Prevention of childhood sexual abuse
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Child sexual abuse (CSA) is a universal problem with grave life-long outcomes. The World Health Organization (WHO) defines CSA as “the involvement of a child in a sexual activity that he or she does not fully comprehend and is unable to give informed consent to, or for which the child is not developmentally prepared, or violates the laws or social taboos of our society.” The term CSA includes a range of activities like “intercourse, attempted intercourse, oral-genital contact, fondling of genitals directly or through clothing, exhibitionism or exposing children to adult sexual activity or pornography, and the use of the child for prostitution or pornography. India is home to a significant number of children in the world. More than one-third of the country’s population, around 440 million, is below the age of 18. Child sexual abuse is a serious problem within our society and occurs more frequently than people wish to admit or realize. According to the National Crime Records Bureau, a child is abused sexually every 15 minutes in India. In the majority of these cases, the accused is an acquaintance or a family member. It is essential to understand what child sexual abuse is, how it happens, and how to recognize behavior that may signal distress to protect our children amidst the issues of societal ignorance and indifference about this grave issue; in the absence of which, ignorance and myths around sexuality will pervade, thus leaving children uninformed and at risk. In India, the concerns of the family stay within the family, primarily concerning issues and actions that are considered inappropriate. This is primarily due to the cultural aspects of blame and shame; families would go to great lengths to protect the reputation of their family within the community. People could go to great heights of blaming children for their abuse because the rights and statements of adults tend to trump those of children. Moreover, since the child’s identity is rooted in the family’s status, anything that would embarrass the family or tarnish their name is kept private – it could in some cases, even be from other immediate or extended family members. This practice of secrecy only serves to protect the sexual perpetrator and allows the cycle of abuse to continue. Besides, the parents’ or caregivers’ refusal to believe the child victim about sexual abuse or the tendency to cover it up further aggravates the child’s distress. The trauma associated with sexual abuse can contribute to arrested development, or set off a host of psychological and emotional disorders, that some children and adolescents may never overcome. When sexual abuse goes unreported, and children are not given the protective and therapeutic assistance they need, they are left to suffer in silence. The stigma associated with sex education leads to parents not educating children about sexual advances or threats, which could protect them from abuse. On the other hand, keeping children ignorant is the primary problem. Starting at an early age children need to be able to differentiate between good and bad touch, creating awareness gradually but positively from the first signs on issues like sexual abuse and exploitation is imperative. The project aims to convey to the parents the need to talk to their children about the body and its safety and make the information available to them in such a way that it aids them in talking to their children. With my research, I found several reasons why we do not provide sex education to children. One reason is that we do not understand the need for it. Both parents and school teachers shy around when it comes to talking about the body. If the need is recognized, parents find it uncomfortable and are afraid that they might give their children too much information, which might make them lose their innocence. Child sexual abuse is only primarily addressed by two systems – the child protective system and the criminal justice system. Both these systems address child sexual abuse only after the abuse has already occurred. Furthermore, both are concerned with dispensing justice rather than preventing child sexual abuse. Therefore, my project aims to provide a comprehensive prevention strategy that gives parents and children the knowledge and understanding to prevent instances of CSA. It was almost the end of the third semester, and I was struggling to decide on a topic for my final project. I remember how I wrote this topic down in my book, looked some things up about it, and nervously presented it in one of my last meetings. I told my professors how child sexual abuse was frighteningly common around us and how I wanted to work with children to educate them about it. As soon as I said it, the questions began. My professors were worried not only because we were practically out of time, but because I presented an idea of which I did not fully understand the challenges. Talking about sex in India is such a taboo, making children understand abuse seemed like a mammoth task. But I took up the challenge and decided to visit a few schools in my area to examine what children and their parents’ understanding and knowledge were of the problem. What looked like a massive problem in the beginning only grew in complexity with every further step I took, and my determination to contribute to the understanding of it grew even higher.