Erasing stigma via dialogue

Erasing stigma via dialogue

CHILD SEXUAL ABUSE Pooja Mahesh learns about Enfold Proactive Health Trust,

Erasing stigma via dialogue

When we talk about child sexual abuse (CSA), it is often in hushed tones or we refuse to acknowledge that it happens altogether. With so much stigma attached to CSA, not many are willing to talk about it with their children.

A 2007 survey conducted by the Union Ministry of Women and Child Development found that 53.22 per cent children in the country faced sexual abuse in one form or the other and that 50 per cent of the abuse was done by people who were known to the children.

Learning from experience

Gynaecologists Dr Sangeetha Saksena and Dr Shaibya Saldanha founded Enfold Proactive Health Trust in 2001 to improve the situation through proactive discussions on CSA.

The objective was to reach out to a wide section of the society by training  stakeholders linked to different aspects of child sexual abuse — like medical personnel, lawyers, police, social workers and counsellors. Through this, they hoped to support and empower children and adults who are victims of abuse.

“Seeds of this initiative were sown when   Sangeetha and Shaibya, as gynaecologists, realised the impact of CSA on the victim’s life at a later stage. In some cases, people, both young and old, were unable to consummate a marriage or maintain a relationship — and the problem boiled down to the fact that they were abused as children,” says Kushi Kushalappa, head of community projects at the Trust.

One of the reasons why many of the child abuse cases go unreported is because of the social stigma attached to it and therefore, parents hesitate to bring their child to the police station to report the incident.

The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (POCSO Act) 2012 was made to enable this process and there has been an increase in the number of cases being reported since then.

However, to make the process more streamlined and efficient, Enfold established the Collaborative Child Response Units (CCRU), in collaboration with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the Department of Women and Child Development, in several states across the country.

“As a hospital-based unit, CCRU is a multi-disciplinary approach. All the necessary stakeholders come to the child — including the police, medical and legal personnel — and are trained on how they can help a CSA victim,” says Kushi.

So far, over 750 police personnel, 300 doctors, 550 social workers and other stakeholders  have been sensitised across India. A first information report (FIR) is also filed here and a provisional medical certificate is given by a doctor to strengthen the case. All the cursory evidence found by the medical team is sent to the state forensic science laboratories for further investigations.

Support system
“We have to constantly remind the children as to why we are in their life. We help them in filing and writing the case and act as a liaison between the stakeholders and child protection services,” says Kushi.

To enable them to understand and be better equipped to prevent CSA rather than tackling it after it has occurred, Enfold has been conducting responsible sexuality, life skills and personal safety sessions in schools and colleges. Various topics including body image, self image, bullying, teasing and sexuality are covered in these sessions.

“Children need to know about their body and how they can protect themselves,” says Sheela Bolar, founder of Innisfree School, Bengaluru.

“We were one of the first schools to offer ‘growing up sessions.’ But we had to stop them briefly a few years ago as some of the parents felt uncomfortable. However, as the number of CSA cases began to rise, we brought it back in a newer format with the help of Enfold. Apart from students, we also conduct sessions for our teachers and parents. The responses from all of them have been great.”

However, conducting these sessions have not been easy as many schools, colleges and communities do not see the need for it to be spoken about. Most feel awkward or embarrassed to talk about it. Parents too feel that introducing such topics opens many questions that they are not ready to answer yet or are uncomfortable to do so.

To do this, age appropriate materials have been brought in a bilingual format (Kannada and English). These materials  enable the facilitator to talk more effectively, making the conversation less awkward.

They also provide parents and teachers with tools and modules to teach responsible sexual behaviour to their children while maintaining mutual respect, open atmosphere and free dialogue. To reach out to more children and stakeholders in rural Karnataka, Enfold partnered with UNICEF to provide personal safety and life skills trainings in Koppal, Raichur and Dakshina Kannada districts.

They have also designed various workbooks on life skills, gender empowerment and personal safety to supplement their work.

What is important to remember is that the mindset needs to be changed about CSA at different levels, including the judiciary. And this is what Enfold strives for with their work — raising awareness about CSA and that it’s okay to talk about it openly. Enfold can be contacted at info@enfoldindia.org or on +919900094251.

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