Child Sexual Abuse is a reality that cuts across cultural and economic classes, and also educational backgrounds. An increasing number of such cases are being regularly highlighted in media, and often it may seem that nothing can be done to prevent such acts. But parents and professionals can educate and empower their children to prevent such situations, and teach them the right forms of retaliation.
Children today are around more adults on a daily basis than ever before. From childcare to sports practices to dance classes, not to mention camps and after-school programs, children are meeting and interacting with many adults regularly.
That’s why it is so important for parents to talk with their children — as early as age 4 — about inappropriate touching. And children even younger can begin to learn about their bodies. Swati Popat Vats, President of Podar Education Network points out that the way we teach children about life essentials like road safety, we need to include topics such as body safety. She prefers using the term ‘Body Intelligence’ instead of sex education.In her opinion, young children thrive on touch, so it’s crucial for them to be aware about the concept of good and bad touch.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines child sexual abuse as "the involvement of a child in sexual activity that he or she does not fully comprehend, is unable to give informed consent to, or for which the child is not developmentally prepared, or else that violate the laws or social taboos of society. Children can be sexually abused by adults or other children who are – by virtue of their age or stage of development – in a position of responsibility, trust, or power over the victim."
As the definition clearly points out, the perpetrator may be an adult or even another minor at times. Research points out that the abuser in most situations is someone the child and and his/her family are familiar with and have trust in. Mumbai-based psychiatrist, Dr Dayal Mirchandani describes how in his practise, he has dealt with boys who have been abused as children. According to him, the perpetrator can be both male or female.
Mirchandani emphasises on the importance to educate boys and girls at the age of 2 or 3 years, based on circumstances such as whether the child is with caretakers or at day care.
In the book, When Touch becomes Trouble, Swati Popat Vats describes how children can be taught to not allow anyone to touch on their lips, chest ,bottoms and part between their legs.
Here are a few pointers to facilitate the process of communication:
● Introduce the concept of good touch such as a hug or kiss from the parent
● Speak to children about safe touch and how it makes them feel
● Tell them about who are safe adults
● Teach children to respect their bodies as well as other’s bodies
● Communicate about body parts that are private and point out to the body part
● Make them understand who can touch the body part ( eg: Mumma giving a bath)
● Teach them to say ‘no’ and to inform a safe adult if they feel threatened
Often the abuser tells children to keep secrets. Children must be taught to discriminate between good and bad secrets. Good secrets make children feel good such as a surprise birthday party or gift. Help children understand how good secrets lead to positive feelings. Bad secrets make children feel scared and worried, may involve a threat or bribe.
Building healthy communication with your kid on a daily basis can strengthen the bonding process. It provides a safe environment for the children to share their personal feelings. It may be important to watch out for cues when children play.
Ruchita Dar Shah, a mother to two boys aged 5 and 9 says that as a parent she chose to teach her sons to name the body parts as they are .She says it always helps if the father is participative and can help boys understand what it means to be safe. Creating a culture of openness and engaging with kids without judging them may help, according to her.
There are many books available in the market that can help the parents communicate in a story format:
● When Touch Becomes Trouble by Swati Popat Vats ( video on youtube by Podar group)
● Bobby and Mandee’s Good Touch Bad Touch
● Some Parts are Not for Sharing by Julie K Frederico
● We can say No by David Pithers and Sarah Greene
● The Berenstain Bears Learn about Strangers (video as well on youtube)
As Mirchandani says, parents must try not be anxious while communicating as the anxiety can rub off. Let’s neither be in denial of the reality nor paranoid about child sexual abuse. As parents we need to find a middle ground where we can engage with kids, listen, allow them to ask questions and teach them about their body safety.
Sonali Gupta is a practicing psychologist and conducts workshops for children and parents well being.
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