By Lipi Mehta:
The first time my parents and I spoke about child sexual abuse, I was 18. At that time, I honestly wondered what had taken us so long to have this conversation. Well, just like hundreds of families across India, mine too didn’t think that it was a topic that needed to be discussed at our dining table and in our drawing room (for a variety of reasons such as “It can never happen with our child”), and when they felt like they should have the talk, they didn’t know how to. They asked me if it had ever happened with me and I said no, and that was that.
The thought that makes us so firmly believe that it could never happen with us or in our families needs to be dispelled because the reality is shockingly otherwise. In a one-of-its-kind national survey conducted by the Ministry of Women and Child Development in 2007, it was revealed that 53% of children in India have faced sexual abuse. In fact, in 2013, NCRB’s report showed that sexual crimes against children had increased by 44.7% in just one year. With such staggering statistics, I am compelled to ask again: Why don’t we talk about child sexual abuse enough?
A big part of the answer to this question, as I discovered later, is that only one-third of cases of child sexual abuse are identified, and even fewer are reported. Children are unsure of how their parents, teachers or caregivers will react. Many feel guilty and in 90% of the cases, the perpetrator is known to the child.
In such circumstances, how we react when a child discloses this information to us, has a huge role to play in the child’s recovery. So when a child discloses abuse, he or she should be heard lovingly and made to feel safe. However, the reality is not so. Recently, I worked on ‘Chuppi Todo!‘, a booklet of 144 stories sent to the team of the TV show Satyamev Jayate, after its episode on child sexual abuse was aired in 2012. Here are the reactions that 10 survivors received after they disclosed abuse:
The idea of illustrating these responses is not to talk about the callousness of society or of one’s own family—it is more to show how many parents are genuinely unaware of how grave a crime this is, and of how to react in a positive, reaffirming manner. Well, here are some tips. Firstly, always believe and listen to the child. Your belief and positive response can instantly make the child feel safe. Secondly, take steps to ensure that the child doesn’t face abuse again. Confront the abuser if you want to and talk to the other trusted adults the child interacts with, to reinforce safe spaces for him/her, whether at home, in school or elsewhere. Lastly, you can choose to file a case against the abuser and seek professional help for the child. There is nothing shameful about going for counselling or therapy and it might just be one of the most formidable steps towards healing for the child.
This year, as the world leaders agreed to a new set of Global Goals with the aim to end violence, abuse, exploitation, trafficking and torture against children in the next 15 years; you too can ensure that the Global Goals enable every child to grow up happy, healthy and safe. Email the PM to show your support.
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 email@example.com. You can also call NGO Arpan on their helpline 091-98190-86444, for counselling support.