By Dr. Dayal Mirchandani
As a society, we need to expose sexual abuse of children and, at the same time, protect our children from such traumas
There is no doubt that the sexual abuse of children is increasing, and a number of factors are responsible for this. Nowadays, parents are usually busy at work or with social engagements and spend lesser time with their children. People are getting married late, and those married are separated from their partners for extended periods. The Internet chat rooms have made lonely children more vulnerable to the devious ways of child abusers.
Usually the abuser is someone known to the child-a relative, teacher, servant or family friend. The abuser is likely to be psychologically disturbed and only gets aroused by children. The offender is more frequently a male; though increasingly women are also getting involved. The sexual predator often uses force or threat to achieve his ends, preventing the victim from telling others. Sometimes he also plays on the child`s sympathy or bribes the child to achieve his ends. Lonely or troubled children are at a higher risk of abuse.
Childhood sexual abuse is a serious problem because it usually scars the victim for life. People who have been sexually abused have a much higher risk of developing psychiatric and sexual disorders. Apart from this it often affects the victim`s ability to trust in close relationships, leading to their isolation. The effects of abuse often manifest years later in the form of post traumatic stress disorder. The traumatised individual suffers from nightmares, severe anxiety attacks, depression and intrusive thoughts about the exploitation. Sometimes they even mutilate or harm themselves due to the psychological reactions of shame that they experience.
Unfortunately, many parents are not aware of the extent of the problem and therefore do not prepare their children to deal with the possibility of sexual abuse. Commonly an older cousin, uncle or aunt is the victimiser. One must also be wary of servants, teachers, and in rare cases, even doctors. Even some religious gurus and priests have been exposed for abusing children. Hundreds of children have come forward in America in the last few years to expose the abuse suffered by them at the hands of celibate priests.
Children, both boys and girls, should be warned about inappropriate sexual advances and touch from a very early age and taught how to avoid this. More important, children should be made to feel free to talk to their parents about these unpleasant experiences. Parents also need to be proactive in keeping their children away from potential predators. They should consider the possibility of sexual abuse if their child suddenly becomes unduly upset or isolated.
Most importantly, they should never disbelieve their child or tell him or her to keep quiet to `save the family name` or preserve the child`s value in the marriage market, as this has a particularly corrosive effect on the child`s mind. If their child is a victim of child abuse, and the parents detect it, they must consult with an expert in order to help their child feel safe and to overcome the effects of abuse.
An abuser should not be protected. He needs to be exposed so that he or she does not continue to exploit other children. Legal action can often be taken, despite our archaic laws. In addition, the abuser should be compelled to seek psychological help. Schools and other institutions need to have a zero tolerance policy, which is clearly spelt out, and any offender should be exposed and removed without hesitation.
Adults who have been abused in childhood need help to heal and recover from the effects of the trauma they have suffered. Sonia was first abused by an uncle when she was eight. Even at this tender age she felt there was something wrong but was very confused and kept a promise to her uncle not to talk about it. Her uncle continued to abuse her till the age of 14. Sonia was then old enough to understand that her uncle was sexually exploiting her and told her mother, who ordered her to keep quiet. Her father told her: “You must have been enjoying it otherwise you wouldn`t have allowed it.“ Sonia`s parents refused to confront the uncle to avoid causing problems in the family. They also did not stop the uncle from visiting or staying at their home.
Sonia withdrew into studies and did well academically but she isolated herself from her peers. In college she resorted to alcohol and marijuana. During her drunken bouts, being promiscuous, she had multiple partners. Following one such incident, she slashed her wrists in a suicide attempt as she felt she could no longer face the shame. Luckily for her, one of her college classmates fell in love with her and decided to help her `reform`. He encouraged her to consult a therapist and would personally take her for each session. Her therapy, which included hypnosis and forgiveness meditations, took a number of years. She continued to smoke marijuana in the initial months of therapy as it helped her cope with her unpleasant feelings. While in therapy she decided to confront her uncle, who had by then married. She told everything to his wife, as Sonia feared that he might once again commit incest. His wife divorced him, took custody of her daughter and moved back to her parents` home. This made Sonia very unpopular with her grandparents but the strength of her convictions helped her feel good about herself. With the help of therapy, Sonia gradually overcame her pain and confusion and transformed from a turmoiled person to a survivor. She ultimately married her boyfriend who had helped her through it all.
The traumatized individual, who was the victim of abouse as a child, suffers from nightmares, severe anxiety attacks, depression and intrusive thoughts
Unfortunately, most cases do not have happy endings like this one.
However, increasing numbers of people in India are coming out and exposing their abusers. A few days ago, on a television panel, I witnessed a brave young man, for the first time telling the world of how his maternal uncle had abused him from an early age. As a society we need to address the issues of child pornography, child sex tourism and other forms of such exploitation.
Changing the culture in which abuse thrives is not easy. As Norwegian counsellor Trine Anstorp puts it: “To uncover that which has been concealed, to make public that which is private, to endeavour to give an opinion about that which was meant to be concealed and split up is not a minor task. Many times we have asked ourselves: `Is it at all possible?` In trying to understand and change the culture we ourselves are part of, we come dangerously close to sawing off the branch we are sitting on.“
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