As parents, caregivers and decent human beings, us adults tend to worry about our children being exposed to predators, many of whom come in the form of friendly acquaintances. Yes, contrary to popular opinion, friendly faces are far more responsible for child sexual abuse than strangers. The saddest part is that we are unable to adequately educate our children about sexual abuse, thus making them vulnerable to exploitation.
Keeping such concerns in mind, entrepreneur and mother Deepa Kumar founded the organization How To Tell Your Child. In an interview with Mahevash Muses, Deepa talks about why child sexual abuse is on the rise, how parents can protect their children, and what we can do to help abused children heal.
According to a 2017 report by the National Crime Records Bureau, a child undergoes sexual abuse every 15 minutes. Abuse has become common and is on the rise in India. Why do you think this is the case?
A simple yet hard-hitting answer would be that we are still ashamed of the term ‘abuse’ so much so that we cover it up when it happens, and do not talk to anyone about it. We do not acknowledge it, and we do not teach our children about it as well. As parents, we assume the school will educate the child about personal safety, whereas at school, teachers assume that parents have already explained it at home.
As a result, the child is left clueless. When the child gets abused, either the child is not aware that it is abuse or is too scared to verbalize it to parents. The child is scared because he or she doesn’t know what to call it. Even when said child talks to his or her parent, they hide it under the carpet. It’s about time we start opening up to our kids about abuse in an open, honest way. This is our ideology at How To Tell Your Child, where we enable parents to have such kind of conversations with their child.
The ‘good touch, bad touch’ model is clearly broken. What should parents and caregivers teach children to protect them from potential pedophiles?
We should first understand that only a parent should talk to their child and educate them about aspects like sexual abuse, sex, pedophiles etc. Parents need to come up with a vocabulary for aspects like private parts of the body, abuse, sex etc. and teach that to the children, so that both parties are on the same page when something happens. This also promotes a healthy and trusting relationship between the two.
Our organization enables this by coming up with a copyrighted 5 Alert system, that teaches parents about the different types of alerts they can educate their children on.
We also have aspects like caretakers list and Circle of love, both of which are made by the parent and the child to understand who is allowed to touch the private part of a child for cleaning and emergency purpose (caretaker) and who is allowed to hug or show love to a child through physical acts (circle of love). So when someone who is not part of these two lists, touches a child, he/she can come and tell their parent, hence alerting them.
Contrary to popular belief, little boys are just as vulnerable as little girls. How can parents ensure they are safe?
Irrespective of gender, providing awareness to a child is the first duty of a parent. Secondly, if an unfortunate incident does happen, the parent has to trust the child and have an open conversation about it, in order to take action in a legal manner. Blaming the child and assuming that he is lying about such incidents to gain attention should be avoided. We need to teach both boys and girls how to be safe. We should also give them the confidence that no matter what, they will always have our protection and unconditional support.
Lately, there have been a few cases involving child on child sexual assault. Since the perpetrator is under eighteen, can legal action be taken against them? And as a society, what we can do to prevent this phenomenon?
If the perpetrator is below the age of 18, they are sent to juvenile correction homes run by the government as a form of punishment. The Juvenile Justice Bill passed in 2015 allowed for juveniles (between the ages of 16-18 years) who were offenders to be tried as adults. But as a society, prevention occurs only when we acknowledge that an incident has happened and not associate it with shame.
The trauma of child sexual abuse lasts way into adulthood. How can we help heal children who have been abused?
The first thing is to ensure the child has accepted this abuse. It’s not easy as it sounds since it involves a lot of triggering memories. However, counseling and therapy sessions with a Mental Health Professional can help a person in acknowledging it through a method that the survivor is comfortable with. Also, assuring the survivor that whatever happened was not their fault will help them feel lighter and less guilty. If you have suffered child sexual abuse, it’s beneficial to talk, accept and heal from the trauma before entering parenthood. In fact, this is essential because we generally tend to project our experiences and fears onto our children.
Visit https://www.howtotellyourchild.com/ to learn more on how to educate your child to keep them safe from potential predators.