A part of us says “shit happens, forget it!” – deliberately trying to fight the undying rage which wants to fume out at one go, like a volcanic eruption. But the war rages on – “Leave it. It happened some twenty years back!” But it’s impossible to leave it. How can one ‘leave’ or even forget that horrid incident, and the myriad emotions of fear and disgust – and that resounding self-doubt screaming “Why! Why! Why!…” – inside the mind and heart that, at once, were so calm and composed?
The disturbed psyche and behavioural manifestations of having suffered child sexual abuse – and how it persists even through adulthood – was best brought out by the surreal performance of actors in the play “Positively Shameless” in Rangasthala Auditorium, MG Road Metro Complex, Bengaluru, on February 3, 2017. A powerful and cathartic play surrounding the issues of child sexual abuse, it showed how the victims grow into adults who, on the outside, seem to ‘have it all’ – but the struggle they face inside is truly traumatizing. Fear, guilt and anger pillage their inner peace and self-confidence. The play incorporated a saddening yet true metaphor of a ‘packed-up suitcase’, in which a victim boxes up their true and free self, because society compels them to – thus forcing them to hide their joys and pristine memories, before the incident of abuse happened.
Rife yet acutely reported – child sexual abuse in India is a rampant crime. The exposition to the play pointed out to the survey conducted by Ministry of Women and Child Development in association with the UNICEF, and a few indigenous NGOs working for the rights of children, which became a watershed moment in bringing out how this issue was way beyond what was ‘par’ for the course. Conducted in 2007, across 13 states with a sample size of 12,447, it found that a staggering 53% reported of being sexually abused as a child. What hit even harder was another statistic of the same survey which stated that 50% of the abuse cases were committed by someone known to the victim, or were in a position of trust and responsibility.
It therefore becomes a grave issue – quite prodigious, for a nation as large as ours – to have half its children sexually abused. This problem is a violation of human rights – a traumatic personal experience, that even transcends to become a public health problem. Such an issue which is recondite and hushed up within the familial circles has fantastically lead victims to blame themselves for a crime committed by another.
Furthermore, ignorance of the ground reality has led people to form conclusions based on their own opinions, which in terms of culture and tradition, have turned into myths regarding child sexual abuse. Some common misconceptions that surround child sexual abuse (CSA) are-
1. Boys don’t get raped.
2. Most CSA incidents are committed by strangers.
3. Normal, educated people don’t do this.
4. Children being abused immediately report this to their parents.
5. There is always a physical evidence of abuse.
6. Children tend to exaggerate/falsely accuse.
The percentage of cases reported to police – compared to the estimated numerical statistics on the occurrence of this crime – is quite minuscule. However appalling this may seem, it becomes a reflection of how atavistic our society really is – despite all the development.
Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (POCSO) was a major step in the right direction by the Indian Government to make gender-neutral laws that encompass child sexual abuse in all its forms and degrees. The prima facie impression of these laws was quite good – and they still are. The Constitution is operational on this issue – but the interplay of many factors have made people not report incidents of child sexual abuse. One such example would be that many feel that bringing out the case of abuse – especially when the abuser is someone related to the victim – would be a sacrilege to family honour. Hence, the issue majorly revolves around the fear of social stigma.
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.