In yet another incident six-year-old Preity was sexually abused by her tuition teacher. Being too young to realise what was happening, she did not inform anyone. After repeated assaults, she lost interest in tuitions and then studies. Finally, she dropped school altogether. A brilliant girl’s academic career comes to an end.
These are not one-off cases. It’s just one of the cases we know of. Most incidents are locked up like skeletons in the cupboards. Just because it’s secret, the horrific reality of sexual abuse does not stop being true. Did you know that, in India, a child below 16 years is raped every 155th minute, a child below 10 every 13th hour, and one in every 10 children is sexually abused? Did you know that India has the dubious distinction of having the world’s largest number of sexually abused children? The situation is made worse by the absence of effective legislation and the silence that surrounds the problem.
Sexual abuse can take several forms — from verbal, visual, tactile, exhibitionist and pornographic offences and fondling to anything that stimulates a person sexually. The victims could be a boy or girl in any age group. Majority of sexual offenders are family members or are known to the child. “Stranger danger”, by comparison, is very rare.
Often, sexually abused children feel ashamed and may go into a shell. And if someone does muster the courage, they have ‘post abuse’ in store when no one wants to believe them. The blame may even come bouncing right back at them for ‘wearing such provocative clothes’.
Parents and mentors can definitely play a major role in preventing and dealing with abused children. Dr. P. Jyothiraja (psychologist and education consultant) says, “Talk to children about sexual abuse, listen to them, believe them, and recognise symptoms such as physical complaints and behavioural changes. Silence does not mean that all is well.”
Remember that a victim of abuse needs a lot of moral and emotional support. There should never be any justification of abuse by saying that he/she must have done something to provoke it. Isidor Philips, director, Divya Disha, feels that a whole lot of confusing messages are sent to people as children. “Children are often told to give relatives hugs and kisses. This is not always good. Let them express affection on their own terms. The *silence about sex’ culture forbids parents from talking to their children about sexuality. Hence, children and youth are confused about their own sexuality and have no idea about right or wrong touch. When they get a confusing signal, they have no source of support.” Sex education in schools is also productive.
In the meantime, with sexual abuse attracting public debate, the government needs to adopt strong measures. A larger response system needs to be created. For a country with nearly 50 per cent of its populace comprising children and youth, such measures are overdue.