Imagine someone touching you inappropriately without your consent or requesting you for sexual favours or making a sexually coloured remark. Even the thought of such unwelcomed physical, verbal or non-verbal sexual conduct is haunting, right? Now imagine a child going through this- most often silently.
It’s far more prevalent than most people realize. If you are thinking “ This can’t ever happen to my child”, a survey states that one in every two children is a victim of sexual abuse before the age of 18. That means if you have two children, at least one of them is most likely to go through this experience.
What do researchers say?
A child is sexually abused every 15 minutes in India. About 109 children were sexually abused every day in In 2018. In another survey, 53 percent of 12,447 children reported having experienced some form of sexual abuse.
A child is not even safe at home. About 90% of children who are victims of sexual abuse know their abusers who are primarily family members, teachers or someone known to the family.
In some cases, the child who experienced abuse doesn’t even understand what is happening to them or that it’s wrong. The stigma, guilt and the shame associated with it further stops them from saying anything. Only about 38% of child victims disclose that they have been sexually abused.
Even if they open up, most of the families chose to stay silent or deny altogether. One in four families does not come forward to report child abuse. Negative reactions from families to the discovery of such abuse may even cause re-traumatization, hindering their healing process.
How does it feel like?
Let’s hear a few real stories to better understand what a victim goes through. ( The names have been changed to maintain anonymity)-
“I was hardly twelve. I and my cousin were lying together. He suddenly touched my breast. I was kind of baffled but he insisted that it was okay. I didn’t know what it was.
After a few years when I could understand it all, it was already too late. I still remember how I ran away from the room that day and ever since I am pretending that it never even happened.” — P.S (Present age-23)
“ I used to enjoy painting so much. One day my drawing teacher asked me to close the door. Being too small to understand, I did as he said. He then asked me to love him and in my innocence, I patted his hands. He laughed. I still remember his voice. And then… I could never go back to painting after that.”— S.F (Present age-25)
“I was walking towards my aunt’s house with my sister to celebrate Eid. A bike came in full speed from the opposite side, touched me and it was gone- even before I could realize what happened. A button on my shirt was broken.”—A.N (present age-21)
Yes, sexual abuse can have long term effects on your child’s mental and physical health hindering their growth and development throughout their lifespan. Here is how-
– Children with experience of sexual abuse are more prone to mental health disorders, including anxiety, depression, anger, panic disorder, posttraumatic stress, identity disturbance, suicidal thoughts, eating disorders etc. as compared to children who never experienced abuse.
– It can lead to self-loathing and lower self-esteem among the victims.
– The trauma may lead to disturbing spiritual concerns like shattered assumptions about life, people, death and self etc.
– Victims of child sexual abuse are four to five times more likely to abuse alcohol or illegal drugs.
– It affects the victim’s overall brain development.
– It may lead to dysfunctional sexual behaviour in the victim. Further, leading to relationship problems as they grow older.
Victims of child sexual abuse often experience hesitancy between the desire to keep their experience a secret and unburden their story. In such cases, family support and strong relationships can play an important role.
Violence perpetrates because of our silence. It’s high time to remove the veil of stigma and talk about it. The first step could be initiating conversations at home. Make your home a safe place for your child. Teach your child how to respond if such an inappropriate situation occurs.
Speak up before your child becomes the next victim.
Views expressed above are the author’s own.
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