In the last one fortnight there were two major child sex abuse cases one from Thane where a bus cleaner raped a 4-year-old girl at the back of the bus after promising to show her magic while another case involved a nursery student of a posh Lucknow school who was lured to the basement by a woman staffer and was then raped there by an unidentified person. So the fact is that the threat is very much there.
According to a 2007, report by the Ministry of Women and Child Development 21.90% child respondents reported facing severe forms of sexual abuse and of the total number of abuse cases 50% of the respondents claimed that they knew the perpetrator. That’s the really shocking bit – it could be anyone the father, the uncle, the bus driver, the cleaner or the neighbour – almost everyone is a suspect. When you consider the fact that we’ve a rich tradition of maintaining honour and keeping it in the family, the numbers could be much, much higher! (Also read: Satyamev Jayate: Second episode highlights child sex abuse)
What is child sexual abuse (CSA)?
One of the worst things to happen to a child is abuse – whether physical, emotional, sexual, and educational or health neglect by parents/guardians. Any form of abuse robs the child of his/her childhood, innocence and their faith/trust in the world. Sexual abuse of a child is difficult to define due to varied forms of the abuse. The two main terms associated when talking about sexual abuse of a child are the child victim (any child, male or female under the age of 16 usually; age varies according to medical, legal or psychological definitions) and the perpetrator or offender (any adult male or female or child’s peer or another minor).
The majority of sexual offenders are family members or people known to the child. Sexual abuse by strangers is not as common as sexual abuse by family members. Research shows that there are more cases of men being sexual offenders compared to women.
The legal definition of child molestation is an act of a person—adult or child—who forces, coerces or threatens a child to have any form of sexual contact or to engage in any type of sexual activity at the perpetrator’s (abuser) direction. It can be divided into three categories – sexual offences using touch, non-touching sexual offences and sexual exploitation.
Touching sexual offenses include:
- fondling of a child’s body, especially genitals
- making a child touch an adult’s sexual organs
- oral-genital contact
- vaginal or anal penetration (medical purpose not included)
- sexual deviations.
Non-touching sexual offenses include
- engaging in indecent exposure or exhibitionism
- exposing children to pornographic material
- deliberately exposing a child to the act of sexual intercourse
- masturbating in front of a child.
Sexual exploitation includes
- engaging a child or soliciting a child for the purposes of prostitution
- using a child to film, photograph or model pornography
All above offences are just as harmful and devastating to a child’s well-being.
It’s very difficult to get accurate statistical evidence about child sexual abuse due to under-reporting, confusion about what denotes sexual abuse, the child’s feelings of guilt and the social stigma attached. According to research, CSA happens to both boys and girls equally, though female child sexual abuse is reported more. (Read: Time to talk to kids about right and wrong touches)
How do we spot if a child is being sexually abused?
Each CSA victim may exhibit behaviours different from others. Due to the varied forms of CSA, it becomes difficult to say that is particular behaviour is due to CSA. The strongest indication that a child has been sexually abused is inappropriate sexual knowledge, sexual interest and sexual acting out by that child.
Psychologists use drawings, body language, communication patterns and play behaviour to investigate and diagnose CSA cases. For example, in Play Therapy
- tendency to bury toys in sand
- showing fear in using certain dolls
- omission of certain dolls in dolls’ houses
- showing violent behaviours with dolls
- use of dark colours very intensely while painting or drawing
- sexually explicit drawings
- sexual talk
are indicators of emotional trauma due to any form of abuse.
Parents can look for these indicators in child’s behaviours with peers or adults in their family and surroundings:
- The child tends to avoid or fear an adult or peer or any older child
- Child going back to early childhood behviours like thumb sucking, bedwetting
- Suddenly the child shows obsessive or compulsive behaviours like bathing or hand washing 10 to 15 times a day
- Child has difficulty in sitting or walking
- Refusing to participate in physical education activities
- Withdrawn behaviours
- Sexually inappropriate communication (postures, gestures, talk)
- Sudden change in dressing style (either wearing shapeless and large clothes to hide body or provocative dressing).
- Sleep disorders
- Self destructive behaviours (head banging, drug abuse, obesity, anorexia)
- Sudden problems in school – no interest in school activities
- Poor peer relationships
- Loss of appetite
This list is not an exhaustive one. There are many more indicators that a trained psychologist can detect as possible behavioural and emotional effect of CSA.
Many children tend to suppress the abuse due to the trauma and guilt feelings and may understand and reveal it years after the abuse happened, in adulthood. Also some children may accept the abuse as normal or as a reward by the perpetrator. This occurs when the abuser has been grooming the child gradually to accept the touching or non-touching sexual activities, by tempting or reinforcing the child using gifts, food etc.
If the above indicators are frequently seen in the child’s play at school or home, it becomes imperative for the psychologist to conduct an in-depth research into the child’s background and report to relevant authorities. If the perpetrator is a parent, the child should be immediately removed from that parent’s custody. If the perpetrator is a relative or known person or unknown person, parents need to be notified and appropriate legal action needs to be taken. Also read the second part in this series: Tips to prevent child sex abuse
Some sites and books that parents and teachers can use to talk to children about good touch, bad touch; what can parents do.