Myth: Child sexual abuse is very rare in our country. It is all media hype that is doing more harm than good. Children or adolescents have started fantasizing, making up stories and lying about being sexually abused. In any case it only happens to bad girls with loose character.
Fact: Child sexual abuse in India is very rampant. Children, as young as few months, and even a few days old, are known to be victims of child sexual abuse. While girls are more vulnerable to being sexually abused, against popular belief, boys too are victims. Children with mental and physical disabilities are indeed at greater risk of abuse due to their vulnerability. Child sexual abuse cuts across gender, class, caste or ethnicity and happens to both urban and rural children.
A child may be abused in any of the following ways:
- Sexual intercourse through penile penetration i.e. rape, or use of objects or other parts of body.
- Exposing children to pornography and using them for producing pornographic materials.
- Directly or indirectly touching any part of the body of a child with an object or with a part of body for sexual gratification.
- Exposing or flashing genital organs or other parts of the body with sexual intent.
- Deriving voyeuristic pleasure by showing sexual activity or forcing two or more children to have sex with each other.
- Passing sexually coloured remarks or verbally abusing a child using vulgar and obscene language or actions.
A child may be abused by someone he or she knows or by a stranger. The perpetrator, in 90% of the cases, is someone the child knows and trusts. The abuser usually violates a relationship of trust and takes advantage of her/his power and position. In a number of cases the abuser is someone very close to the child – the father, older brother, cousin or uncle or neighbour. When the abuser is a member of the family, it is incest. The fact that the offender appears caring, gentle and loving to the child can be a very disturbing aspect of the abuse to the child and may leave a strong legacy of self-blame, guilt and mistrust of his/her own self and others.
Sexual abuse has been in society as long as society has existed. The selling off of girls for prostitution or even the religious and cultural practices such as ‘Devadasi; system or the ‘Jogini’ system are examples of this. However, over the years there has been more awareness and reportage of this violence rather than media hype as people would like to put it. Studies among adult women have shown that as much as 75 per cent of them had experienced abuse in their child hood. Majority were incestuously abused or abused by known people. The myth about media hype only serves to deny an uncomfortable truth.
Men who sexually abuse children do so in addition to, rather than instead of, having sex with their wife/adult partner. They are not mentally sick persons against popular belief. Abusers are in fact characterised by their normality and diversity. Child sexual abusers attempt to justify and defend their action in different ways and this is just one of those.
Few men are careless enough to have a witness around when they abuse a child. Children are too scared to tell anyone about the sexual abuse or the discomfort of being forced to watch a sexual act. No matter how old the victim is, the abuser is always more powerful. The victim is no match for the craftiness of the abuser and she/he does not have the resources to stop the abuse from happening or to tell someone about it, especially if the abuser is a close family member. Often mothers, who do know about the abuse, are in no position to prevent it because of their own powerlessness. Fear of breaking up the family or the fact that they may not be believed, pushes them into silence. Parents and adults in the family, indeed society itself, brush their discomfort aside and ignore or deny the fact of sexual abuse of children.
When children do report abuse, often their credibility is called into question, and their trust and confidence is again abused. A child’s sense of guilt may be preyed upon to make her or him think that in some way they have caused the abuse by their own behavior towards the abuser.
Most disclosures by children about abuse and exploitation faced by them are found to be true. The fantasy theory combined with society’s denial of incest/child sexual abuse/child trafficking or any other form of child abuse indeed serve to blame the victim for the abuse rather than address the problem that stares at our faces today.
The Impact of Sexual Abuse on Children
- The impact of abuse may be short term and long term:
- Physical injury in the form of scratches, bites, cuts etc. bleeding in the genitals, or any other form of physical hurt.
- Children often suffer from fear, guilt, depression, anxiety, and sexual dysfunction and show gradual withdrawal from the family.
- Many victims also encounter problems in their adult relationships and in developing adequate sexual relationships.
- Over and above the sexual abuse that a child experiences, there is also an abuse of their trust that leaves them disturbed for a long time, sometimes for the rest of their life and affects their relationships in the long-run, unless treated psychologically.
Children are innocent and vulnerable. They have little knowledge of sex and of adult sexuality and can in no way be held responsible for adult’s responses. Even an understanding or knowledge of sex does not in any way justify negative labeling and putting the blame on the child. A prostitute too can be raped or eve-teased and the law will come to her aid. By blaming children in different ways for what they suffer we only shift the responsibility from the abuser to the child.
In the case of a child there is no ‘consent’. As per law, any sexual intercourse with a girl below the age of 16 years amounts to rape.