Trinamool MP Derek O’Brien’s remark on child sexual abuse may have resonated with many who have either been victims, or have at least known of such traumatic cases. The MP recently recounted a personal incident of abuse as a child in the Rajya Sabha, while debating the POCSO (Protection of Children from Sexual Offences) law.
The 58-year-old spoke of how, at the age of 13 in a public bus, someone allegedly ejaculated on his shorts when he was returning home after tennis practice. O’Brien said he did not talk about the incident for “six, seven years” before finally telling his parents.
“The more people in public life speak about the abuse, the easier it will be for children to speak up”, says @derekobrienmp while sharing his own experience of having undergone sexual abuse as a child; during the Parliament debate on POCSO Amendment Bill.pic.twitter.com/zAm9VIDpEg
— Sohini Guharoy (@sohinigr) July 24, 2019
Latest available government figures say that 106,958 cases of crimes against children were recorded in 2016. One is reminded of Alia Bhatt-starrer Highway, in which her character Veera recalls how she was repeatedly abused by an uncle, but was shushed by her parents. The trauma of sexual abuse can impact a child deeply and yet parents shy away from talking to children about it out of shame or fear.
And that’s exactly what O’Brien also addresses in his speech. “It starts in your home, in my home and everybody else’s homes…and the child actually doesn’t express herself,” he said, urging people to talk about it openly and share their personal stories too.
To silence a victim can only add to the child’s trauma, which can contribute to “arrested development, as well as a host of psychological and emotional disorders, that some children and adolescents may never overcome,” according to a 2013 study titled Child Sexual Abuse in India: Current Issues and Research. And not just girl children, even boys can be victims of sexual abuse as O’Brien pointed out. It can also lead to some mental disorders, the most common being depression and anxiety, Niharika Mehta, psychologist, Hiranandani Hospital, said.
“There can be consequences in the child’s adult life which is why it is important to address the issue then and there. There will be changes in the child’s coping mechanisms; trust issues are common ones. The consequences may not be seen immediately but they come up with time,” she said.
For your child’s emotional, physical and mental well-being, the key is to break away from the taboo. Parents need to educate themselves about what constitutes sexual abuse (from unwanted touching of private parts to rape), sensitise children and encourage them to talk about it.
“The education for understanding abuse should start early, right from when the child starts talking. Instead of telling them about ‘good touch’ and ‘bad touch’, replace the terms with ‘positive’ or ‘negative touch’ or ‘safe’ or ‘unsafe touch’. It is also absolutely necessary to normalise talking about their private parts. Instead of having code words, teach kids to identify these body parts by their original names. The child and parents might know the code words but others might not. It is important to do away with the stigma,” Mehta said.
Here are some more tips on how to talk to your kids about sexual abuse.