Child sexual abuse a devastating malady, says psychologist Maya Susan

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Sex abuse is a ubiquitous term that has crippled the psyche of society across the globe over generations. The social evil has assumed a devastating dimension in this digital age with proliferous sexually inciting contents that plague senses of people irrespective age or gender. News reports from across Kerala carry a major chunk of data on crimes including sex abuses, especially those against children. Parents spend huge amount of money to send children to good schools, provide them with good food, clothes and so on. But, are they enough to ensure the safety of our children? Counselling psychologist Maya Susan Jacob, Girideepam group of institutions, touches upon the different aspects of the issue, in an interaction with Onmanorama.

What is child sex abuse?

Any move from a grown up person towards children with a sexual motive can be termed as child sexual abuse. As per the law, sexual abuse against those below 18 years old are child sexual abuse (CSA). Children belonging to all cultures and strata of society are prone to child sexual abuse. We often doubt who all can be the perpetrators. Both men and women engage in sexual exploitation. But men commit more such crimes.

Which all acts come under child sexual abuse?

Showing nude pictures to children. Tempting them to strip or forcing them to touch their private parts, forcing them to see nude pictures or porn movies, approaching them with lewd comments or acts and so on and above all involving them in sexual acts fall under sexual exploitation of children. We think that girls are abused more. But the fact is, the number of abuses against boys is much higher than that of girls. But they are not reported much. We should understand that both girls and boys undergo exploitation.

Imparting sexual knowledge

While providing children with all kinds of education, parents should examine whether children are provided with enough knowledge and awareness on matters related to sexual behaviour. Today, children can avail information about anything on their fingertip. In the old days, any material on the subject was highly secretive. But in today's world when they easily access any such information or material on the internet we should understand that that they have the right to know about their body and physique in the right way.

What children should keep in mind

There are certain elements which children too should keep in mind. Who all can exploit them sexually. Abuses can be unleashed from inside the family. There are chances that abuses can be triggered by acquaintances, friends, neighbours and so on. We should make children understand that they should not talk to unknown persons. Children should know that if a person makes any advances or touches them in an inappropriate way, they have the full right to say no. Children should clearly tell them that they are not interested or don't like it. At the same time, if anything has happened, the children should communicate it with their parents. They should tell the truth and never lie. Help should be sought, if needed. If an abuse happened at a public place, like in a bus stand, when such a thing happens one should raise alarm or speak out aloud. Someone will come forward to help. By ignoring it, we are giving the perpetrators more room for such crimes.

Your body is your personal asset

Always know that your body is your personal asset. You have your own privacy. You should know that another person has no right to touch your body without your consent. Make it a habit to say no. You may think that saying no would cause trouble. But know that by not saying no, the problem would be spiralling manifold.

Different stages of abuse

An incident of abuse doesn't happen all of a sudden. It evolves through different stages. The abusers initially make friends with their target, give small gifts, say good words or buy them good food. That's how they coerce them to fulfil their desires. Abuse takes place in the next stage. It happens through short touches. After those touches the abuser will wait to see the reaction of the child and to see whether the child has told her parents or whether parents are raising any complaints and so on. When the abuser finds that there has been no such fallouts he or she moves to the actual abuse. Next, the perpetrator forces the child to hide the incident with threats of exposing nude pictures of the victim or even threat to life. It is in the last stage that the incident is uncovered by someone accidentally. The child suffers regular bouts of illnesses, falls into a state of depression. Someone may find out or the child may go slow in studies. In the fifth stage the parents try to cover up the incident as the perpetrator could be a relative or might get worried about the child's future. We should never try to do that. The mental stress the child undergoes cannot be understood by anyone else. Children should know that such incidents happened not because of their fault.

Abuses from inside the family

Several reports of child sexual abuse from inside the family reach counsellors everyday. Once a child said that she was being harassed by her cousin for years. On another occasion a 39-year-old woman visited me with her daughter studying in Class 8. She said she had been a victim of abuse since the age of four. She was living abroad with her parents and other relatives in a flat. Both her parents were employed and she said she was being sexually harassed by her cousin and her stepfather till she was 9. Generally, when those children are 10 or 11 years old they think that they had been doing something wrong or sinful. She said that she completed her studies and got married later but was never able to save her marriage. Within a year the relationship broke after she got pregnant. When the woman came to see me, she was accompanied by her father too. She was so furious because her father was rendering all the support to the same brother to settle down in Kerala after winding up his career in the Gulf. The woman's mother knew about the incidents but she had not disclosed it to the father who was now in his 70s. What I mean is our children are not safe in our own houses. Never think that such things may happen elsewhere, not in our homes.

At what age should the child be given the tips and knowledge for a proper sexual development?

We should impart knowledge for proper sexual development at the age of one-and-half years. From the age of one to three we should clearly teach the child about the whole body parts. We might teach them about nose, eyes and ears. Rest of the parts we might not bother or would be tagged with other funny terms. We can teach them even using pictures. From 3 to 5 we should teach them about private body parts. Teaching them how to say no begins at that age. Children between 5 to 8 should be taught about good touch and bad touch or unnatural touch. Between 8 and 10 children should be taught about how to protect themselves. It is the time when they comprehend certain aspects vaguely. Girls should have the idea of what is menstruation. Teach boys everything regarding their body by 10. They should be taught about emission. Between 10 and 13 children should be taught what is rape, unwanted pregnancy, HIV and so on. Children who grow up like this will have clear idea about their individuality or sexuality. They will never attempt to nudge, peep or prod with sexual motives. Parents definitely have a responsibility in this scheme of things. It is unwise to think that such topics should be conveyed to them by teachers or someone else. Parents should discuss and analyse reports of sexual crimes in newspapers and tell them out how to protect ourselves. A good rapport should be built with children for this purpose. We shouldn't remain averse to discussing such topics with children considering such subjects as a taboo. Children can be given magazines provide such education or animated short films like Komal can be shown to them. While we correct children's mental health, education, spirituality and so on, we should also give importance to their sexual development so that they can lead a healthy life.

Why is child sexual abuse is a social menace?

We should know that those aged below 18 years, are not mentally matured to lead a healthy sexual life though they might be physically grown up. A person attains mental maturity when he or she reaches the age of 22-23. A child doesn't involve in this willingly but is forcefully drawn into it by the perpetrator for his or her personal gratification. It happens because of the anomalies of the person who is the culprit. Why do we strongly oppose this is because, when a child gets involved in it, he or she might suffer from guilt and inferiority complex when he or she is 10 to 15 years. That undermines their personality. Some may fall into a state of mental illness. In some cases the abusers, continue their search for their prey further. There is also a question of protection of victims of unwanted pregnancy. There are no arrangements for such conditions in our society as of now. The main problem is that child sexual abuse severely affects the personality of the victims. That is why it is important to teach children how to protect themselves from sexual abuse.

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