Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Child sex abuse: The horror show stats and signs to watch out for

As the country reels under the sheer number of cases of child sexual abuse and brutal sexual attacks on little children, it bears repeating that India has a history of violence towards children and girls (of all ages). Child sex abuse is not a new phenomenon. And the statistics here in the country are particularly grim. A 2007 landmark report by the govt found that 53.4 per cent of children surveyed had suffered some form of sexual abuse.

What experts across the board tell us is that the perpetrators are often known to the child, to the family. A lot of child abuse is going on within the four walls of our homes.

From Mira Nair's Monsoon Wedding, to the media reports coming to light every day, the only glimmer of hope, seems to be that we're starting to acknowledge the scale of the problem. And yet, the big concern is how do we protect our children? How do we learn that something is going on? And how do we get them help?

We've been speaking to psychiatrists and survivors alike, and as we all struggle to find the answers, I want to bring to your attention a couple of interviews I did a few years ago.

Starting with the horrifying research -

Anuja Gupta of the Delhi-based RAHI (a group that has been set up to counsel survivors of child sex abuse - RAHI stands for Recovering and Healing from Incest) told me their own research found "76 per cent of respondents were sexually abused, 40 per cent were cases incest."

"All over the world, given statistics of CSA, the majority is incest. Children are sexually abused primarily at home, by family members -- across class, across culture -- that's something that's very important to know." She also explained by incest they mean family members or those in positions of authority known to the child/ family.

Signs to watch out for:

"We call these silent ways of telling...Children for example don't normally come and say they're being sexually abused. People need to be aware and pick them up. One is a medical category, you may find blood in genital areas, or torn genital areas, sores in body, STDs in a young person, a very clear sign of sexual abuse.

The other category is sexualised behaviour of a child -- does the child seem to have sexual knowledge inappropriate to that age group? Not from a moral point of view, but compared to today's kids. Are there sexualised drawings? Children who are sexually abused tend to draw a certain way, genitals are enlarged, or a person who's larger than life, something like that... That's an indicator. Then you come to general behavioural indicators. People think children who are sexually abused get withdrawn. That's true, but children who are sexually abused also can actually as a way of covering up become very social, can do very well in school, or badly, or bed-wetting, eating issues... The child's behaviour at school or home are very imp indicators of child sexual abuse."

So how does counseling work? Anuja Gupta of Rahi says, "We take people through talking about what happened to them, what meaning did they give that abuse, what did they take - a lot of abusers think themselves dirty and molestors give direct and indirect messages to the child, you asked for it. (So the child thinks) I'm at fault for being abused, I should have spoken about it, the abuse continued so I allowed it to continue. These are some of the issues we deal with in therapy, shame, self-blame, guilt, how she looks at relationship."

"Healing is absolutely possible, one big message I want to give out. RAHI's core message -- It's important that people talk to the right person, who doesn't judge them or blame them...If you start on the process of recovery, it's long, sometimes painful, sometimes joyful... You'll get there, there's light at the end of the tunnel, it's possible to recover."

She adds:

"There's certain common things that run across survivors, permutations combinations... one is relationships, the typical thing that gets affected in child sex abuse. The ability to trust is compromised -- either trust a lot or no one at all. Intimacy -- ppl want to get into intimate relationships, but are afraid. People struggle a lot with relationships, with sex as adult survivors both in terms of having a lot, or not being able to. A lot of times women, while they want to have sex, even with supportive partners, memories of abusers or physical images of abusers come back. Sexuality is affected across the board," Anuja tells us.

I spoke to a child abuse survivor at the time as well. Here's what she told me.

"Well it started when I was six, and it was my tuition teacher who started molesting me. It all happened in silence -- my parents didn't know and I was very scared of telling anyone about it. It went on for 7 years. I was completely in pain, devastated.

Somehow my conditions took me to Delhi, through one of my friends I came to know about RAHI, where I met Anuja and I started counselling with her. It completely changed my life. After that I could see a complete transformation. I was a scared kid growing up, and now I'm a confident professional, working with a big corporate in Delhi.

Q: How old were when you started talking about this?

A: It took me a long time. When I was 14 I shared it with my friend. I could not talk about it to too many people - there was a sense of shame attached.

Q: Were you able to tell your parents at any point?

A: At a point I was undergoing counselling. I could not, a sense of shame, I was afraid if my parents would really understand me.

Q: The numbers are very high... (is there a message you have?)

A: Yes, my message to people would be that there is hope out there. Break your silence and talk about it -- you will be helped.

Q: Any signs (for parents or others to notice)?

A: I was a confused child, my grades were all over place, they kept focusing on how to improve academic performance and take me out self-esteem issues. They didn't know, they couldn't help me with anything.

I knew this was not happening with everyone around, but at the same time, even as a child, i had a hope of getting out the mess.

Q: Have you met anyone else (going through the same thing)?

A: Not really. I would want to reach out to people, meet people going through the same kind of pain. Recovery is possible, there is help out there...

It helps people to start talking about facts. What I've seen is we do talk about issues like rape, but child molestation is not something we've really spoken about in our society even though people know about it. Child incest is happening, it's an issue that is there... We need to bring it out now...Let people know... at least parents and relatives should know what their kids could be going through

It's very important... it helped me a lot, talking about it with close friends, does help. Counselling and treatment -- it went on for around 2 and a half years. I could see a complete transformation after I joined RAHI. In the beginning i had questions like how could just counselling help me, how could that help? I had tried talking to my friends, I felt that was not helping me at all, the pain was there, I was going through the same pain every day.

After coming to RAHI and meeting Anuja (Gupta), I feel going through the proper channel, talking to the right people, a counsellor could really help.

After counseling the situation of life remains the same - you might be facing the same kind of stress...but you learn how to handle life situations, you become more confident."

Those are strong words - of hope and survival strategies, and overcoming a trauma that is affecting way too many of our children.

If you want to share your story, or be part of the conversation, and be part of the Agenda for Change, tweet the team @amritat or @ibnlive