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CHILD SEXUAL ABUSE

One time, more than any other time that your daughter will need to deploy all or some of the above mentioned skills, especially, be able to ask for help, is if she is ever subjected to, is witness to, or is forced to participate in any form of child sexual abuse. Sadly, no matter what the age of your daughter, this is one issue every mother has to take cognizance of and learn to deal with. As mothers of adolescent daughters, who are the most vulnerable, you have to be constantly vigilant, ensuring that your daughter is always safe from any form of abuse, especially sexual.

While many mothers do acknowledge child sexual abuse to be their foremost concerns, there are many more who do not believe it exists, or that their daughters can ever be a victim of abuse.

What is Child Sexual Abuse ?
Child sexual abuse can be any verbal, physical or psychological behaviour of a person, perpetrated on a child, which is harmful and traumatizing for the child, often causing long-term emotional and psychological damage.

Any of the following acts committed against children can be considered to be sexually abusive :
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Using abusive and/or obscene language.
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Showing obscene pictures or literature.
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Making obscene and suggestive gestures, including exposure of genitals.
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Kissing or touching forcefully.
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Touching, fondling the child's genitals.
* Asking the child to touch or fondle an adult's genitals.
* Any form of sexual act.

Child sexual abuse can take place within the family or outside the home. It can be perpetrated by a parent, step-parent, sibling, cousins or other relatives, or by a friend, neighbour, care-giver, teacher, or a stranger. Though mothers are very aware of this, and majority of them warn their daughters from the time they are three or four, few are willing to accept and deal with it head on, if they ever have the misfortune of having to do so.

I have been telling my daughter since she was three that these are her private parts and nobody, just nobody can touch her there, except me, and that too when I give her a bath.

My daughter told me about this uncle who insists on kissing her on the
lips…horrible. I have instructed her to stay far from him…what else can I do?

We were at this wedding when I was six…a distant relative forced me to do some terrible things…I was so scared…ran to my mother and told her. She gave me a tight slap and dragged me home scolding me never to speak such nonsense ever again.

- Mothers of adolescents



Fears of an Abused Child
Though child abuse is very common, most of these incidents are not reported, especially if the perpetrator is a family member or someone well known to the family. Firstly, the child herself does not report the incident for fear of reprimand or shame. And if she does inform her parents, very often, she is not believed by adults. Even if they do acknowledge the act has been committed, every effort is made to conceal the facts, for fear of shame and scandal in the family.

Usually an abused child of five years or more can sense that what is happening is wrong, but is confused, especially if the abuser is someone she knows and cares for. The child then is caught between her affection and loyalty for the person, and the need of reporting what she is suffering. Typically, the abuser may threaten the child with violence or loss of love if the child talks to anybody, or tries to stop the sexual relationship. Therefore, more often than not, when sexual abuse occurs within the family, fearing the reaction of family members, the child keeps the dreadful secret to herself, continuing to suffer in silence.

Effects of Child Abuse
When sexual abuse has occurred, a child can develop a variety of distressing feelings, thoughts and behaviour. Children might begin to suffer from lack of concentration in studies, sleep disorders and nightmares, excessive fear of the dark or of the unknown, bed-wetting and other behavioural problems. Feelings of guilt and shame are traumatizing for a child, leading to low self esteem. Depression and high anxiety levels are common fallouts of abuse in children, which impact every sphere of their lives.

Even after years, children who have been sexually abused as a child have difficulty in relationships. Having developed distorted views of sex and relationships, as adults they are either not able to relate with another adult on normal sexual terms, or they can relate only on sexual terms. Having been abused and betrayed by those they loved and trusted, which is most often the case, they remain distrustful of others, and prefer to be withdrawn rather than expose themselves to further trauma.


Role of Mother in preventing Sexual Abuse
Therefore, as a mother, what can one do?
The most significant role you can play is preventive in nature. For this you need to :

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Work with the premise that no child is safe.
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Understand all the ramifications of the issue.
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Be able to talk to your daughter from very early on, and continue talking to her.
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Be constantly alert, avoiding any action or decision which is potentially dangerous for your daughter.

Some specific steps that you as a mother can work with :
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Drill home the fact in your toddler that your body is private and nobody, just nobody can touch your private parts in any situation. If someone does, she should stop the person and come and tell you right away. This conversation has to start as early, maybe when your daughter is three, and be repeated at regular intervals.
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Teach your daughter to say no to any person or anything that makes her uncomfortable or sense danger. Tell her, it is ok to say no to anyone at all and most certainly to strangers.
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Tell her to obey her instincts when she senses something amiss. If she thinks and feels that the situation is uncomfortable or the person is not doing something right, she must get away at the earliest.
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Encourage her to be assertive, to be bold and outspoken. If anyone does anything to her which she knows is not right, she must say so, first to the person who is doing it, and certainly to you. Teach her, especially when she is young to threaten the person with, “I will tell my mother…” This does help to scare off known people many a time.
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Help her identify a person who she trusts, someone besides you, someone to listen to her, if she is hurt, or scared or confused about anything. This is necessary for the times when you are not around. If neither of you are available, she should report it to any grown up maybe a neighbour, a teacher, friend’s mother, anyone.
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Most significantly, make it known that she can come and tell you anything, anytime. You will listen to her no matter what has happened. And make sure that you do so. Nothing compares to the sense of betrayal a child feels if you, the mother, do not believe her or stand by what you say.
* Other precautionary methods which help include :
Do not have male servants at home, especially not in charge of your adolescents. While you may think you are around to protect her, there is no way you can ensure every moment is protected. One needs to be careful with other support staff too. If you are a working mother, make surprise checks especially when your child is very small.
Do not allow your daughter to travel alone with the driver. Sometimes you just can't help it for convenience sake, but as a norm, she should be chaperoned at all times.
Check out the facilities at her school, the school bus and other places she frequents for extra curricular activities. Do this by talking to teachers and also chatting with your daughter.
Be very careful before allowing your daughter to spend the day or night with friends or cousins. Do not hesitate to ask who all will be there, if someone responsible will be present at all times, etc.

Measures to deal with the aftermath
However, despite all your best intentions, if your daughter brings any
untoward incident to your notice, then the most immediate and important thing would be to :

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First of all, accept unquestioningly what your daughter has to say.
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Reassure her that she is not at fault or responsible.
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Gently find out all the facts and then try to ascertain what happened.
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Take whatever steps required to avoid a repeat incident, even reporting the incident.
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Provide your daughter with professional help and counselling.

Specific measures to deal with the aftermath :
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Whatever the situation, whoever the perpetrator, if your daughter comes and tells you that she has been harmed or violated in any way, drop everything and listen to her. Hear all that she has to say. If she is scared to talk, reassure her and help her to share what happened.
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No matter what you think or feel at that moment, or how preposterous her story, believe her. Give her the benefit of doubt until proven otherwise, which might never be. Convey the same to your daughter, that you believe her, that you understand her and will help her.
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Advise her that she should stay away from that particular place or person, until you have dealt with it. Teach her what she must do if a similar situation should repeat itself.
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Watch over her closely the next few days, and reassure her often. If she displays any unnatural behaviour patterns, seek professional advice. If necessary, do not hesitate to take her for professional intervention.
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However difficult it may be, do have a chat with the person concerned, especially if he is a family member or is well known. Make it known that you know and your child's safety is your priority. Surely, this will not break the family, but will deter the person from another attempt. Ensure that this person does not further harm or threaten your daughter because she confided in you.
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If you are up to it, confront this person and threaten him with the worst. If you have your husband's support, or any other family members support you could enlist, do so. Please do not be fearful of what people may think of your daughter, you or your family. It is your daughter’s safety we are talking about, her health and her life. Surely, anything is worth that.

Parents need to know that sexual abuse is a punishable offence under several sections of the Criminal Procedure Code. Such incidents should therefore be reported to the police, instead of keeping it under wraps for fear of social stigma. Lack of reaction by parents when abuse has occurred is comprehended even by a young child, who is left feeling bewildered that her parents are not dealing with the person who has hurt her. Far from it, she is asked to behave herself and keep quiet. If not helped appropriately or reassured adequately, this child can be scarred for life.

Tips to detect Child Abuse
Often you may not be aware that your daughter has been subjected to sexual abuse, because there are no obvious physical signs of child sexual abuse. You should be alerted and probe deeper if you observe any of the following patterns. If your daughter :

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Begins to have sleep problems or nightmares.
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Appears to be unusually quiet or withdrawn from her friends or family, refusing to go to school or to play.
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Displays an inexplicable fear of being alone, or without her mother.
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Is unusually or excessively aggressiveness.
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Is strangely secretive.
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Makes statements that her body is dirty or damaged, maybe not allowing you to touch her while bathing or changing.
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Appears to be obsessed with her body or genitals.
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Expresses an unusual interest in things of a sexual nature or behaves seductively.
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Avoids all things of a sexual nature .

As mothers you must also be aware that young children can be manipulative, and therefore it also becomes imperative to discern if what your daughter is reporting is really taking place or is most of it is a play of her imagination. What does one do? How much to believe? Truly, a confounding task for any mother!

What we would suggest is that if and when your daughter comes and tells you something, your first reaction has to be unquestioning acceptance of what she has to say. Like we said before, you must give her the benefit of doubt until you know otherwise. It is better to err on the side of caution, rather than ignoring a vicious act being committed.

Listen to her closely and you will most likely be able to discern if all the pieces of the story do not make sense. Gently, cross-question and check the facts to ascertain its authenticity.

Look out for other signs that may indicate fear or trauma. Some of them are bound to appear if abuse has actually occurred.

Even if you are certain that much of it is a figment of her daughter's imagination, do not scold or punish her. Do explain to her the dangers of misinforming, especially about another person. You must realize that usually a child resorts to such behaviour to seek attention from you or any adult. Children are smart enough to know that a suggestion of any harm done to her is a potent trigger for any mother. Therefore, one needs to address her need for attention.

Assure her that you are there for her. Make time to be with her, talk to her and do things with her. If these needs are fulfilled only in the aftermath of an incident, children are even capable of imagining that incident to get the mother's attention.

This is true even with kids who have been subjected to sexual abuse. When they find themselves to be receiving their parent's undivided attention, they may continue voicing their fears and concerns, to a greater extent than they are actually experiencing. Once again, the situation needs to be dealt with equanimity. Be there for your daughter, but do not allow her to manipulate you. Reassure her and tell her that what's happened is terrible, but together you have to deal with it.

Certainly, dealing with child sexual abuse is one of the toughest trials a mother can experience, but then there is no one but a mother who can be sensitive to an issue such as this, and deal with it with sensitivity.