Undergoing Sexual Abuse As A Child Can Haunt Survivors All Their Life: Time For Change

Posted on August 26, 2015 in Child Sexual Abuse, Society, Taboos

By Ravi Sahay

This is a difficult topic – moral corruption of child sexual abuse usually closes our heart and our mind goes into denial. Chetan Bhagat, in his column, ‘Let’s Talk About Sex’, cautioned Indians, “..Since we shun it so much we have two major problems around sex in India. One, repressed sexual desire often comes out in unsavory ways. Two, we are unable to discuss or have a meaningful debate around any topic to do with sex. Repressed sexual desire, for instance, is manifest in child sexual abuse which is rampant in India.

For representational purpose only
For representational purpose only

This crime has been going for centuries. In 2012, Aamir Khan, in the second episode of his popular TV series, ‘Satyamev Jayate‘, raised mass awareness on this topic in India. Now, almost every day, from all corners of India, the media is reporting on this crime, and a new criminal law – Protection of Child against Sexual Offence (POCSO:2012).

That is a great opening. UNICEF, along with Bollywood stars Amitabh Bachchan, Madhuri Dixit, and many others are speaking against this crime now.

UNICEF India is training all Indian medical doctors to heal and prevent child sexual abuse crimes in India. Smt. Maneka Gandhi, Union Minister for Women and Child Development has asked schools to screen a documentary film ‘Komal‘ to educate and inform elementary school children about ‘Good Touch/Bad Touch‘. She has also asked students and the school administration to be vigilant against this crime.

But, the healing of the adult survivors of this crime has not started for Indians. The awareness about the devastating long-term damage on health, well-being and close relationships of adult survivors is missing.

Child sexual abuse trauma affects the brain. It changes our biology. In the USA, the largest-scale study to date of the incidence and effects of childhood trauma that includes Child Sexual Abuse known as Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) study links serious illness, for example, irritable bowel syndrome, migraine, fibromyalgia sleep disturbances and mental health including PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), fear of intimacy, domestic violence, gender confusion, addiction including alcoholism to name a few as the long-term adverse outcomes. One in five victims of child sexual abuse have moderate to serious impact on their wellness.

Denial of this evil is costly. Dr. Christine Courtois, a leading trauma consultant notes, “The unfortunate result of denial and disavowal across cultures has been the extension rather than the amelioration of the suffering of the traumatized, at individual, family, community, society and global levels.

Mass awareness on this topic started some thirty years ago in America – Dr. Judith Lewis Herman, professor of Clinical Psychiatry at Harvard University Medical School, and a pioneer in the study of post-traumatic stress disorder and the sexual abuse of women and children, is the author of the book, ‘Trauma & Recovery’. In this seminal book, Dr. Judith Herman explains why a political or social context is a very important part for the start of the recovery process.

A feeling of “safety” by the victims is a pre-requisite or the first stage of the healing/recovery process. The political or social context is getting ripe in India for victims to undergo the healing process. This fact may explain as to why some of India’s child sexual abuse survivors are writing about it. For generations, the victims were not able to heal their wounds, they suffered physically and mentally in silence and so did their off-springs.

A vicious intergenerational cycle of abuse persists today which is losing its grip as the survivors are starting to heal. The recovery process is not easy. There are several stages to this process– it can take months and years. There is no pill available – awareness of the inflicted wound is the first required step.

Mass education is needed to educate the public that this act is criminal and punishable by law. However, creating a compassionate and nurturing environment where the victims gather strength and courage to heal themselves is paramount. This is a major task for Indians.

Indians need courage to empathetically and honestly discuss the trauma of child sexual abuse which has affected half of its population, both boys and girls. In the face of this denial, all, including their children suffer in silence. Breaking this silence is the first step towards healing.

Svava Brooks, abuse survivor coach writes, “Deep inside, survivors of child sexual abuse want to be heard, validated, and believed. Keeping the abuse as a secret for so long has caused more damage. It manifests in dysfunctional survival mode. The coping strategies may have served them to survive but they have manifested in personality disorders driven by fear and mistrust of others. For victims to heal now, they must gather courage and reach out for support from professionals, friends and trusted family members again and again and again. The survivor needs true friends who will say: I’m so sorry that happened to you! How can I help and support you?

You can help the victim but you cannot cure. You will need your own strength to endure with the victim. Do not ask the victim to forget and forgive. Make sure that the victim puts the blame solely on the predator. It is never the child’s fault.

The same principle applies to a couple where the bruise of child sexual abuse of one or both shows up invariably as dysfunctional relationship. The best advice to the spouse is to read about the ill-effects, recovery and stages of healing. Do remember that you are not alone. Do not take it personally and this too shall pass. However, the turbulence can shake up or break the relationship of a couple like a major storm does. Be resilient!

Dr. Paul Hansen writes, “One of the most healing (and perhaps the most frightening) thing you as a couple can do is to stop keeping the secret. You cannot complete your healing until you do.” Dr. Hansen in the concluding paragraph of his book, ‘Partners And Survivors’ notes, “A useful approach for my wife and me has been to view this healing task as we would any other major health problem for one of us or one of our children. Without blame, we both become willing to be transformed by this healing process. Without blame, we both emerge from it stronger, more loving and more whole persons.”

Fortunately, media, including documentaries, movies, and TV programs are becoming widely available to educate the American public. Oprah is a TV celebrity who openly talked about her child sexual abuse on TV for over two decades and educated the public on ways to heal the survivors of this crime. There are no such public Indian TV role models to coach the survivors towards healing and happiness

India needs its own Oprah Winfrey or a TV program by a spiritual Guru to educate, inform, empower, and heal the wounds of child sexual abuse. Educational programs on TV and Webinars will bring forth two things – compassion for the victims and the resolve (discrimination and wisdom) to stop this evil of child sexual abuse for our future generations.

If you are a survivor, parent or guardian who wants to seek help for child sexual abuse, or know someone who might, you can dial 1098 for CHILDLINE (a 24-hour national helpline) or email them at dial1098@childlineindia.org.in. You can also call NGO Arpan on their helpline 091-98190-86444, for counselling support.