Child Sexual Abuse Is India’s Time Bomb – But Can We Diffuse It?

Posted on May 23, 2012 in Society

By Ravi Sahay:

On Sunday morning, May 13, 2012, India’s popular star Aamir Khan during the second episode of his TV show, “Satyameya Jayate” which means “Truth Alone Wins”, exposed successfully the best or worst kept secret against children in India – child sexual abuse. Sexual abuse includes sexual assault, making the child fondle another’s private parts, making the child exhibit his private body parts, exhibiting private body parts to the child, photographing a child in the nude, sexual advances, forcible kissing and forcing the child to view pornographic material.

Interestingly, three days before the airing of this TV show, the Indian Rajya Sabha passed the pending bill – “Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Bill 2011”. This is a very positive step and Aamir Khan deserves accolades for educating the Indian public and for expediting the passage of this law. Now, India has a law to deter violence against innocent children.

However, we still need to understand the serious impact of this despicable and serious crime against our innocent children (both boys and girls). These victims carry these scars all their lives. Most Indians are still in denial that this problem exists.

The popular movie, “Monsoon Wedding (2001)” released by Canadian producer/director, Mira Nair, depicts this crime in a middle/upper class family of India. The government report also sees it as a broad problem across all sections of Indian society. RAHI NGO states that 75% of middle/upper class women have been abused and 53% of all Indian children are victims of sexual abuse according to the government report (2007).

Why is it a societal time bomb for India?

Breaking the silence is the first step in the recovery process. This crime has been going on for decades if not centuries. This evil of child sexual abuse has already wounded many families and the psychological and social impact of this scar on grown-ups is quite alarming. In many cases, professional help of doctors, psychologists and social workers is needed to diffuse and heal this festering wound.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (2008). claims, “While physical injuries may or may not be immediately visible, abuse and neglect can have consequences for children, families, and society that last lifetimes, if not generations. The impact of child abuse and neglect is often discussed in terms of physical, psychological, behavioral, and societal consequences. In reality, however, it is impossible to separate them completely. Physical consequences, such as damage to a child’s growing brain, can have psychological implications such as cognitive delays or emotional difficulties. Psychological problems often manifest as high-risk behaviors. Depression and anxiety, for example, may make a person more likely to smoke, abuse alcohol or illicit drugs, or overeat. High-risk behaviors, in turn, can lead to long-term physical health problems such as sexually transmitted diseases, cancer, and obesity.

Judith Herman a psychiatrist, researcher, teacher, and author who has focused on the understanding and treatment of incest and traumatic stress. wrote in her book,“Trauma and Recovery (1997)” that child sexual abuse can alter personalities as grown-ups and she coined the term, Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD) to describe this syndrome. The symptoms include, alteration in relations to others, for example, isolation or withdrawal, disruption of intimate relationships, fear of intimacy, repeated search for a rescuer, persistent distrust, repeated failures of self protection and more. These problems can disrupt a family for a lifetime or even for generations.

The recovery journey of a sexually traumatized person is a hero’s or heroine’s journey as they move from a victim to a survivor and ultimately a thriver. The recovery or healing process is not easy and it may take years, or even decades.

Now, our Indian society needs to take responsibility for this crime and establish proper restitution first so that the adult victims can safely begin the recovery process of their “damaged selves” – through remembering and mourning first and then ultimately through forgiveness. Though this journey is self-initiated most of the time by the survivors, we would need many kindred souls to become therapists and mentors for these innocent victims. This is a major capacity building task for the nation which is essential for diffusing this societal time bomb.

What can we do to prevent it?

We need to spread information and increase awareness regarding this topic urgently. We need to educate our pre-school, elementary and middle school children about “healthy touch” and “bad touch.” Dr Rajat Mitra and Dr. Bhooshan Shukla, MD (Psychiatry) have demonstrated on TV with Aamir Khan various ways to educate children and their parents on this topic , As suggested by them, we owe it to our future generations as a reminder at least every six months.

Our government, NGOs, schools, parents and individuals need to educate their children, adults and senior citizens about the grave criminal nature of this crime and why it must stop so that our future generations can grow as healthy persons. It is very good news that a few NGOs in India, for example, RAHI, ARPAN, TULIR,Childline India Foundation (CIF), are becoming active in educating the Indian public about child sexual abuse. Pinki Virani gives an insightful analysis of this topic in her book, Bitter Chocolate (2001) (read book review here) and raises the issue of shame, guilt and national honor.

Like actor Aamir Khan and author Pinki Virani, more Indian movie producers/directors, TV soap opera writers, newspapers and magazines need to shed light on this crime against children and its after-effects on grown-ups. They also need to educate the indian public about the difficult recovery process.

In closing, let us offer prayers for the protection of our children and for the well-being of all.