Society

How Safe is Your Child at Home this Lockdown?

Did you know that in India as many as 108 children were sexually abused every day in 2018? This is according to the latest data from the National Crime Records Bureau 2018 edition released in Dec 2019. As we are now in 2020, we can look at the possibility that the numbers could (unfortunately) have risen. But a scarier thought than that (in this COVID-19 lock-down) is the fact that the child could be locked down in the same house as the abuser!

The National Commission for Women (NCW) has recorded a (more than) twofold rise in gender-based violence during this lockdown. It is also believed that most cases are being left unreported because to report a certain crime, the woman needs to be in a safe place- being in the same house as the perpetrator is not. Here, we are talking about adults who are able to voice their rights to certain extend, adults who are able to resist, an adult who can differentiate the right from wrong.

What about young children? Are they affected? It has been reported that over 92,000 calls were received by the ‘CHILDLINE 1098’ helpline for children in distress across the country between March 20-31 for protection against abuse and violence on children. In just 11 days?! The numbers could drastically jump by the end of the lockdown. This is a cause for concern because at this time (especially those living with extended family) a child could be living his/her worst nightmare, particularly in the case of sexual abuse.

A lot of times, sexual abuse in a child goes unnoticed or unreported for many reasons. This is because we (adults) do not pay enough attention to them, and also the child is unable to report as the abuser either give threats or convinces the child that it is a normal ‘thing’ to do; or simply because the child is too young to know. So, adults at home need to start reading between the lines. For instance, your child could be giving simple statements such as “I do not like being with XYZ”, or “XYZ do weird/funny stuff with me (or with XYZ)”.

I remember one instance when I was in my early teens. The abuser had visited us (and was staying for the night) so I told myself that I was not sleepy- and I was saying out loud “I don’t want to sleep tonight”. When I think of this day, it sounds funny because then I was living with my entire family and there was no way he could abuse me again. But my young mind wouldn’t let go of the fear and the discomfort of him around the house in spite of the fact that I was safe with everybody around.

The point is, adults in the house need to be alert. We need to start observing the person our child runs away from, the person our child wouldn’t go near. It could be the child’s own sibling, parents, uncle, aunt, helper, trusted friend of yours, relative or even neighbour. In India itself, there have been many cases of fathers/ grandparents/ uncles abusing their own daughters and there could be such cases very close to our home as well.

Now that there is no saying when the lock-down will lift, I wanted to put together a list of things we must pay attention to so as to spot/prevent child sexual abuse.

Warning Signs that a Child is Sexually Abused:

Talking about CSA, it includes both touching and non-touching behaviours. Most times, there are no visible physical signs unless examined closely. The only way to know, therefore, is to understand the child’s behaviour. I have picked out a few points from the guidelines laid down by Massachusetts Citizens for Children on behaviour that indicates sexual abuse:

  1. Unwillingness or fear to be left in the care of a particular person or to play with a particular child;
  2. Reluctance or fear of certain places, such as showers and washrooms;
  3. Change in the child’s behaviour when a particular person is present, e.g. outgoing child becomes quiet or withdrawn or an easy-going child becomes agitated and unruly;
  4. Sudden self-consciousness about genitals;
  5. Discomfort or reluctance in giving details about time spent with another adult or child.
  6. Clinging, anxious, irritable behaviour towards parents, siblings, friends, pets
  7. Regression to babyish habits, such as thumb-sucking;
  8. Fearful behaviour towards an examination of the mouth
  9. Nightmares, bedwetting, fear of the dark, difficulty falling asleep, new fears
  10. Increase or decrease in appetite
  11. Sexual behaviour that is inappropriate for the age of the child, such as a young child “French kissing”.
  12. Involving other children in sexual behaviours or using toys or dolls to act out sexual scenarios.

Health Consequences of a (child) Victim of Sexual Abuse:

There are health consequences that come with (child) sexual abuse. According to WHO, both physical and psychological health problems have been associated with sexual abuse, i.e.

In physical health consequences:

  1. gastrointestinal disorders (e.g. irritable bowel syndrome, non-ulcer dyspepsia, chronic abdominal pain);
  2. gynaecological disorders (e.g. chronic pelvic pain, dysmenorrhea, menstrual irregularities);
  3. somatization (attributed to a preoccupation with bodily processes).

In psychological and behavioural symptoms:

  1. depressive symptoms;
  2. anxiety;
  3. low self-esteem;
  4. symptoms associated with PTSD such as re-experiencing, avoidance/ numbing, hyperarousal;
  5. increased or inappropriate sexual behaviour;
  6. loss of social competence;
  7. cognitive impairment;
  8. body image concerns;
  9. substance abuse.

Who Could be the Abuser(s)?

Do you know that children most susceptible to sexual abuse have obedient, compliant and respectful personalities? According to Darkness to Light (a leader in child sexual abuse prevention), offenders chooses Child grooming where they gradually initiate and maintain sexual relationships with victims in secrecy. On the surface, child grooming can look like a close relationship between the offending adult, the targeted child and (potentially) the child’s caregivers.

They also gave out certain examples of red flag behaviours of the child sexual abusers, i.e.

  1. Special attention/preference to a child (or overly interested in that particular child)
  2. Gift giving
  3. Touching or hugging the child
  4. Sympathetic listener
  5. Offers to help the family
  6. Gaining access via the internet

Remember that there is no knowing unless we are vigilant.

Our Role as an Adult/Parent to Prevent Child Sexual Abuse

Aside from being vigilant, there are other things that we must (as adult and parent) must try to keep up with so as to check/prevent child sexual abuse. Here are the few things to start with—

  1. Teach Name of the Genitals: Teach the name of the genitals just as we teach the names of other body parts. This will indirectly help us to start talking about it more openly.
  2. Teach Privacy of body parts: Let the child understand that no one has the right to touch their bodies if they don’t want that to happen. And in the same way, they must also respect the right to privacy of other people.
  3. Converse about sexual topics: Create an environment at home in which sexual topics can be discussed comfortably. We can do so by using news items and publicized reports of child sexual abuse to start discussions of safety. They must also be told that they should always tell a parent/adult about anyone who is taking advantage of them sexually.

When we find out or when there is a slight indication that a child is or may be sexually abused, the first thing we must do as an adult/parent is to listen and believe the child. Make the child understand that it was not his/her fault.

Meeting a counsellor is recommended. However, when we talk about Ukhrul we have so much limited options. For one, you could start with FXP Ukhrul. If you are looking for survivor support, you can always email me (yuimivashum@gmail.com).

It’s about time we stopped sweeping this under the carpet. It’s time we let our kids know that it’s OK to say “NO” to adults. Just because we do not have official numbers on child abuse here (Ukhrul) and other places like ours, it doesn’t mean that it is not happening. It happened to me; it can happen to your child too.

Break the silence starting from your own home.