Every second child in India is a victim of sexual abuse

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Do you know if your child has been subject to child sexual abuse? Read on to know what experts are calling the obvious signs of child sexual abuse

child sexual abuse

More than 53 per cent of children in India are subjected to sexual abuse, but most don’t report it

This week began with a shocker from Bengaluru. A three-year-old pre-nursery student was allegedly sexually assaulted by her school watchman on Monday afternoon. When she came home and complained to her mother about being hurt, she was taken to a nearby hospital where the doctors confirmed the abuse.

This three-year-old was courageous enough to share her ordeal with her mother. However, there are many children who are unable to understand sexual abuse and end up either not sharing the incident or revealing it much later in life. For instance, in 2014, the same city saw a six-year-old’s rapist being caught when she complaint of stomach ache to her parents a week later.

Child Sexual Abuse in India

Child sexual abuse (CSA) is a dark reality of India. The United Nations defines CSA as contacts or interactions between a child and an older or more knowledgeable child or adult (a stranger, sibling or person in position of authority, a parent or a caretaker) when the child is being used as an object of gratification for the older child’s or adult’s sexual needs. These contacts or interactions are carried out against the child using force, trickery, bribes, threats or pressure (UNICEF, 2003).

“The number of such incidents are only increasing by the day. It’s no longer a ‘girl’s’ problem. Many young boys are also affected by the menace of child sexual abuse. Unfortunately, many of these children are unable to express and share their ordeal due to fear and sometimes parents are not be able to read the obvious signs,” says Dr Seema Hingorrany, clinical psychologist and trauma researcher, Mumbai.

For instance, actress Kalki Koechlin only last year spoke about being sexually abused during her childhood. This discussion shifted the focus back on CSA that is not identified by parents almost immediately. In fact, documentary filmmaker Sanjay Kumar Singh, made a film titled Chuppi Todo — Break the Silence (2011) on the subject. In an interview to a leading daily he had said, “As per statistics, every second child in India is a victim of sexual abuse. It’s a complex subject and needs to be dealt with great sensitivity.”

Types of CSA

There could be many activities that constitute CSA. Apart from the physical trauma that a child goes through, it is the psychological trauma that can break the self-confidence of the child. Therefore, parents must first understand what kinds of activities constitute CSA and then move on to noticing the obvious signs of uncanny behavior of the child.

The following are the four types of activities that make for CSA and as parents you must keep in mind:

  • Oral sex
  • Pornography
  • Sexual intercourse
  • Touching (fondling)

Psychologists suggest that this basic knowledge can go a long way in teaching children the right from wrong. “Apart from knowing these forms of CSA, parents must teach their children about good touch and bad touch. They must also learn to be more mindful of their child’s behavior. If it is extremely uncanny or if the child shows signs of distance, it could indicate possible sexual abuse,” says Hingorrany.

Continue reading to know how parents can identify the signs of child sexual abuse

Child sexual abuse

Child sexual abuse does not mean that the child will only bear physical injury marks

How do you know your child is sexually assaulted? 

“Parents must understand that abuse means ‘treating with cruelty or violence, especially regularly or repeatedly.’ Child abuse is more than bruises and broken bones. Physical abuse is more corporeal in nature but emotional and sexual abuse is incorporeal. They leave deep psychological and physical scars on the victim for life,” says renowned Delhi-based psychologist and socialist, Anuja Kapur.

She adds that the impact of the physical abuse which affects the psychology of the child is detrimental. “It could lead to lack of trust and relationship difficulties, the child could develop feelings of being worthless or damaged and may have trouble regulating emotions,” says Kapur. 

Kapur lists the following effects of child sexual abuse on the physiology and psychology of the abused:

Warning signs of physical abuse in children

  • Frequent injuries or unexplained bruises, welts, or cuts
  • Is always watchful and “on alert,” as if waiting for something bad to happen
  • Injuries appear to have a pattern such as marks from a hand or belt
  • Shies away from touch, flinches at sudden movements, or seems afraid to go home
  • Wears inappropriate clothing to cover up injuries, such as long-sleeved shirts on hot days
  • Lacerations on the body including on private parts
  • Swollen areas and marks on the child face, head, back, neck, chest, buttocks, genital area or thighs
  • Wounds like human bites, cigarette burns, broken bones, punctured marks or missing hair

Apart from these visible signs of physical abuse, children may also display the following 21 behavioural changes:

  • Withdrawn or aggressive behavioural patterns in extreme
  • Complain of soreness or uncomfortable movement
  • Wearing clothes which is inappropriate in this weather
  • Express discomfort or pain when in physical contact
  • Fear or excessive crying
  • Vomiting and bowel problems
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Failure to thrive
  • Fear of particular people, places or activities
  • Regression to earlier behaviour such as bed wetting or stranger anxiety
  • Victimization of others
  • Excessive masturbation
  • Feelings of shame or guilt
  • Fear of a recurring attack
  • Eating disturbances, depression and developing suicidal tendencies
  • Nightmares or sleep disturbances
  • Poor school performance 
  • Promiscuity, substance abuse and aggression 
  • Running away from home  
  • Early pregnancy or marriage
  • Anger about being forced into situation beyond one’s control and pseudo-mature behaviour

If the child displays any of these signs then the parents must avoid denial and remain calm. “Don’t interrogate and reassure the child that they did nothing wrong. You must also show the children that you trust them and they are safe now,” says Kapur.

Our experts list the following tips for parents whose children may have gone through CSA.

  • Be suspicious if your child is singled out as ‘special’
  • Be extremely wary of one-on-one time
  • Don’t ignore family history
  • Choose your child’s own male role models
  • Don’t take sleepovers lightly
  • Conduct background checks
  • Meet everyone who will be working with your child
  • If you suspect abuse, ask questions, look for changes in your child and act quickly

“It is must for parents to be mindful and conscious of their children’s activities. Make sure you spend enough time with them to keep a tab on anything suspicious you feel might have happened with them,” says Hingorrany.

She adds that many children take two to three months before they open up about such incidents. “Try to understand why your child is behaving differently and enquire at the earliest,” she says.

With the numbers of child sexual abuse on the rise and reports of most abusers being known to the victims, experts suggest that parents must inculcate awareness and always be careful.

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Written by

Deepshikha Punj

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