The Anonymous Alien
Stats on sexual abuse of children are indeed hard to come by in India, but from my own conversations, I believe it’s widespread. The story is most frequently something like this:
A trusted relative or friend is put in a situation where they have private (and often repeated) access to a child. The child doesn’t understand what is happening, doesn’t know if it is wrong or right plus years of deferential behaviour toward adults stops them from standing up for themselves even if they do sense something is wrong.
The few kids who do report the abuse are often ignored or even punished by parents who choose denial over the protection of their offspring because of social stigmas that help nobody and hurt the innocent. Some parents even blame their kids for the abuse. The abuse can last one time, for weeks, even for years. It can happen to boys and girls, as young as babies and as old as teens.
The result is devastating. Depression, suicide rates and sexual dysfunction all rise markedly in adults who were sexually abused as children. Many find it difficult or impossible to have a healthy sexual relationship for the rest of their lives.
All of the above begs two questions: how do you protect your own kids, and what do those who were abused do to heal themselves.
As to the first… protecting your kids from sexual abuse… there is only one solution here: frank, repeated talks. Tell your kids what parts of their bodies are ‘private parts’ and explain to them that nobody has the right to touch those parts except their parents dealing with an illness or a doctor under the supervision of a parent. And tell them what to do if someone breaks the rule: to scream, to say “NO”, and to run away.
Tell them that if they are touched it’s not their fault (abuse victims frequently feel tremendous guilt over the abuse, and feel they contributed to it happening somehow); and that they must come to you and tell you about it if it ever happens. Tell them that even if the offender says bad things will happen to the child or the child’s parents if the child tells about the abuse, that it’s a lie — and that what will really happen is that the bad person who committed the abuse will never be able to hurt them or any other child again.
Tell your kids all of this. Tell them repeatedly, even if it’s hard, even if it makes you uncomfortable. They need to be prepared for the moment they are put in a terrible situation, if it happens, so that they can handle it. Do this, commit yourself to this, and you take a giant step towards reducing the chance that your child will ever be sexually abused.
Now, what to do about those who have already been sexually abused? There are four major things that can help abuse victims. First, justice. When the abuser is thrown in jail for their atrocities it tells the abuse victim in no uncertain terms that what happened to them was a criminal act, and that helps the victim get over any guilt they have and start the healing process. So if you are in the life of an abuse victim, call the police, get the abuser arrested and protect other kids from more abuse.
Second, if someone in your family has been sexually abused, try to get the family to talk openly about it. Let the victim know the abuse was not their fault; that you are there for them; and that they are loved and protected by the family now.
Third, help the abuse victim get into counselling. This is crucial. Speaking with a counsellor over months or years about the abuse helps the victim process the pain and guilt of the abuse, and this in turn helps them heal.
Finally, try to find a group of abuse victims who meet and talk about their abuse, and how they are handling it. Frequently, for the abuse victim, listening to other victims is cathartic, mostly because they realise they are not alone but also because they realise that they can heal from the terrible pain they suffered.
OR…Stick with the old option. Let the stigmas about talking about sexuality and sexual abuse stay fixed in place. Don’t talk to your kids about protecting themselves, and increase the odds that they are abused.They’re your kids. It’s your choice.
A foreigner’s observations on living, working, surviving and thriving in India.