get help?
There are several organisations across the country, working toward creating a safe environment for children in India. While all of them have been doing good work in their own right, they have also started collaborating with each other, and have therefore become a strong mechanism to help victims and families of child sexual abuse.
Childline – All India: Childline is India’s first toll-free tele-helpline for children. It acts as a national child protection service, and operates in around 300 cities and towns across India.
Website:www.childlineindia.org.in, Contact: 1098
How can a child of sexual abuse be rehabilitated?
Rehabilitating a victim of CSA is entirely case-based, and is dependent on how well the child is coping or not coping. There are some extremely resilient children; that does not mean that they are not traumatised — it’s merely a sign that they want to put the incident behind them. On the other hand, there are some who are terrified of getting back to the normal routine. At the end of the day, it should be the child’s choice and should keep the child’s best interests in mind.
What is important is for the child’s family and support system to reiterate to the child that he/she was not and will not be held responsible. Any psychosomatic issues that stem from the abuse should be addressed, perhaps by getting the child to meet a counselor. It must be remembered, that if the child chooses not to attend counselling sessions, the child’s wishes should be respected.
What is necessary for the healing of the child is the timely, proactive and appropriate response from those parties that the child reaches out to, for help.
At the end of the day, whatever course of action that the family plans for the child, it might be in line with the child’s choice and should keep the best interests of the child at heart.