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…And in a hushed voice, a Child whispers #MeToo

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There is a very thin line between power and pleasure.

#MeToo created waves on social media, and for once we realised that right now it is anything but a silenced conversation. It is a clarion call for women and men who have been sexually abused. The responses have been overwhelming in terms of number and the harrowing details.

While adults go through hell after being sexually abused, imagine how it is when the children are targetted. The conversations with children about the sexual abuse they go through are still hushed up as they hurt the adult relationships of the parents, especially those with their family and friends.

Little children — from the age of a few months onwards — have been victims of child sexual abuse. There are stories abundant of helpless children, caught completely unaware by familiar friendly faces, which give them ghastly experiences and scar their minds for the rest of their lives; infants who bleed to death after abuse; children who have been thrown away into bushes after being raped and killed; toddlers who have been burnt after sexual abuse, so that no trace is left of the perpetrator — why have these children been abused? What have they done to deserve this?

Are we to believe that there is any dearth of awareness about the issue or attempts to stop prospective rapists? Is there any dearth of organized sexual outlets where the abusers may take care of their needs and desires? Is it necessary to victimize helpless, innocent children? Does sexual abuse give the perpetrator the pleasure he seeks? The thought of hurting a child or violating a toddler for the sexual pleasure or gratification of an adult is deeply disturbing.

This brings us to the opening line of this blog: does pleasure emanate from power, or does power generate pleasure? The act of overpowering an innocent child and force them into a sexual activity is clearly done from a perspective and position of power. It cannot be equated, under any circumstances, with a sexual activity where an equally consensual partner is involved, whose response to and participation in the activity is equivalent to yours.

There are some interesting articles for the curious mind to explore, which attempt to answer the question: why does an adult find paedophilia exciting? Please do read the articles here and here. While finding a logic or a rationale behind the act might satiate the intellectual mind, does it really help to curb this crime?

Awareness about the damage child sexual abuse causes to the child and their surroundings, might. Such abuse by adults is often carried out with the strong hope and conviction that the child will forget about the abuse. The caregivers and the family also shove it all under the carpet with the same hope — that the child will forget — while the reality is that the child never forgets; every last detail remains etched in their minds.

A child is an adult in the making. The scar, if not healed, gets bigger and worse with time. We thought we’d ask some friends who have been sexually abused as children about their experiences and memories, and gained some valuable insight into the phenomenon for our readers.

Sexual abuse is done mostly by men to little girls and boys. Often an uncle, an older sibling, a close cousin, a father figure, or even the father himself takes advantage of the fact that the child trusts them and allows them proximity to themselves. The children are then lured, threatened, and further manipulated to be engaged or forced into sexual activity by these people. This is a fact that one in five girls and one in 20 boys is a victim of child sexual abuse. For recent statistics, please check the link here.

The numbers are alarming.

Always Remember To Support The Child

A child, when abused, typically feels no shame, because they have not known how people define shame or honour yet. All that they feel is confusion, and often a state of dumbfoundedness, that they feel should be shared with their parent/sibling/caregiver. Now, the caregiver should know how to take care of the child from thereon instead of hitting, shouting, or shaming them — reactions which stem from their perception of social honour.

But that is not what the child needs then. The child needs affectionate words, followed by immediate medical attention, counselling, and immense love and support from the caregivers both in words and in action.

Giving love and support, among other things, also means that the child has to be told clearly that they haven’t done anything wrong, and that the caregivers trust what the child shares. It is sheer ignorance and stupidity for an adult to imagine that a child would lie about a sexual activity which they have never experienced before in their life.

The very first time that a child shares that they are not comfortable about sitting on the lap of, or kissing, or hugging someone, the caregivers must make a note of it, and empower the child to refuse to participate in such an act of ‘affection’, or to run away from their presence if so required.

The child has to be assured that the caregivers will try their best to ensure that the perpetrator will be punished so that no such incident happens again. For a child, the world is still a lot about black and white, rewards and punishments, so letting the child know that the perpetrator will be punished gives some relief and confidence to the child — a much-needed consolation in the post-traumatic recuperation period for the child.

Meanwhile, it is important to keep an eye on the child during the post-traumatic period and to connect and engage deeply with them to be able to build trust again in the mind of the child. This will also help the child to open up and narrate the incident once or twice to their caregivers, which can be digitally recorded with the permission of the child so that they are never forced to narrate the incident again and again.

Unless the child wants to talk about it and ask questions to understand what had happened, they must never be made to relive the experience. The process of healing can be long or short; it is unpredictable. All that is known is that trust and love get the child going on their path again.

How Do We Make The Adults Stop?

So far, we have spoken about children who face sexual violence. What about the adults who commit sexual violence? How can we reach out to them and make them aware of the damage they cause? How do we ask them to stop?

Adults who engage in sexual abuse are often victims of child abuse and neglect. It is a continuous process of churning out a series of rape survivors, and molested, neglected, and emotionally abused children who later become abusers as adults. To curb the formation of more abusers and bullies, we, as parents or caregivers, need to create a wholesome ambience where they learn to love and respect all human beings, ignoring the factors that differentiate them. This is what will eventually bring about the necessary changes that we want to see in our children, as well as in the adults that they will grow up to be.

Every change begins with an early intervention in life. Children as the adults-in-the-making need to be made aware of the word ‘consent’, and the difference between ‘good touch’ and ‘bad touch’. One’s pleasure cannot be a cause for pain for another — this is a very basic tenet that needs to be taught and understood by both children and adults. To relate, please watch a relevant video here.

Child sexual abuse is the most ‘silent’ crime in this world. And if we further hush it up, we are breeding another generation of abusers, sexual or otherwise, who have not much respect for either individuals or for their human rights.

If you are a parent and are reading this, please take the crucial step of abandoning that special friend/uncle/relation who has broken the trust of the child and violated them sexually or by touch, word or glance. Otherwise, your silence will embolden the abuser further.

If it is the fear of social stigma, of letting the world know what your child has gone through that is bothering you, then fight it. Let that not overcome your love for your child, and your duty to do right by them. Let your child’s safety and well-being be your first priority, not keeping up appearances with your child’s abuser for the sake of social niceties, old friendships, or family relations.

Give it a thought. Let us work together in making the world safer for our children, and our stay in this world as purposeful and meaningful as we possibly can.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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