'Response system should focus on victim's recovery'

'Response system should focus on victim's recovery'

The National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (Nimhans) has stressed the need to develop a protocol-based systemic response to ensure the healing and recovery of a sexually abused child becomes the core agenda.

Child sexual abuse (CSA) warrants systemic approaches that are uncompromisingly child-centric, which include preventive programmes in schools and other childcare agencies, Dr Shekhar Seshadri, a professor in the department of child and adolescent psychiatry at Nimhans, said on Monday.

The department, which treated many children with CSA issues in the past year, has seen that juveniles are overwhelmed after visits to the Child Welfare Committee, police station, the hospital, etc where they are questioned on multiple occasions, leading to their re-traumatisation.

The child’s reaction to the abuse, ensuring his/her immediate safety, medical and mental health needs, the concerns of the family, including social stigma, must be the priority.

The department questioned the urgency in legal proceedings by the police on evidence and enquiry processes and related pressure from the media and civil society.

Based on the experience, Nimhans believes that planned, protocol-based, comprehensive and sensitive care should be provided at all stages of intervention to the victimised children. The primary goal is to create a system of investigation which is child friendly and in accordance with principles of child rights and protection.

Dos for parents

Parents should not ignore or undermine a child’s statements and innocuous remarks. An open, supportive stance, assuming a position that child is right would be helpful in facilitating further disclosure on abuse. It is also important not to blame the child.

What schools need to do

Irrespective of whether the CSA incident occurred inside or outside the school, if the child reports to anyone in the school, the institution must acknowledge it.

Every school must have a pre-set response plan which should include a person known to the child who can respond in a sensitive and gentle manner to alleged instances of abuse reported by the child.

The principal should inform the parents and must involve in first-level medical care to seek assistance. Unless the school has a trained counsellor or a CSA expert, it should not attempt to interrogate the child.

This needs to be done by trained experts, preferably in child mental health agencies such as Nimhans or accredited comprehensive child response units.

Sensitive police interview

After a CSA case has been reported and if there is no trained person in the police force for sensitive interviewing of the child, they need to refer to an expert in agencies such as Nimhans, where forensic interview protocols are followed in the context of healing interventions.

Police should not hurry with interviewing the children as it can exacerbate the trauma.

Taking a child back to the scene of crime and asking him/her to explain/demonstrate what happened causes him/her to relive the trauma and could interfere with recovery.

Besides, such pressure on the child is less likely to elicit accurate information.

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