Create safe neighbourhoods for children

Protest against CSA in Chennai

Every time a child is sexually assaulted, people from all strata of society condemn the act in strong terms, demand stringent laws, tough punishment and deliver sermons that the victims should be provided counselling to regain confidence. But, as the case goes off media limelight, it is the same society that causes secondary victimisation due to its attitude towards the victims and their families. Society pinning the blame on the victims for no fault of theirs emboldens the perpetrators and shatters the confidence of the victim, who in many cases will be minor. 

Child rights activists and counsellors, who talk to children after they are exposed to sexual abuse, blame public apathy as a cause for an increase in such crimes and the way the victim is made to live through the harrowing experience more than once. While the society conveniently blames the government and law enforcement agencies for not preventing such crimes against children, those fighting against this evil point to the stark truth – more than 90 % of child abusers are known to the victim, with many being their own relatives.

Vidya Reddy, founder of Tulir, working for the prevention and healing of child sexual abuse, said that people should be more proactive and stop being passive on-lookers. They should intervene even when they see someone touching a child inappropriately. 

A Devaneyan, a human rights crusader, said that people never try to learn anything from a horrific incident. “We don’t take any preventive measures. The society becomes proactive when an incident of child sexual abuse is reported, but after a couple of days, people conveniently forget until another child falls prey,” he said.

Devaneyan stressed the need to educate male children about their body. “All children need is gender education. Both male and female children should be told about their bodies and the use of the parts,” he said.

Once the child is aware of his or her body, Devaneyan says, it would be easy for them to report such crimes if someone tries to manipulate or take advantage of their bodies. The activist wants residential associations and private schools to be more proactive in counselling children about sexual abuse.

“Why can’t every residential colony have a child counsellor? Why can’t children be imparted lessons on adolescence in their own apartment complexes? I think every neighbourhood should pitch in and create a safe environment for their children,” he said.

Vidya Reddy said parents and immediate family play a crucial role in teaching boundaries to the child and making the kid grow confident. “The child should know the boundary – what elders can do and what they can’t – and it is the responsibility of the parents to ensure that the boundary is taught. This is one of the best ways of preventing the child from being abused,” she said.

Devaneyan also blames the lack of “political will” on the part of the governments for the increase in such crimes. “The legal process is also slow and out of 1,583 cases that were reported in the State in 2016, less than 14% have resulted in the conviction. If this is the fate of such sensitive cases, what else can we expect from our institutions?” he asked.

Virgil D’Souza, executive director of Arunodhaya Centre for Street and Working Children, adds, “We just can’t blame the parents. Even if the child reports sick, the parents would only take her to hospital. The child comes and tells them about any abuse, only when she or he understands that somebody has manipulated the body. We need to try and bring that sort of awareness.”

Well-known psychiatrist Dr N Shalini said that reaction of every child after being subjected to sexual abuse is different from the other. “Some children freeze and some faint once they are subjected to any form of sexual abuse. But some feel just the horror and pretend as if it happened in dreams,” she said.

Since the body renews and rejuvenates itself, many children emerge stronger and lead a normal life, she said. About Sakthi’s perpetrators, “It is the mindset of those men that led to the incident. It is not the fault of the girl, the fault is in eyes of the men,” she said. Virgil D’Souza, who has been working with children for the past three decades, told DH that it takes quite a lot of time for kids to understand what is happening with them.

“We have taught our kids to respect elders and be friendly with them. But when the elder person abuses him or her in the first place, the child is threatened by the abuser not to reveal anything and the victim is made to feel that he or she has done something wrong. Many children keep such abuses to themselves because they think there is something wrong with them,” she said. D’ Souza said parents and teachers should get closer to children to ensure that they come to them and share any abuses that happen to them. “This child did not open up to her teacher also. This emphasises the need for schools to have counsellors to let children share their stories,” she said. 

Also read: Child rape in Chennai that was a horror of horrors

                  Society fails victims of CSA

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