DEAR PARENTS, PLEASE LISTEN.
CHILDHOOD SEXUAL ABUSE IS REAL.
disgusted, distressed and disturbed we are, with recent revelations of sexual
atrocities against young children. It is creating lots of uneasy feelings
within us and an atmosphere of trust deficit in the society. Emotions are
running high and why wouldn’t it? However, It’s time we crack open our shells
of denials and accept that it is a social menace which needs a thorough clean
up. Awareness is a step forward in dealing with this and probably a crucial
first step too.
KEY AREAS OF FOCUS
five important areas parents need to draw their focus on.
aware of the issue and raise awareness around you
all it takes to prevent any occurrence and to safeguard our children
and proper identification of any such incident
immediately and appropriately to such acts and ensure law takes its course
right support to the victim
HOW TO IDENTIFY?
abuse on children is not at all easy to identify. Parents should have the suspicion when
children complain or present with some symptoms in their genital regions. Usual
problems to note or be aware of are pain, itching, burning sensation, bruise,
bleeding, difficulties in walking or sitting and repeated urinary tract
physical symptoms are not so obvious, it can be trickier to identify. Being
aware of psychological, behavioral and social consequences of sexual abuse
could help in early detection. Many a times, children themselves will make
efforts to communicate the incident to their parents, but may not have the
cognitive ability to relay it an appropriate way to press the panic buttons.
Most often the communication happens through their behavior or rather sudden
changes in their behavior. Children may become withdrawn, start isolating
themselves, become hypersensitive to external stimuli and feel low in their
mood with diminished self-esteem and confidence levels. If they have siblings,
particularly younger ones, they may become overprotective of them. This is a
psychological hypersensitive reaction to anticipatory anxiety about similar
thing happening to their siblings.
WHAT ARE THE CONSEQUENCES?
sexual abuse often results in varying degrees of physical, psychological, emotional,
cognitive, social and behavioral consequences. Many times children develop
sleep disturbances with or without nightmares. Bed wetting, changes in appetite
or weight, unusual and inappropriate use of sexual language or behavior
could also be noticed in some children who have been through the ordeal. Post
traumatic stress symptoms like becoming hyper vigilant, experiencing disturbing
and intrusive thoughts or images and avoidance behavior is possible too. Many
children develop periods of abnormal behavior consisting of altered perception,
identity, memory etc including self injurious or self mutilation behavior. They
are likely to develop dysfunctional coping mechanisms and depressive episodes
in the future.
can start to show diminishing interpersonal and social skills. Some kids will
start idealizing the aggressor or somehow feel that they themselves were
responsible in some ways. They are likely to develop feelings of guilt, shame,
fear, anger, anxiety and aggression. These children may also develop tolerance
or helplessness or remain ignorant about the incidents, which may reinforce the
culprits to take further advantage of the kid.
lasting and severe psychological damage can occur if timely and appropriate
support is not provided to these children.
Children may develop unhelpful emotional coping techniques, show poor
interpersonal skills resulting in trust deficits and difficulties in forming or
maintaining relationships. They would be vulnerable to suffer from depression,
anxiety disorders, become addicted to alcohol or drugs and can even result in
self destructive behavior such as deliberate self harm, suicidal tendencies and
WHAT ARE THE PROBLEMS ASSOCIATED
of sexual abuse is not easy and comes with lots of inherent problems,
particularly when we are dealing with young children. Recognition and
difficulties in investigations are some of the obvious problems associated with
this due to the very nature of the issue and age and cognitive ability of young
people. Ability to recognize by parents and school authorities needs special
knowledge and skills. Often, despite of suspicion or even evidence, denial
tends be a huge psychological reaction. It is understandable that childhood
sexual abuse is not something which could be come to terms with easily.
been several unfortunate incidents of reluctance to take things forward by even
authorities like Police, Doctors, and School. Culprits tend to often threaten
and offer bribes which leads to nondisclosure or delays in disclosure. Another
potential problem could be possibility of false allegations due to various
reasons. Whilst we need to aware of this, safety of the child should remain
paramount. Social stigma could be another factor preventing some people to seek
timely and appropriate help.
WHAT CAN BE DONE TO PREVENT CHILDHOOD
focus should be on educating and empowering our children. Given the nature of
the issue and the magnitude of sensitivity, building an environment of
entrusting relationship with your child is the key to ensure an effective
education and awareness. Parents have to maintain a very friendly relationship
with their children and talk as openly as possible. Remember, not having a trusting
relationship with your child in circumstances of abuse will lead to much severe
psychological damage than abuse alone.
child wants to say something to you or you think is making efforts to convey
something to you in whatever way, listen to them and pay full attention.
children about sexual abuse can be quite challenging. There is a fine line
between how much information your child needs to know to ensure their safety
and the amount of information that can potentially make them fearful or
curious. Education style, use of appropriate terms and extent of content should
depend on child’s age and cognitive ability.
It is worth
starting to educate children by teaching them about ‘good touch’ and ‘bad
touch’. Use simple sentences like ‘any touch that you don’t like or which makes
you uncomfortable is a bad touch’ and advise them to discuss with you about any
‘touch’ they are not sure about. Also, make it very clear to them that no one
can touch their ‘private parts’. It may
be useful to teach them basic knowledge of body parts with use of age
appropriate terms like ‘private parts’ or anatomical names. Similar techniques
can be used to teach about ‘good secrets’ and ‘bad secrets’. Tell your children
that they should not keep any secrets from mummy or daddy.
and education alone may not be sufficient to encourage your children to report
problems. One of the key areas of education should be on improving your child’s
soft skills like assertiveness and resilience. The principles of these skills
should be around teaching them to say ‘’NO’’, then ‘’GO’’ and ‘’TELL’’ parents
or teachers. Even training, sensitizing and encouraging your children to practice
use the words like ‘’NO’’, ‘’TAKE OFF YOUR HAND’’, ‘’DON’T TOUCH ME’’, ‘HELP’’
etc., would be very useful. Clearly advise your children not to go with anyone
at anytime, unless you have asked them to. Instruct them to refuse any money,
gifts, goodies or food from strangers. It is important to keep repeating some
of these teaching to your children and also seek their response by creating
theoretical scenarios by using phrases like ‘What if….?”
often faced with periods of anxiety when their children are away or are running
late etc. All the awareness, education and empowerment may not be sufficient to
deter your anxiety during those times.
Parents need to take other simple practical measures to ensure child’s
safety and for their own peace of mind. However, care should be taken to ensure
the steps are realistic and not overdone to cause unnecessary panic or
interference in your child’s daily routines.
need to stay vigilant at all times and be aware of their child’s whereabouts
and how-abouts. Develop a safety network around your children like mode of
contact with school authorities, having contact numbers of school bus driver,
Plan B to pick your child from school etc. Ensure safety of your children at
home if they are going to be alone for a period. Apply internet safety
protocols at home and on internet gadgets as there are increasing reports of children
being groomed over the internet.
HOW TO RESPOND FOR A SUSPICION OF
ensure the child is safe. If you notice
that your child wants to talk about something, encourage them. If there is an
element of hesitation or reluctance, reassure them and tell them that you love
them and fully believe them. No matter what emotions the disclosure will invoke
in you, try and stay calm without becoming anxious or angry. Seek appropriate
medical and legal help at the earliest.
that abusers are usually known to the family and are opportunistic. They can
present as normal, friendly and charming people. They are likely to carefully
plan and select kids who are emotionally needy and submissive. Many times they
groom the children to win their confidence, affection and to create a
relationship of acceptance. They sometimes use bribes, threats or emotional
blackmail to prevent reporting.
incident is disclosed, it is very important to be sensitive and careful with the
child, as they will be emotionally fragile. Ensure confidentiality, arrange
appropriate counseling and make sure further interviewing or investigation is
handled by an experienced professional. In the long term, it is crucial to
continue ongoing psychological support to enhance and maintain child’s
confidence, self esteem and guide them get back to their normal life.
increasing awareness drive about this issue, at times it feels like we are
going about being a bit too skeptical and suspicious about our society. But are
It is time we accept that this menace is real
and act to protect our children.
Dr Satish Ramaiah
MBBS, MRCPsych, CCT, DHE (UK), Cert. in Sleep
Neuropsychiatrist and Sleep Disorders Specialist
Chief – PEOPLE TREE Mind
PEOPLE TREE HOSPITALS