Child sexual abuse (CSA) happens behind closed doors. There needs to be recognition of the fact that CSA occurs, and that its impact can be deleterious and lifelong. CSA robs the victims of their childhood, irrevocably interfering with their emotional and psychological development. We need to ensure that all children come of age without being disturbed by sexual trauma or exploitation. CSA is more than a criminal justice issue, it is a societal issue. Despite efforts to date, the threat of child sexual exploitation remains very real, whether it takes place in the home, in schools, on the street, or in cyberspace. Since sexual abuse and exploitation of children strikes at the very foundation of our society, it will take every individual to combat this menace. There needs to be greater public awareness and better institutional responses to the issue;
The United Nations has defined child sexual abuse as contacts or interactions between a child and an older or more knowledgeable child or adult (a stranger, sibling or person in position of authority, a parent or a caretaker), where the child is being used as an object of gratification for the older child's or adult's sexual needs. These contacts or interactions are carried out against the child using force, trickery, bribes, threats or pressure (UNICEF, 2003). Research has shown that positive outcomes are associated with early detection and treatment. These facts dramatically highlight the need for prompt reporting of suspected sexual abuse, immediate investigation by child protection authorities, and timely referrals for treatment of sexual abuse victims.
Child sexual abuse may have a profound impact on how the child as a victim, and later as an adult survivor, experiences his/her world. When a child’s physical and sexual boundaries are violated by somebody he/she trusts, he/she grows up with confused messages about the relationship between sex, love, intimacy and trust.
There is increasing evidence that children who have been sexually abused have greater difficulties with interpersonal relationships, as compared to those who have not been abused. Given the betrayal of trust and violation of personal boundaries involved, this is not a surprise. The secrecy and the fear of exposure often create a sense of shame, guilt and confusion in the child, affecting how he or she understands and construes the motives and behaviour of others. As they grow up, it may also impact their ability to handle stressful life events.
Research has long indicated a relationship between childhood abuse, including sexual victimisation and subsequent alcohol and substance abuse. Survivors of child sexual abuse are at a heightened risk of developing alcohol related disorder(s), more so if the sexual abuse occurred earlier in their childhood. The impact of child sexual abuse can therefore be far-reaching: survivors' lives are characterised by frequent crises for example, job disappointments, frequent relocations, failed relationships and financial setbacks. The reasons are complex, but for many survivors, ongoing chaos prevents the establishment of regularity, predictability and consistency in their lives. They may function in ''crisis mode.''
Do you feel put down, anxious and confused because of hurtful messages online?
Are you unsure of what you are experiencing and whether or not you are over reacting?
If you have answered “yes” to these questions, you are most likely being cyber bullied.
Cyber bullying is an unconventional form of bullying where an attacker can harass, threaten and humiliate a victim from the comfort of his/her house and avoid face-to-face confrontation. It can take place in online chat rooms, social media websites like Facebook and other forms of digital technology (Twitter, WeChat etc.) which enable users to communicate online. This is often daunting for you as a victim as you are not only being abused but have no idea who your abuser is, making it harder for you to report abuse.
The fact that the abuser can hide behind a computer screen also increases his/her confidence as they do not have to face you, which could most probably result in verbal abuse. Moreover, with widespread internet access, the victim is unable to escape cyber bullying, thereby making it more harmful than traditional bullying.
Attackers and abusers can employ a variety of strategies to cyber bully a victim. It depends on the technologies they have access to, which can range from sending threatening messages via text or imessages to hacking your email account and sending messages on your behalf to humiliate you. Like traditional bullying, both boys and girls engage in cyber bullying, but they utilise different means. Boys often resort to sexting (sending inappropriate text messages that have a sexual nature) or messages that threaten physical harm to the victim, whereas girls usually use cyber bullying to emotionally blackmail and psychologically traumatise their victims, by excluding the victims from emails and chats, as well as spreading rumours and lies about them.
If you are a victim of cyber bullying, it is important that you avoid responding to messages that cyber bullies post about you. They may challenge you to respond to their messages, but no matter how untrue or disrespectful these messages are, avoid responding to them. By ignoring these messages, you are one step ahead, by denying them the satisfaction they would like to have.
Do not think of addressing the problem by becoming a cyber bully yourself; refrain from stooping down to their level. Instead, approach the problem in a mature and logical way by saving evidence of abusive messages and by reporting threatening and inappropriate messages to the police, reporting each and every incident until it stops, and reducing contact with the bully by blocking and de-friending them on social media websites, your phone and any other device you have them on.
Remember not to blame yourself. You are in no way responsible for what your abuser is doing to you. The cyber bully is to blame and is responsible for all these actions. The bully is likely to be an insecure and unhappy person, who wants to control your feelings and make you feel miserable. It is important that you do not start believing what your abuser is posting about you. Do not waste your time ruminating over these messages. Instead delete these messages immediately and focus on your positive qualities and who you really are.
Make sure you also do not bottle things up and keep them to yourself. Talk to a teacher, parent, friend or a trusted adult. This may not only help stop the abuse, but also help reassure you that other people have also faced bullying and that the problem does not lie with you. Engage in activities you enjoy to distract yourself from thinking about how your abuser may torment you next. Exercise can provide you with a healthy opportunity to de-stress and release your anger in a safe and productive way. Last but not the least, do not forget you are not the person your abuser is making you out to be, you are your own person and no one can take that away from you.
In short, remember “BE SAFE”:
B - Be aware of the methods your bully is using to harass you.
E - Engage in activities that you enjoy and that keeps negative feelings at bay.
S - Save evidence of abusive messages and report them to the police.
A - Avoid responding to messages that cyber bullies post about you.
F - Focus on your positive qualities
E - Exercise! This can be therapeutic.
Make sure you are always accessible to your child. Do not make any hasty decisions that may discourage your child from coming to you and making you aware that they are being cyber bullied. Sometimes even though children are being severely bullied, they do not approach their parents because they fear that their electronic devices will be taken away from them. Although this might cut off the opportunities that the abuser gets to obtain the satisfaction of your child replying, teenagers view this as a punishment as they use their computers and phones to communicate with their friends as well.
If you suspect that your child is being cyber bullied but are unsure, watch out to see if they are distressed, angry or upset after they use the internet or their phone, or look worried after receiving a text, refuse to disclose the emails they have been receiving, and/or no longer engage in activities they had previously enjoyed, and show signs of anxiety and depression. If you see these signs, do not hesitate to approach your child in a gentle manner and re-assure them that there will be no consequences if they tell you what is bothering them. If the abuse is severe and does not stop, parents should report the abuse to the police. Cyber bullying is a crime and there is no reason why your child or you should be putting up with it.
Although it can be difficult for parents to hear that their child is being cyber bullied, it is even more difficult to learn that their child is a cyber bully. Nevertheless, parents should confront their child before this turns into continued negative behavior and has negative repercussions for their child. If your child has resorted to this behavior as a result of being cyber bullied, reassure your child that there are other healthy ways to cope with emotional abuse. Tell them to recall how they felt when they were being cyber bullied and how the person they are targeting will now feel.
Even if your child has not been a victim of cyber bullying, they might turn to cyber bullying if they were exposed to, or witnessed aggressive behaviour at home such as watching you send or forward abusive messages about or to co-workers, or being present when you or another parent abused a sports coach, umpire or teacher out of frustration.
In order to discourage the child from engaging in these behaviors, do not shout at or scold them but rather explain to them in a calm and coherent way the consequences of their actions and the emotional distress the victim will feel as a result. Children are often unaware of how much distress they are causing a victim as they are not face-to-face with them, and if told how much a victim suffers, they will often stop and recognise that what they are doing is wrong. Make sure you also teach your child how to manage stress. They maybe engaging in these behaviors to get other people to feel as stressed as they themselves feel. Emphasise to them that there are healthier ways of relieving stress like exercising. You should also make sure you have a balanced understanding with your child that you will not interfere too much with their social life online but will keep checking in to make sure they are not at risk or putting others at risk.
Moreover, have a set of guidelines and rules your child must follow. Although children often express that they do not want to be ruled over, it is important in these situations to have some control to avoid them from causing harm.
Educate your children about the effects of cyber bullying and explain to them that although it is less visual than traditional bullying, it can sometimes be even more harmful. Encourage your kids not to pass on hurtful messages about an individual or group, tell their friends to stop cyber bullying, to never post personal details about themselves online, and to always be polite online.
It takes little steps but together, we can eradicate cyber bullying.
Do you feel like you are being watched or harassed or that people are aware about the next thing you are going to do before you even do it?
Are you unsure how this is happening as it is all virtual?
If this is the case, you are most likely a victim of cyber stalking.
Cyber stalking is an unconventional form of stalking where stalkers can abuse their victim by pestering and harassing them online. Stalkers can be known to the victim, unknown or even from a different country. They can stalk you through online chat rooms, social media websites like facebook and other forms of digital technology that enable users to communicate online. They often use these websites to find out personal details about a victim, what their interests are and even where they might be at a particular time. This is often daunting for you as a victim as you are not only being abused, but may also not be able to identify who your abuser is, making it hard for you to report abuse.
The fact that the abuser can hide behind a computer screen also increases his/her confidence, as they do not have to face you, which often results in longer periods of stalking as they are less likely to be caught. Moreover, with the widespread accessibility of internet in many areas, cyber stalking is even more harmful than traditional stalking as a victim is unable to escape from it. Although cyber stalking can be very similar to cyber bullying, it is often more serious and the stalker has more of a need to control their victims than a conventional bully.
In order to stalk a victim, a stalker will normally try and hack into online accounts the victim has such as their email and Facebook account by guessing their username and password details or creating a website that may damage the victim’s reputation. Stalkers may use online chat rooms as a platform to threaten victims and use information from their social media account to predict where they will be at a given time. These are often tactics to scare and take control over their victims.
Another way stalkers can gain control of their victims lives is through spyware, a software which can be installed on a victim’s phone or computer to access their data without them knowing. Stalkers can use this to control the victim’s computer camera to access the victim’s private space as well as to steal information from the victim’s computer.
Stalkers particularly use Facebook to pose as somebody else so their victims will befriend them online and they can follow the information victims post about themselves. This allows stalkers to find out about events victims might attend, details about the relationships they have, hobbies and personal details the victim feels is okay to share with his/her friends. Moreover, stalkers can look at photos of the victim to familiarise themselves with their looks even if they have never met them, and it would also provide them with details of the victim's location at the time the photo was taken. Stalkers could also not only harass their victims on Facebook, but also the friends and family of the victim to gain further control over the victim's life. Harassment can be as simple as posting offensive pictures on the victim's timeline. To avoid this, make sure you do not friend everybody who sends you a friend request and put your profile on full privacy settings so only friends are able to view what you post.
Facebook is not the only social media site stalkers use to their advantage. Twitter is even more commonly used as it has fewer privacy settings and victims have less control over who follows them. Tweets are available to the public which means anything published on the site could be seen by a cyber stalker and poses risks to individuals who are unaware of the lack of privacy.
H - Hacking is the most common way stalkers can control you.
O - Online chat rooms are a paradise for stalkers.
W - Social media websites are a great way for stalkers to befriend you and harass you
To make sure you are not a victim, it is important that you are aware of the information about yourself that is available online. Try and Google yourself and see what search results show up. If there are any personal details about you, delete them because if you can find them, so can stalkers. Make sure you delete any questionable posts you made on Facebook, Twitter, other apps and/or online chat forums, and try to keep the personal information you post very general.
Do not worry: for every attack a cyber stalker can make, there is a counter attack you can make as long as you are aware of and are on top of your game. In order to do so, make sure you have the latest anti-virus software, so it can counter malicious spyware which a stalker could install on your computer. There is a reason why your email server blocks attachments from unknown users: these could have viruses or could provide a gateway for stalkers to use your computer. Do not open the attachments unless you are completely sure you know and trust the person who has sent them to you. Make sure you have passwords for your computer and wifi connection, so you can reduce the risk of random users gaining access to your devices.
If you are a victim of cyber stalking, it is important that you collect as much evidence in the form of abusive emails, social media posts and websites that have been created to harass you so you have substantial proof that you can report to the police. Make sure you do not respond to messages that your stalker sends you - this will only encourage them. If you find out that someone is stalking or harassing you on Facebook, there is a report link you can click on to alert the authorities about inappropriate content which needs to be investigated.
Although there is no report link on Twitter, it provides a guide to report abuse. This is attached below.
If the stalker persists after you report abuse, it may be a good idea for your parent or guardian to get in direct contact with the abuser, to inform them that if they persist, you will take legal action. However, after telling them this, do not engage the stalker in further conversation.
Remember, every contact leaves a trace, so if you are unsuccessful at stopping your stalker during your first attempt, do not give up because there are multiple ways you can stop them and report abuse! Use the following to help you “CHANGE”:
C - Collect evidence against your stalker.
H - However if they persist, threaten legal action. You should consult a trusted adult about this.
A - Avoid responding to messages from the abuser.
N - Never engage in conversations with the stalker.
G - Go to report links on social media websites to get further help.
E - Every contact leaves a trace, so if you could not stop your stalker the first time, do not give up. There are other opportunities!
It is your job as a parent or guardian to educate and create awareness among your children or ward(s) about potential predators who could target them. Young children and teenagers are the most vulnerable targets, as they are often unaware of the consequences of posting their personal information online. As a parent or guardian, you should make sure you monitor your child's online activity to the extent that they are safe while still allowing them to manage their own online life. Maintaining this balance will help you to gain the respect of your child because you are allowing them to control their own space while making sure they are safe. Make sure their computers are password protected, and explain to them that if they are keeping a blog, they should never reveal sensitive personal information about themselves.
If you think your child or a friend's child maybe a victim of stalking, try and assure them that they can talk to you about whatever that is bothering them. Encourage them to stay offline, change their passwords as well as delete their previous accounts so stalkers have limited access to them. If stalkers still keep on pestering the child, report all the incidents to the police. Cyber stalking is a crime and should not be ignored.
If you are unsure that your child is a victim, but suspect that they are being stalked, watch out to see if they are spending too much time online alone, getting phone calls at odd hours or receiving gifts from someone they do not know. These are all signs that your child could be stalked. If they show any of these signs, approach them immediately and explain that they will not get into trouble if they tell you what is bothering them or if they are feeling unsafe. Explain that the sooner they tell you, the sooner the problem can stop.
Remember to “REACT”:
R - Report cyber stalking to the police.
E - Educate children about potential predators.
A - Acquire parental apps on your phone so you can monitor your child.
C - Caution your children to protect their passwords.
T - Tell your children not to reveal sensitive personal information about themselves online.
Have you found a new way to flirt and appease the opposite sex digitally? Think it is much more accessible, a step towards the future, safe and a normal part of your life? Think again! Although sending sexual images and messages of yourself online or through text message allows you to physically avoid having sex, it has negative consequences.
This practice is called “sexting” and teenagers often do not realise until it is too late that it is not a harmless activity. Sexting is common for both boys and girls and does not only involve sending inappropriate pictures of themselves to the opposite sex, but also forwarding these pictures to friends to shape an online discussion about these images. Teenagers usually refer to sexting as “nudie selfies” or “cyber sex”, with many deeming it an acceptable practice in their lives.
Although sexting is believed to be a safe practice, it has its consequences as it is illegal and considered child abuse. If teenagers participate in this process and distribute inappropriate pictures, under the law it is considered as production and distribution of child abuse images even if consent is taken. Therefore they are putting themselves at risk of being prosecuted. Moreover although it is easy to send a message to a friend online or through a text, it is next to impossible to control how the message is forwarded or where it ends up. Although many teenagers are getting more confident in trusting the digital era, for example by using apps like Snapchat which delete images in ten seconds. The recipient can easily copy and save the image somewhere else.
T - Tell a trusted adult about your situation.
A - You are not alone in this. Seek help. ChildLine gets calls regarding sexting everyday.
M - Move on. Don’t beat yourself up over a split second when you forgot to think.
E - Engage in activities you enjoy and exercise. It can be therapeutic!
Here we address some myths that everyone absorbs to some extent, especially boys and men who have had unwanted or abusive sexual experiences. These myths are big obstacles to understanding and healing, so it's really important to know just how wrong they are.
Before addressing the myths, let's review some key facts:
Everyone absorbs the myth that males aren't victims, to some extent. It’s central to masculine gender socialization, and boys pick up on it very early in life. This myth implies that a boy or man who has been sexually used or abused will never be a “real man.” Our society expects males to be able to protect themselves. Successful men are depicted as never being vulnerable, either physically or emotionally.
Whether you agree with that definition of masculinity or not, boys are not men. They are children. They are weaker and more vulnerable than those who sexually abuse or exploit them – who use their greater size, strength and knowledge to manipulate or coerce boys into unwanted sexual experiences and staying silent. This is usually done from a position of authority (e.g., coach, teacher, religious leader) or status (e.g. older cousin, admired athlete, social leader), using whatever means are available to reduce resistance, such as attention, special privileges, money or other gifts, promises or bribes, even outright threats.
What happens to any of us as children does not need to define us as adults or men. It is important to remember that 1 in 6 boys are sexually abused before age 18 and that those boys can grow up to be strong, powerful, courageous and healthy men.
Many boys and men believe this myth and feel lots of guilt and shame because they got physically aroused during the abuse. It is important to understand that males can respond to sexual stimulation with an erection or even an orgasm – even in sexual situations that are traumatic or painful. That’s just how male bodies and brains work. Those who sexually use and abuse boys know this. They often attempt to maintain secrecy, and to keep the abuse going, by telling the child that his sexual response shows he was a willing participant and complicit in the abuse. “You wanted it. You liked it,” they say.
But that doesn’t make it true. Boys are not seeking to be sexually abused or exploited. They can, however, be manipulated into experiences they do not like, or even understand, at the time. There are many situations where a boy, after being gradually manipulated with attention, affection and gifts, feels like he wants such attention and sexual experiences. In an otherwise lonely life (for example, one lacking in parental attention or affection – even for a brief period), the attention and pleasure of sexual contact from someone the boy admires can feel good.
But in reality, it’s still about a boy who was vulnerable to manipulation. It’s still about a boy who was betrayed by someone who selfishly exploited the boy’s needs for attention and affection to use him sexually.
Most studies show that the long term effects of sexual abuse can be quite damaging for both males and females. The harm caused by sexual abuse mostly depends on things not determined by gender, including: the abuser’s identity, the duration of the abuse, whether the child told anyone at the time, and if so, whether the child was believed and helped.
Many boys suffer harm because adults who could believe them and help are reluctant, or refuse, to acknowledge what happened and the harm it caused. This increases the harm, especially the shame felt by boys and men, and leads many to believe they have to “tough it out” on their own. And that, of course, makes it harder to seek needed help in the midst of the abuse, or even years later when help is still needed.
Studies about this question suggest that men who have sexually abused a boy most often identify as heterosexual, and often are involved in adult heterosexual relationships at the time of abusive interaction. There is no indication that a gay man is more likely to engage in sexually abusive behavior than a straight man and some studies even suggest it is less likely. But sexual abuse is not a sexual “relationship,” – it’s an assault. The sexual orientation of the abusive person is not really relevant to the abusive interaction. A man who sexually abuses or exploits boys is not engaging in a homosexual interaction – any more than men who sexually abuse or exploit girls are engaging in heterosexual behavior.
There are different theories about how sexual orientation develops, but experts in human sexuality do not believe that sexual abuse or premature sexual experiences play a significant role. There is no good evidence that someone can “make” another person homosexual or heterosexual. Sexual orientation is a complex issue and there is no single answer or theory that explains why someone identifies himself as homosexual, heterosexual or bi-sexual.
It is common, however, for boys and men who have been abused to express confusion about their sexual identity and orientation, whether they identify as straight, gay or bi-sexual. Some guys who identify as heterosexual, fear that, due to their experiences as boys, they must “really” be homosexual. They may believe this would mean that they can’t be a “real man,” as defined by the larger society. Even men who clearly identify as heterosexual, and men who project very traditional heterosexual traits may fear that others will “find them out” as gay or not real men. Men who identify as gay or bi-sexual may wonder if their sexual orientation was influenced in any way by the abusive experience or may even be the cause of their orientation.
Also, many boys abused by males wonder if something about them sexually attracted the person who abused them and, will, unknowingly, attract other males, who will misuse them. While these are understandable fears, they are not true. One of the great tragedies of childhood sexual abuse is how it robs a person’s natural right to discover his own sexuality in his own time.
It is very important to remember that abuse arises from the abusive person’s failure to develop and maintain healthy adult sexual relationships, and his or her willingness to sexually use and abuse children. It has nothing to do with the preferences or desires of the child who is abused, and therefore cannot determine a person’s natural sexual identity.
This myth, like several of the others, comes from the image of masculinity that boys learn from very early. It says not only that males can't be sexually abused, but that any sexual experience with girls and women, especially older ones, is evidence that he’s a “real man.” Again, the confusion comes from focusing on the sexual aspect rather than the abusive one – the exploitation and betrayal by a more powerful, trusted or admired person (who can be a child or adult).
In reality, premature, coerced or otherwise abusive or exploitative sexual experiences are never positive – whether they are imposed by an older sister, sister of a friend, baby sitter, neighbor, aunt, mother, or any other female in a position of power over a boy. At a minimum, they cause confusion and insecurity. They almost always harm boys’ and men’s capacities for trust and intimacy.
A gay man who experienced sexual arousal when abused by a female may wonder whether it means that he is actually straight or wonder what it means that he was chosen by a woman or older girl.
Being sexually used or abused, whether by males or females, can cause a variety of other emotional and psychological problems. However, boys and men often don’t recognize the connections between what happened and how it affected them later. To be used as a sexual object by a more powerful person, male or female, is never a good thing, and can cause lasting harm.
This myth is especially dangerous because it can create terrible fear in boys and men. They may not only fear becoming abusers themselves, but that others will find out they were abused and believe that they are a danger to children. Sadly, boys and men who tell of being sexually abused often are viewed more as potential perpetrators than as guys who needs support.
While it is true that many (though by no means all) who sexually abuse children have histories of sexual abuse, it is NOT true that most boys who are sexually abused go on to sexually abuse others. The majority of boys do not go on to become sexually abusive as adolescents or adults; even those who do perpetrate as teenagers, if they get help when they’re young, usually don’t abuse children when they become adults.
Believing these myths is understandable, but dangerous and harmful, and, needs to be overcome.
Adapted and expanded from an online piece by Ken Singer.
Child sexual abuse can affect every aspect of your life but it may be difficult to say exactly how it may have damaged you: perhaps in your lack of self-confidence, your issues with trust and boundaries, challenges when it comes to intimate relationships, your sexuality and/or your difficulties with parenting.
The following may sound familiar to you but is not necessarily indicative that you have been sexually abused if you do not already know this for a fact: survivors often feel ashamed and “dirty”, “marked out” or different from others, and that if people get to know them, they will leave. They have trouble taking care of, and identifying their own needs, often putting others first, tend to compartmentalise their feelings, and/or do not know how to express their emotions in healthy fashion, find it difficult to accept their bodies and frequently push themselves emotionally and physically, have addictions to alcohol and/or drugs, are bulimic or anorexic, and find it hard to create and maintain healthy relationships, often getting close to people who are inappropriate or emotionally unavailable. Survivors may also be uncomfortable around children and/or are confused about crossing the line between good and bad touch.
The decision to heal should come from within, not forced on you by your partner or a family member, urging you to “move on”. There are various stages to the healing process, but they may not all apply to you. The first stage is your commitment to heal and with it, the understanding that this is an active choice by you and that you have agency, that is, you are capable of acting independently and you can make your own decisions. But this journey can also open up Pandora's box, leading to the second “crisis” stage, where you feel that you may be losing control, as suppressed memories and feelings come to the surface, throwing you and your loved ones into turmoil. The emotional pain will be intense and it may be difficult to cope with your normal, daily activities. Do not be afraid to ask for help from your family and friends at this point. It is important to acknowledge that the abuse did indeed happen; you should not minimise it by saying that it was “only a touch”. You may find it hard to believe that you were not at fault. It may help visualising yourself at the age when the abuse happened, or perhaps look around you and find another child who is your age when the abuse occurred: you were no Lolita. A ten-year-old cannot seduce a fully-grown adult. And it is always the responsibility of the adult to behave well with a child and protect him/her.
The next stage may be when you decide to tell someone close – breaking the silence is powerful and an important part of healing, if you have the strength for this. We have also included a section on telling your family or perhaps your decision is not to tell. It is up to you. The next stage is the grieving and anger process: grieving is necessary to honour your pain and loss, before you can be ready to move forward. Anger itself, whilst usually frowned upon, can be liberating and healing if channelled the right way. These two stages will be elaborated on below. Two more sections deal with the issue of forgiveness, and how to choose a counsellor. Forgiving is a mine field - it is not central to the healing journey. Ultimately, the only person you need to forgive is yourself.
To break the taboo that is child sexual abuse, breaking the silence is an essential part of healing. However, this may not be a straight forward process. You may have tried to disclose to your parents or other trusted adults as a child, and maybe no action was taken, or what happened to you was minimised. Or your parents or guardians avoided talking about the abuse, thinking that this was what was best for you. But not talking about the issue may have inadvertently given you the wrong message that you were somehow to be blamed for the abuse.
Deciding to tell can be self-affirming: never doubt your right to speak your truth. Speaking those words “I was abused” means putting it out there: you have shared your experience, and it is no longer necessary for you to suffer in silence, alone. When you are able to open up and the person listening to you acknowledges what you have been through, this can be a powerful experience. You may be receiving empathy and compassion for the first time as you disclose in a safe setting. The following three things are what you will need to do to ensure as positive an experience as possible.
First, as a child, you may not have had the vocabulary to articulate what is happening to you. The abuse may have been so traumatic that you may not be able to remember everything, or remember only in bits and pieces, and/or via physical sensations, that can be triggered by something visual, or even smell. There may be no coherence to your story: no beginning, and no end. You may wish to explore telling your story through drawings, dance, poetry and/or music instead.
Second, do be gentle with yourself and remember that telling may not be easy. You may begin to doubt yourself, that the abuse even happened and that you may feel terrified that the abuser may come after you, especially if he/she had threatened to do so when you were a child. However, telling will put you in the present, and that the abuse was what had happened to you in the past, and that your current behaviour may stem from past conditioning. By moving past the isolation that has held you prisoner, speaking out – when you are ready – will enable you to come to terms with what had happened to you: To seek help and get in touch with your feelings, and to begin the process of healing. However, you must work on building up your support network of trusted family members and close friends who will be there for you as you move through the various stages of the healing journey.
Third, choose carefully whom you wish to tell your story to. When you first disclose, you may be dispassionate, and speak in a matter-of-fact voice. However, as your listeners express their outrage and their sympathy, this may affect you. It may then really hit you. You may get angry and in your imagination, you may want to attack your abuser, make him/her realise what you have been through. With intimate partners and loved ones, your inner child may come out – the scared child that you had been protecting all this while. Survivors often feel that the more often they told, the stronger they felt: less a victim, more the survivor.
Ask your family or friend whether this would be a good time to talk so that he/she would be ready to listen. Find a suitable place that feels safe for you, where there are no visual or other triggers. It may be helpful for your listener to be specific in terms of what you would like from them: would you like to be hugged or would you prefer not to be touched? Would you want them to listen in silence, or to express themselves afterwards? Your friends and family would want to offer their support, but with such a difficult topic as this, it will certainly help if you could provide them with some guidance. Try not to be upset if the listener's initial reaction is less positive than you expected: it is often difficult for people to absorb what they had just heard. Give them time. Keep the door open for more conversations.
Breaking the silence is important. Reclaim your voice, what was rightfully yours in the first place.
Fight child sexual abuse. Speak out.
As part of telling, you may wish to speak to your family members about your abuse. They may enjoy close ties with your abuser and/or they may not have protected you when you were a child. However, confronting your abuser or talking to your family members who may not respond positively to you is not critical to your healing. While talking with such family members may be good for reclaiming your voice, if you are not ready and have not created a strong support group for yourself, it may even derail your healing journey. Speaking to them before you have done the ground work may result in you focussing on your abuser or your respective family members, rather than work on your healing. You will need to be patient and build a solid foundation first, before taking such a difficult course of action.
First, you should work on addressing your feelings and emotional needs. Second, accept that the past is the past, and that the present is where you need to focus your energies. Learn to live in the present as it will decide your future. While it is important to work through your past to heal, obsessing about certain aspects such as “What if?” type of questions, will not enable you to move forward. Third, whatever you have done to protect yourself as a child, you have done the right thing. You must let go of that inner child, and think about the adult you now – with your own unique needs and identity.
Once you think you are ready, before deciding to talk to your family, here is a checklist of six points to help you frame your mind:
How should you speak to your abuser or to family members who may create a backlash against you? You should try to explain clearly what had happened to you as a child, how it had impacted you and your life and how you feel about it now. You can ask for specific things from your listeners. For example, you could ask your abuser to admit what he/she has done. You may want an apology. You could also insist that your abuser no longer hug you or make lewd comments. However, be prepared for a negative response, including from your family members. You cannot control their reactions and you cannot take responsibility for how they will react. If they neither listen well nor respond with respect, that is their shortcoming. You are not to be blamed. You may find it easier and more satisfying not to ask for any acknowledgement from your listeners. In this manner, you may feel empowered, without needing anyone else to validate your experience.
Try to rehearse with a loved one or a trusted friend. Try to remain grounded and set boundaries for continuing the relationship. If it helps, bring along a therapist whom you have worked with on your healing. This can ensure authentic conversation, as well as help you feel safe. During the meeting, try to focus on yourself, rather than on what you expect out of the conversation. Your family members may feel threatened by your disclosure and they may reject what you are saying altogether, rather than beginning to deal with what you have to say. Do not be naïve in thinking that this meeting will be able to put everything right, whatever that was wrong in your childhood. When you confront your abuser and/or your family members, you may be finally be giving up that happy illusion that you had of your childhood home. Disclosure can be difficult this way.
After this initial meeting, it may help to set another series of meetings. Even if the initial encounter was not positive, this will give everyone time to mull over what you had said, and come prepared for the next meeting. Give it time. Or you may decide that you may not wish to have further contact. It is up to you.
However do remember that whatever feels right for you now may not be the same way you may feel further down your healing journey.
Healing is not a linear process. You may revisit a particular issue, say, the fear of intimacy, as you begin a new relationship. Or you may have to learn to set limits with your children if you always have had issues with boundaries.
But the process of moving on cannot be rushed. Getting there will take time. You should not be doing it just because your partner and family members are urging you to get over the past. You will need resolution. Healing is a painful process but if you can go through every stage, and remain vested in the journey, then the road ahead will get easier.
The first thing is to grieve, and to deal with your anger. To grieve for your loss of innocence, for the betrayal of a loved one, and for the lost moments of your childhood. For feeling abandoned and ashamed. For being utterly alone.
Grieving also means taking cognisance of the harm that was done to you, the relationships ruined and the healing that you must now undertake, including the time, resources and energy involved. If you do not allow your grief to come to the surface, it may limit your capacity to fully participate in life. If you give it voice, the intensity of your grief will hopefully reduce over time.
Second, anger can be empowering, transformative. As a child, you may not have been aware of your right to get angry. Rather than being angry with your abuser, you may have turned the anger inward, leading to depression and/or self-destructive behaviour. As a child, you may have blamed yourself for the abuse, choosing to numb your feelings. As you grow older, you may resort to alcohol or other forms of addiction to drown the self-critical voices in your head.
But anger can be a powerful, healing force. Survivors have told us what a release it was to be able to direct their anger at their abusers, finally. Not at their mothers, hapless bystanders. But unleashing their full anger at the perpetrators of the abuse, and to finally, find the courage within themselves to do something about healing. Anger, for survivors of child sexual abuse, is a confusing thing. When you were abused as a child by someone you loved, with whom you shared good, happy memories, it can be difficult to admit the pain of anger. For the fear that it will remove the beauty of that relationship, all the positive aspects before the abuse took place.
This leads to the third point: anger does not need to negate what was good in your life. You can be angry - and have the right to be angry - about the abuse that happened, and still hold on to those cherished memories. Anger is a vital part of healing. Anger can also be channelled in positive ways, for instance by speaking out against child sexual abuse and the taboo surrounding it. And more importantly, it clears your mind and lets you learn to love and accept yourself again.
Forgiveness is an intrinsic part of healing. There are three things to remember as you reach this stage of your journey. First, is forgiving your abuser a necessary part of healing? The answer is no. Forgiving your abuser and/or those who did not protect you as a child is not a requisite part of your healing journey. Whether or not you forgive them is really up to you. It is your choice, and your choice alone.
Second, to make peace with your past, you must first of all - above else - forgive yourself. You must recognise that you had done all you could in order to survive. You were not at fault. You are not to be blamed that you could not protect yourself; you were a mere child. You are not to be blamed that you needed love and attention. All children do. You are not to be blamed that you had felt pleasure and/or enjoyed the attention. You are not to be blamed that you were beautiful, precocious, gentle, vulnerable or possess any special quality that your abuser used to justify his/her actions. There are no excuses for child sexual abuse. While many abusers were themselves abused as children, this is no justification for abusing others.
Third, forgiving a crime such as child sexual abuse is not the same as forgiving your friend or family member over a trivial squabble. You should forgive in your own time, if you want to forgive at all. Your friends and family may urge you to “forgive and forget”, thinking that this is the best for you, not realising that you need to pace your own healing. Trying to force forgiveness may backfire on you if you are not ready or willing: you may instead turn your anger inward and could, in the worst case scenario, succumb to negative thoughts or depression.
There are many ways to find resolution, to make peace with what has happened to you. For some survivors, this may include forgiving the abuser. For others, it does not. You have the right to your own feelings and to decide for yourself. It had happened to you. No one else has the right to decide for you.
Forgive yourself first. The rest will come.
Having a counsellor is useful in your healing as whom someone you can trust and confide in, and give you good, professional advice with your respect to your child sexual abuse. On your part, you must be willing to commit and devote the time to work honestly with your chosen counsellor to heal and grow as a person.
How do you go about choosing a good counsellor? Spend some time doing research – women's shelters and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) will have a list of counsellors who may live near you. Ask for recommendations from friends and family whom you trust. Be picky. As this will be, hopefully, a long-term engagement, you should not go for the first counsellor you meet. Ensure that you are confident of having found the right person before engaging further. The following three points are important to bear in mind when choosing a counsellor.
First, you may find it useful to have a counsellor who shares the same background as you, but this is not a pre-requisite. It may make sharing easier. You may prefer to work with a female counsellor as you may find it safer, or you may decide to work with a male one as it may be your first relationship with a man in which you can feel safe.
Second, find a counsellor who always treat you with respect. He/she should not minimise your experience, and do not lead you. Good counsellors listen to you and follow you into difficult and painful places in your mind; they do not lead you. They should also keep the discussion and focus on you, not your abuser. They should also have had experience dealing with other clients who have a history of child sexual abuse. It is never appropriate for a counsellor to want to initiate a relationship with you. If he/she does that, leave immediately.
Third, a good counsellor will try to ensure that you can build your own support system outside of therapy. It is normal to overly depend on your counsellor in the initial stages, but you should gradually become more independent emotionally over time. A good counsellor encourages you to get back your own power and to trust and love your body again. He/she should also give you space to explore your own experience, without defining it in any way for you.
Do remember that you are at the centre of your healing journey. You determine which counsellor you will work with, and what you hope to achieve from the sessions. A good counsellor should be one of many resources you can leverage in your healing.
As a parent, the last thing you would want to discover about your child is that he/she has been sexually abused, or is suffering through the trauma. But it is important to nip any sexual abuse in the bud, prevent any further abuse to your child, and make him/her feel safe. We have to ensure that our children grow up with a sense of safety in our homes and schools. Children, depending on their age, may not be able to warn you of what is happening to them. They may lack the vocabulary and/or the understanding. So what are the three signs to watch out for if your child is suffering from sexual abuse?
First, your child shows physical signs of abuse such as bleeding, itching and/or swelling in the genital area, and/or may have difficulty standing or walking. Your child may also suffer from frequent yeast or urinary infections. His/her underclothes may also be bloodied, stained or torn.
Second, your child displays behaviour inappropriate for his/her age. For instance, regressive behaviour such as bed-wetting or thumb-sucking for an 11-year-old. Or he/she may have advance sexual knowledge that is not expected for his/her age group. A child up to four years old may show curiosity about private body parts. Between the age of five to nine years, children may talk about private body parts whilst understanding the need for privacy. From 10 to 12 years old, a child may display interest in changes in puberty, and may ask about sexual behaviour and/or relationships. Teenagers from 13 years onwards may start dating, and/or use sexual language and/or talk about sex with friends.
Third, your child displays radical mental and/or emotional changes. He/she may suddenly withdraw from company, show fear towards a particular family member or family friend, and/or suffer from depression. He/she may start losing weight, or suddenly eat a lot. Your child may bathe excessively or display poor hygiene. He/she may self-mutilate, suffer from night terrors and/or shrink from physical contact.
If your child is displaying a combination of any of the aforementioned symptoms above, talk to your child in private about whether anyone, including family members and friends, have touched him/her in their private areas. Even if this makes them feel good, explain that this does not make it right - that only those who have been entrusted with bathing him/her and/or helping your child clean up after himself/herself is expected to touch your child in that area. If your child has indeed been abused, ensure that you tell your child that he/she is not to blame, that you still love him/her, and that your child is not in any trouble. Respect what your child wants you to do but it is also incumbent upon you to explain any decisions that you do take, to your child first. Work hard to rebuild your child's sense of safety, and ensure that he/she can trust, and lean on you.
If necessary, you may wish to bring your child to a trained counsellor. Try to ensure that the person that your child has named as the perpetrator no longer enjoys access to your child. Report the abuse to the police and ensure that your child feels safe in your home and/or school environment.
There are two important things to remember if your child has not been abused: keep up this conversation with your child. Make it a continued, sustained effort. The second thing is to trust your gut instincts. It is never too young to start that talk with your child. And do frame the conversation from a loving place; do not make it a scary dialogue for him/her.
We all have a duty to ensure a safe childhood for our children.
Child sexual abuse can happen through a process called “grooming” or it may be opportunistic in nature. “Grooming” is a long process to try and win a child's trust. It may take months, even years, before any sexual abuse actually takes place. Such adults will try to identify with the child, being the “only one” who can understand your child's needs. They will display common hobbies and interests with your child such as football, music or video games. They will present gifts frequently to your child, and speak to your child via SMS, email and/or social media without your knowledge. Such adults will try to test your child's boundaries, by telling inappropriate jokes which are sexual in nature, roughhousing, tickling and/or games. To sensitise your child, the adult may move to “accidental” sexual touch, done frequently so that your child become familiar with the touch and does not become threatened by it. This will then move into sexual touching.
What kind of behaviour in adults should you look out for? Whom should you trust? There is no easy answer, but do follow your gut feel. Does the behaviour of any particular adult who is always around your child make you feel uneasy? This could be someone who seems overly interested in your child, and will play favourites with your child, over other children. That person may also be more interested in befriending your child rather than sustaining his/her friendship with you, the parent. He/she may also be too good to be true viz. being always available to babysit your child.
As a parent, what are the five main things to look out for? Remember the five T's: make time, talk, teach, when your child tells, and taking action.
First, engage and make time for your child. If you have promised him or her that you would be available when you said you would be, then please keep that promise. And then when you sit down with him/her, listen, really listen, to your child.
Second, talk about "safe touch" frequently, weaving this into bath times and when you need to change their clothes. Children find it hard to talk about a subject like this - the touch can be tingly, it can make them feel good, but teach them that the swimsuit area is one that is off limits except to those who are helping them change or get clean. And even then, they can always choose to say "no" to that person if they feel that something is not right. The questions you ask are also important - keep it general to encourage an open conversation. Instead of asking, "Has Uncle/Aunty so-and-so ever touched you?", keep it general viz "Has anyone ever touched you?"
Third, it is never too young to teach the correct names of the private parts to your child. There have been cases such as when a child as young as three wanted to say that she had been raped, but instead kept saying that she had a tummy ache. Her puzzled parents brought her to the doctor where her abuse was discovered.
Fourth, what do you do if your child tells you that he or she has been abused sexually? Despite your shock, try to remain calm. Do tell him/her that he/she has done the right thing by disclosing the abuse; do not blame him/her. Emphasise to your child that what had happened was not his/her fault and that you still stand by him/her. Please do not chide your child for not having told you earlier or saying things like "I told you so. You shouldn't have been playing there." Children do not have the power to prevent adults from abusing them. Do reassure your child that you will take appropriate action. We have listened to many stories of CSA from adult survivors. One of the most difficult things for them to accept is when they had initially disclosed their abuse to someone they had trusted, but yet no action was taken. They felt guilty growing up, feeling that they were somehow to blame for what had happened and feeling "dirty", with low self-worth.
Fifth, take action. Try to keep the child safe from further abuse. While the child is learning to re-establish appropriate boundaries for himself/herself, it is important that you, as the parent, continue to set appropriate limits for your child aimed at protecting him/her. Also, be consistent and dependable. Do give your child a clear message that they do not need to protect you from their feelings and that you will get your support from elsewhere.
Step One: Identify Protective Factors
Start by identifying factors from the list below that can act as safeguards against being victimised by, or engaging in, sexually harmful behaviors (called protective factors).
Step Two: Identify Risk Factors
Next, identify factors that may increase your child’s risk of being victimised by, or engaging in, sexually harmful behaviors (called risk factors).
Step Three: Develop a Plan
Make a list of the protective factors you’d like to increase, and the risk factors you would like to decrease. Develop a plan accordingly. Be specific (see the examples below).
Protective child factor: My daughter is a talented dancer, and she feels very confident about her abilities.
Protective family factor: Our family is committed to the safe use of technology. The only computer that has internet access is in the living room where we monitor its use closely (e.g., emails, chat logs, social networking sites).
These strategies will help make sure you are aware of any unsafe situation, and also lets your children know that you are concerned, and care.
Individual risk factor: My son has a diagnosis of autism. He interacts with several providers on a one-to-one basis and needs help with personal activities like getting dressed.
Family risk factor: Our family just moved somewhere new. We do not know our new neighbors and are far from family and friends.
Step Four: Put Your Plan Into Action
As parents/guardians, we probably have to play catch up with our children/wards as technology moves apace and new apps are being developed. Our children are constantly online and use a mind-boggling array of mobile apps to communicate with their peers. How can we ensure that we are as good parenting online, as we are offline? Share these five tips to educate, empower and protect yourself, as well as them, to have safer and more meaningful online experiences.
First, use technology together: it is a good way to teach online safety, and it creates the opportunity for you to address safety issues as they arise. Be involved in your child's/ward's online life. Discuss also the importance of unplugging from their mobile device, and establish phone-free times such as during class, at family dinners, or after a certain time on school nights.
Second, use privacy settings and parental controls on devices. There are many sites for sharing ideas, photos, videos and more. Many of these service providers offer privacy settings and controls that will determine who can see your content before you post it. Talk with your family about what they should and should not share publicly. Teach your family to communicate responsibly: one good rule of thumb is if you would not say it in person, then do not text it, email it, instant message it, or post it as a comment on someone’s page. Discuss about what you say online might make other people feel, and come up with guidelines about what is appropriate communication. Help them respect the privacy of others by keeping the personal details about family or friends private, and by not identifying people by name in publicly shared social media. This should include personal information such as social security numbers, phone numbers or home addresses. Teach your family not to accept files or to open email attachments from strangers. Write down the rules and keep them near the computer.
Third, check age restrictions. Many online services have age limits restricting who can use their services. For example, for a Google account, you would have to meet age requirements; some Google products are restricted to users who are 18 years or younger. Always check a website’s terms of usage before allowing your child/ward to sign up for an account, and be clear with them if you have rules, on which websites and services they can use.
Fourth, if possible, keep the computer in a common area of the house and set reasonable limits on computer usage. Show your children/ward the value of privacy: encourage them to protect their passwords and personal information, as they would with something like a diary . Children under eight should have direct supervision while online. Tweens, those between eight to twelve, should have more freedom, but a parent/guardian should still be close by, with privacy settings at their highest level. Teens, due to smart phones, laptops and school computers will have more Internet access, which is why it is important to set the rules early and encourage ongoing conversations.
Last but not least, keep the conversation going. Staying safe is not a once-off event; technology evolves, and so will the needs of your family. Make sure you keep up an ongoing dialogue. Check in on everyone’s progress, change the rules if necessary, and set aside time to chat at regular intervals, for example, at family dinners. Encourage their questions. Invite conversations.
Here is an agreement that you could, as the parent or guardian, co-sign with your child or your ward on safe internet usage, adapted from Advocates for Youth (http://www.advocatesforyouth.org/parents/1292?task=view):
“I want to use our computer and the Internet. I know that there are certain rules about what I should do online. I agree to follow these rules and my parents/guardian agree to help me follow these rules:
I promise to follow these rules.
(signed by the child/ward)
I promise to help my child follow these rules and not to overreact if my child \tells me about bad things in cyberspace
(signed by parent/guardian)”
Shame is a difficult emotion to deal with any time, but nowhere is it more debilitating than in the context of child sexual abuse.
It is not uncommon for abusers to tell their victims that they - the children -- were somehow at fault for the abuse. Your child may have been led to believe that his/her "nasty" or "seductive" behaviour caused the abuse. In many cases, child victims develop negative thoughts, attributing blame to themselves, which may perpetuate symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and depression.
One survivor, in her early 30s, said: "When I realised what was happening, that's when I wanted to kill myself. I cried a lot and prayed a lot." She had just turned 12.
So, how can you help as a parent? Here are three things you can do to help your child to recover from the cycle of self-blame and shame.
Research has shown that support from a non-offending parent is one of the most important factors in a child's recovery post-abuse. Your child may feel guilty or ashamed because they made no attempt to stop the abuse and/or because they may have experienced physical pleasure. As a parent, you should empathise with your child, and tell them that they are not to blame.
Regardless of the circumstances surrounding the abuse, it is the responsibility of the adult never to abuse a child. Do not let your child think that sexual exploitation of children, in any form, is acceptable.
Children who are ashamed of their abuse history may view themselves as "damaged goods". They often try to make sense of what had happened via causal explanations. In the case of sexual abuse, your child may choose to internalise verbal and non-verbal messages -- for example, that their being "seductive" led to the abuse. This is especially so in the case of incest, when your child was abused by someone they trusted and even loved. It is therefore crucial, that you respond attentively and lovingly to your child's disclosure of the abuse.
Should you react negatively by denying that the abuse had taken place and/or ignore it, you may exacerbate the feelings of guilt and shame in your child. Reactions to child victims' disclosures have been shown to affect whether the transient shame associated with the revelation dissipates, or persists in the years ahead. Open and loving communication with your child is therefore important. Listen to your child, and try to ensure a safe and supportive home environment for them.
Do not cloak the abuse in silence. Address the issue. If your child wants to talk, let them. Often to protect themselves and their children, parents adopt a mantle of silence, which will most likely maintain the sense of shame in the victim. If left unchecked, your child's negative thinking may become ingrained and automatic, resulting in low self-esteem and even self-hatred. Your child's shame-inducing thoughts and beliefs may result in avoidant and isolating behaviour. This may reinforce your child's belief that they are of little worth. In the long-run, your child may accept poor treatment from others, including peers and even romantic partners. Each negative experience may serve to reinforce your child's existing feeling of inferiority.
In India, where to speak up on child sexual abuse is taboo, your efforts as a parent to constantly reassure your child that they are loved, and are not to blame, will help them tremendously in the path of healing. Encourage your child to engage in positive self-talk. Healing, even from something as dire as this, is possible.
Be there for your child.
You may have just been told by your partner that he or she was sexually abused in her childhood. You may have been suspecting this for a while. The world, as you know it, is reeling, and worse, you may know, and even like, the perpetrator, if it was a family member.
Your partner having chosen to disclose his/ her abuse to you should be seen positively: he/she is entrusting you with a very private part of him/her. It may make him/her feel vulnerable, insecure and/or frightened. What should you do to honour that trust and help in his/her healing journey?First, believe your partner. Let him/her know that you believe them and still love them, and that nothing has changed between the two of you. Validate the damage that the abuse has left on your partner. Do not minimise or trivialise the abuse, and/or take the side of the abuser. He/she had grown up in an environment of mistrust, having been abused by someone he/she loved. If you minimise or trivialise his/her experience, your partner's fears will be strengthened. Do not push for details, especially the sexual ones. If he/she had responded sexually and/or did not protest, be clear that it is still never the child's fault. It is the responsibility of the adult not to abuse a child.
Second, listen well. This sounds simple but in your rush to demonstrate sympathy, you may unwittingly drown out his/her voice. Validate his/her anger, fear and pain. Do not interrupt with your own feelings. If the abuser was a member of her family, he/she may have mixed feelings about the abuse and may blame himself/herself. Let your partner know that you are there for him/her, and that you are open to listening to anything that he/she has to say, no matter how difficult and/or painful.
Third, learn more about child sexual abuse and the healing process. Understand that the healing journey takes time. If you understand what a survivor is going through, you will be in a better position to give support. You may also have to accept that there may be major changes in your relationship with your partner as he/she heals. However, it is very important that your partner regain a sense of control in his/her life and have confidence in his/her own judgements. As such, try to avoid protecting your partner by discouraging his/her involvement in old or new friendships, activities, or interests that may not support his/her healing. Those decisions are his/her to make, alone. It may lead to your partner making changes that affect his/her relationships, including the one with you. Your partner may also choose to confront the abuser and/or his/her family members. It is up to your partner to determine what kind of relationship he/she wants with the abuser and with his/her family etc. If you find it difficult to support the choices your partner is making, you should seek support for yourself from family and friends, or perhaps a counsellor. But consult your partner first, so that he/she knows whom you would like to confide in, to respect his/her right to privacy.
Fourth, be patient. To heal, your partner may need to stop engaging in sexual activity until he/she feels that it is not resurrecting old memories of his/her abuse. To heal, your partner must also simply stop doing anything that he/she does not genuinely feel. His/her abuse may have led to his/her "splitting" during sex - what they felt inside may not have matched how they acted outside. Explore ways of sharing intimacy that feels safe for your partner, for example, back rubs or cuddling.
Fifth, celebrate your partner's bravery. Avoid viewing your partner as another "victim". He/she is a survivor who is strong and courageous for facing his/her inner demons. Celebrate your partner's decision to reclaim his/her childhood.
Healing may be a long journey. It depends on each survivor but the healing process may give you both the chance of growing together through hurdles and setbacks. Keep an open process of communication. Try to be honest with your partner about your feelings, without overburdening him/her. Take an interest in how he/she is doing in therapy even if he/she seems preoccupied and seems in perpetual crisis mode.
Understand that you may not be able to "fix it", that perhaps the best thing you can do is to continue being loving and understanding while your partner slowly heals.
If your family member has been abused, whom can you report to?
Although child sexual abuse can often be a difficult topic to broach in the classroom, it is important for teachers to educate children about what abuse they may face, how they can prevent it, and what they can do to signal for help. Empowering children with these skills not only contributes to preventing and helping children cope with sexual abuse, but also helps in breaking the silence. Survivors and child victims do not need to feel ashamed of what they have gone through. Talking about sexual abuse in the open can help erase the myth that it is a private matter and should never be reported.
A variety of resources have been provided below for teachers to help ease the conversation, and introduce child sexual abuse to children. These are good resources for parents and teachers to go through with their children and students whenever they find a suitable opportunity. Often teachers and parents are afraid that children are too young to learn about sexual abuse. However, the earlier they are aware of it, the more protected they are from abuse. Moreover, there are many age- appropriate resources which parents and teachers can use to explain abuse, which would also address their fear that this topic is too mature for young children. Teachers and guardians should aim to form a close bond with the children and/or wards under their care, so that they would not hesitate to report child sexual abuse.
Child sexual abuse is not the problem or responsibility of a single agency and no single agency has the training, manpower, resources, or legal mandate to intervene effectively in child abuse cases. It is the problem of the community and needs to be tackled with the different pillars of society coming together to intervene. When a child is physically beaten or sexually abused, the ideal set of events is that doctors treat the injuries, therapists counsel the child, social services works with the family, police arrest the offender, and attorneys prosecute the case.
To promote this response, effective community response involves the formation of a child protection team that includes professionals from medicine, criminal justice, social work and education, who not only understand the different roles and responsibilities of the members of the other teams, but also cooperate and coordinate their efforts in accordance with their strengths and weaknesses.
The most effective approach to cases involving child maltreatment is interagency coordination and planning. Social workers, physicians, therapists, prosecutors, judges, and police officers all have important roles to play.
Child abuse cases have unique characteristics that make them different from other types of cases. For a number of reasons, children make “perfect” victims, and crimes involving child abuse, particularly sexual abuse, are among the most difficult cases investigated by law enforcement:
Child development refers to the various stages of physical, social, and psychological growth that occur from birth through young adulthood. A child who has been the victim of a sexual offence is likely to have been severely traumatised, both mentally as well as physically. A child development expert is a person who is trained to work with children with physical or mental disabilities, to evaluate such a child's mental and physical development in the context of that child's experience, and to accordingly facilitate communication with the child.
The interviewing of such a child to gather evidence demands an understanding of a range of topics, such as the process of disclosure and child-centered developmentally-sensitive interviewing methods, including language and concept formation. A child development expert may have to be involved in the management of this process. The need for a professional with specialized training is identified because interviewing young children in the scope of an investigation is a skill that requires knowledge of child development, an understanding of the psychological impact sexual abuse has on children, and an understanding of police investigative procedures.
Such a person must have knowledge of the dynamics and the consequences of child sexual abuse, an ability to establish rapport with children and adolescents, and a capacity to maintain objectivity in the assessment process. In the case of a child who was disabled/ physically handicapped prior to the abuse, the expert would also need to have specialised knowledge of working with children with that particular type of disability, e.g. visual impairment, etc.
As per the definitions in the rules farmed under the POCSO Act, 2012, Rule 2(c) states: “Expert” means a person trained in mental health, medicine, child development or other related discipline, who may be required to facilitate communication with a child whose ability to communicate has been affected by trauma, disability or any other vulnerability.
Section 26(3) states, “the Magistrate or the police officer, as the case may be, may, in the case of a child having a mental or physical disability, seek the assistance of a special educator or any person familiar with the manner of communication of the child or an expert in that field, having such qualifications, experience and on payment of such fees as may be prescribed, to record the statement of the child."
Section 38(2) states, “if a child has a mental or physical disability, the Special Court may take the assistance of a special educator or any person familiar with the manner of communication of the child or an expert in that field, having such qualifications, experience and on payment of such fees as may be prescribed to record the evidence of the child”.
Thus, the Act envisages a role for child development experts at the stage of taking evidence from the child and recording his/her statement for the purpose of investigation and trial under the Act. The role of this expert is to facilitate communication between the child and the authority concerned.
Rule 3 provides for the engagement of various experts, including child development experts, for the purposes of the Act. It specifies the qualifications and experience of the experts engaged for facilitating communication with the child, stating that such an expert shall be qualified in the relevant discipline from a recognized University or an institution recognized by the Rehabilitation Council of India.
The Rehabilitation Council of India runs programmes in various aspects of child development, including working with physically and mentally disabled children. It also recognises courses run by other universities in these disciplines.
Rule 3(6) provides that payment for the services of an expert shall be made by the State Government from the Fund maintained under section 61 of the Juvenile Justice Act, 2000, or from other funds placed at the disposal of the DCPU, at the rates determined by them. It is thus for each DCPU to fix the rates payable to experts in various disciplines. However, it is suggested that these rates be fixed at the level of the State to provide for administrative consistency.
The following is also to be kept in mind while engaging the services of an expert: i) Any preference expressed by the child as to the gender of the expert, may be taken into consideration, and where necessary, more than one such person may be engaged in order to facilitate communication with the child – Rule 3(7).
ii) The interpreter, translator, Special educator, expert, or person familiar with the manner of communication of the child engaged to provide services for the purposes of the Act shall be unbiased and impartial and shall disclose any real or perceived conflict of interest. He shall render a complete and accurate interpretation or translation without any additions or omissions, in accordance with section 282 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 - Rule 3(8).
iii) In proceedings under section 38, it is for the Special Court to ensure that there is no conflict of interest in engaging a particular expert to provide services under the Act – Rule 3(9).
iv) Any expert appointed under the provisions of the Act or its rules shall be bound by the rules of confidentiality, as described under section 127 read with section 126 of the Indian Evidence Act, 1872 – Rule 3(10).
Child sexual abuse is often shrouded in secrecy. A victim of sexual abuse may not only undergo physical damage, but may also be affected emotionally. It is important to recognise the various signals that indicate whether the child was sexually abused as children. They are often too frightened to tell anyone about the abuse. Many cases are not even reported.
There are some symptoms that can determine if the child has faced sexual abuse. It is necessary to keep a check on their behaviour, personality and outlook. Symptoms of sexual abuse in children are similar to those of depression or severe anxiety and nervousness. There may be complaints of physical ailments like bowel disorders, such as soiling oneself (encopresis), eating disorders, such as anorexia nervosa or bulimia, pain during bowel movement or urination, vaginal itching or discharge, repetitive head or stomach aches and sleep problems. The mental and emotional aspects of the problem could be displayed by disruptive behaviour such as abusing alcohol and/or street drugs, or engaging in high-risk sexual behaviour, performing poorly at school, having excessive fear or a severe lack of self-esteem, and withdrawal from society.
If sexual abuse is suspected, the first and the most important step is to get medical help. The child should be examined as soon as possible by a trained healthcare professional. The role of doctors, nurses, counsellors and psychologists during the treatment, and their method of approach play a vital role in the healing process of the survivors. Conventionally, more importance is given to the medical examination and there is general unawareness about the trauma that the survivor is facing. Thus, insensitive and blunt questioning sessions to know more about a patient’s profile can do more harm than good.
Medical personnel – be it doctors, nurses, counsellors or psychologists - need to recognise when reassuring the patient, that there is no need to be ashamed. This is very important. Hence, the need to be friendly and approachable. They should provide the adult survivor and/or child victim with a non-judgmental environment so that the latter will feel comfortable during their time in the hospital. To ensure this, medical personnel need to be trained. In most of these cases, the child is emotionally vulnerable or volatile, hence appropriate care must be taken. These guidelines have therefore been provided for the medical personnel in order to ensure that the patients are treated and assisted with maximum care, and to the medical personnel’s full capability.
Physical wellness is connected to one’s emotional state. If the adult survivor or child victim does not feel comfortable, or feels unsafe, then it can directly lead to the stalling of his/her healing process. A goal of Sensitive Practice is needed to facilitate feelings of safety for the client. There are a total of nine principles discussed below, which will guide the medical personnel on how to treat the victims of sexual abuse in general, for their effective recovery.
Abuse undermines a person’s ability to respect oneself. Survivors often feel diminished as human beings and may be sensitive to any hint of disrespect. They also suffer from a lack of self-esteem. The feeling of being accepted and heard is important. Showing respect involves giving attention to and having regard for the survivor. It also means seeing the person as a particular individual, with unique beliefs, values, needs, and history. In the context of the hospital or medical practice, this requires medical personnel providing the patient with a safe space free of judgements or criticisms.
In daily practice, it is difficult for medical personnel to give special attention to each and every patient. It would be helpful when treating an adult survivor or child victim of sexual abuse to devote some time to them, and reinforce their sense of safety. It is important to remember that feeling genuinely heard gives the patient the reassurance of being valued; this is one of the most effective ways to make a survivor feel safe and at ease.
Rapport is essential to every relationship between a therapist/counsellor and the patient. Positive rapport facilitates clear communication and engenders trust. Medical personnel need to be able to demonstrate professionalism as it promotes a sense of safety in the adult survivor or child victim, and helps to establish and maintain appropriate boundaries. This is critical to those who have been sexually abused.
Adult survivors and child victims of sexual abuse do not necessarily know what to expect from a medical examination, treatment and/or therapy. Therefore, providing them with information about the treatment and/or process beforehand helps to alleviate their fear and anxiety and often prevents them from being triggered by unanticipated events. The element of surprise is really difficult to deal with, and if the patient is prepared in advance, it helps in the healing process.
It is necessary for medical personnel to begin the information-sharing process before seeing the new patient by providing written information about what is involved. Another method is to offer a running commentary about the things the practitioner is doing as they are doing it. This is for the patient’s benefit, and is tremendously reassuring for him/her. Medical personnel should seek feedback from their patients regarding the medical examination, treatment, or intervention. This will help in providing a better standard of service in the future.
Child sexual abuse means the loss of control over one’s body. So having a sense of control in survivors’ interactions with medical personnel is crucial in establishing, and maintaining safety. The process of establishing informed consent is an important part of ensuring that the survivor or child victim has a sense of safety and control. This is also the legal responsibility of the medical practitioners. Seeking consent includes informing, consulting, and offering choices. Having this sense of control helps the patient to become an active participant in their own healing process. This helps in the growth of self-esteem as well as in the feeling of self-worth. They start believing that they can make decisions on their own, and can take full control of their treatment. This certainly goes a long way in instilling a sense of value and respect in them.
Respecting boundaries is a two-way thing. Both medical personnel as well as the patient need to respect boundaries. Due to the nature of these cases, it becomes inevitable for the clinician and the patient to work in physical proximity as well as discuss intimate details about the abuse. Respect for boundaries is crucial to provide a sense of safety for most adult survivors and child victims. Medical personnel should avoid asking blunt questions, and must always seek the patient’s consent with regard to sharing information. Any breach of privacy does a lot of harm to the survivor: It can trigger negative emotions in the patient, which may affect their physical and mental health. It also refutes the patient’s need for control and autonomy. Rapport-building is necessary before seeking intimate details from the patient, so that they feel safe and secure.
Boundaries may also be violated by survivors who sexualise their relationship with a healthcare practitioner, having learned as children to relate to those in perhaps more powerful positions in a sexual fashion. Professionalism on the part of the affected medical personnel, including being calm, may help overcome this difficult situation. The medical personnel need to explain what is and what is not acceptable, and where the boundaries lie.
Medical personnel need to develop a deep understanding about the short and long-term impact of child sexual abuse. This will ensure that they will be able to work effectively with adult survivors and child victims. The best teachers are actually the survivors themselves. Depending on which stage they are at in their healing process, survivors may be interested in helping medical personnel if the latter show genuine compassion and interest to learn about the impact of child sexual abuse, and the particular needs of adult survivors and child victims.
On the other hand, the survivors may also need encouragement to become active participants in taking care of their own health. If a medical practitioner shows belief and confidence in the survivor or child victim, the latter will enjoy a greater sense of self-esteem. In time, through fostering good relationships in other areas of their lives, they will also learn to be assertive, undo any negative behaviour which form the repertoire of their coping mechanism heretofore, and will hopefully be prepared to deal with any negative events in the future.
Members of the medical fraternity need to understand that healing is not a linear process. Every adult survivor and child victim of sexual abuse is different, with different capacities for trauma, different levels of resilience and abilities. Each survivor will be at different stages of his/her healing journey. Some may take a short time to heal from the immediate trauma; others might take a substantially longer time. Each individual’s trauma and suffering is different from the other.
It is imperative for medical personnel to be aware of the concept of interpersonal violence and what this means. They should be conscious about the various ways an abused person may feel traumatised and what he/she must have faced. Adult survivors and child victims may look for indicators of a medical practitioner’s awareness on the issue of child sexual abuse and/or interpersonal violence. Once they feel assured on this point, it becomes easier for them to share their experience as they feel that this is someone who would understand their plight.
Medical personnel can be important allies in the prevention and treatment of child abuse. They can serve as family counsellors and educators, as influential child advocates, and as key members of the community’s multi-disciplinary team, if there is one, on child sexual abuse prevention. They can also help to alleviate stress on a family by managing health problems, providing child-rearing advice, and/or discussing family planning alternatives.
If you are meeting a child victim of sexual abuse for the first time, it is important to take note of the following:
Medical Needs: It is important to assess each and every injury on the child’s body and determine an appropriate way to treat them. A necessary step is to diagnose other medical conditions which may be confused with sexual abuse. It is also important to evaluate the risk of sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy. It is necessary to document the child’s medical history and findings from the medical examination.
If the sexual assault had occurred within the previous 72 hours, the medical examination should be performed as soon as possible to maximise the possibility of recovering forensic evidence, such as blood, semen, saliva, and trace evidence. If the assault occurred more than 72 hours ago, the probability of this type of evidence being recovered is significantly reduced.
Psychological Concerns & Welfare: Respond to the patient and family’s immediate emotional needs and concerns, assess the safety of the child and explain the mandatory reporting process and the compensation to be awarded to child victims. It is also crucial to provide information to the child’s parents or guardians about the typical reactions and coping strategies of a child victim of sexual abuse.
Forensic Evidence: Collect forensic evidence when appropriate, preserve evidence and hand this over to law enforcement agencies.
Report: Report to the law enforcement authorities when there is reasonable suspicion of child sexual abuse. Refer the child for follow-up medical care and counselling.
Steps to Take if the Child is in Critical Condition: There are some cases for which the emergency medical personnel should be prepared. Ensuring safety and providing for medical aids as needed to save or assist the child should be given the topmost priority. There can be critical cases, wherein the child’s condition could entail death or near death situations.
The dynamics of child sexual abuse are such that often, children rarely disclose sexual abuse immediately after the event. Moreover, disclosure tends to be a process rather than a single episode and is often initiated following a physical complaint or a change in behaviour.
The role of law enforcement in child abuse cases is to investigate to determine if a violation of criminal law occurred, identify and apprehend the offender, and file appropriate criminal charges. The response of law enforcement to child abuse needs to be consistent.
Because of increased reporting of child abuse, it is critical that police officers be trained to handle cases involving child maltreatment.
In such a situation, when the child finally discloses abuse, and a report is filed under the POCSO Act, 2012, more information will have to be gathered so that the child’s statement may be recorded. Information so obtained will become part of the evidence.
However, given the experience that the child has gone through, he is likely to be mentally traumatised and possibly physically affected by the abuse. Very often, law enforcement officers interview children with adult interrogation techniques and without an understanding of child language or child development. This compromises the quality of evidence gathered from the child, and consequently, the quality of the investigation and trial that are based on this evidence.
The Courage to Heal: A Guide for Women Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse by Ellen Bass and Laura Davis
The Courage to Heal Workbook: For Women and Men Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse by Laura Davis
Healing the Incest Wound by Christine Courtois