Some things hit you so hard, they knock the breath right out of you. This is precisely what I felt when I watched this short film:
There are things out there, ugly things, which we keep sweeping under the rug. But we don’t realise that by not talking about issues like child sexual abuse, we don’t make them go away. We only make it that much easier for perpetrators to act without fear, and make the situation uglier for the child, every single time.
And it’s in this silence where the utter discomfort of watching this video comes in. Because how is it when we know that over 50% children in India face sexual abuse, there still remains a largely unquestionable silence around this topic? The kind of silence which this video portrays, where instead of being able to openly talk to his parents about what he’s facing, the child carries out a game of dumb charades. Because despite his age, even he understands that the truth is too difficult to speak aloud, apart from in hushed whispers and gestures.
But it’s precisely because the truth is ugly and difficult, that we should speak about this. And once a child discloses abuse, we should ask ourselves: now what do we do?
Well, there’s a lot we can do.
The very first thing to remember is: don’t be dismissive or make the child feel like this is something they are making up. Recognise the courage it takes for them to tell you about something like this. The very least you can offer is to believe them, acknowledge that it happened and then take action to set it right. Make them feel that they’ve done the right thing by telling you. Make them feel safe.
If you know who the abuser is (and 90% of the time, the abuser is known to the child), confront them and make sure you cut off contact between them and the child. You can also take legal action – child sexual abuse is a punishable crime under the POCSO Act. Talk to other adults you know and trust, to create a safety network of people the child can trust.
And most importantly, talk about it. Teach children about good and bad touch. Recognise abuse for what it is. Telling the child to “just forget about it” will make them feel that the onus is on them and that they did something wrong. Tell them instead that it was not their fault and that there is nothing for them to be ashamed of. And that is the only way to break this vicious cycle.
Survivors of child sexual abuse have shown immense strength and written about facing and fighting abuse, on YKA. Read their stories here and if you have something to say or a story to share, submit here.
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 protected] You can also call NGO Arpan on their helpline 091-98190-86444, for counselling support.