Protect your Child from Sexual Abuse!

Mumbai Mirror | Dec 19, 2014, 12.00 AM IST

Our expert tells you how to protect your child from sexual abuse and cope with it

With increasing reports of child abuse, parents and guardians need to take a few elementary precautions and safeguard kids from becoming victims. And if anything unfortunate occurs, it is always better to spot the abuse symptoms at the earliest and put the child at ease.

Clinical psychologist Salma Prabhu says the first step is to explain the difference between good touch and bad touch. She says, "A bad touch isn't restricted to contact with private parts. It refers to anything that the child is not comfortable with; like cheek-pulling or a kiss on the face. The child must be taught to refuse this politely, as many wellmeaning aunties pull their cheeks affectionately. The parents must teach the child to create an alarm and run away from the place. There may be a few false alarms, but those risks have to be taken. If such an incident happens, say in school, then school authorities have to be informed. It is always safe to stick to the golden rule of not letting children talk to strangers."

Defining sexual abuse
Child sexual abuse is not limited to engaging a child in a sexual act or inappropriate physical contact, but it also involves showing a child an adult's genitals or making a child watch a sexual act or pornographic material. From self-loathing depression to dysfunctional sexual intimacy, sexual abuse during childhood can scar an individual for life in many ways. Take precautions when children are around two years old and start going to play school, says Prabhu.

No reservations
The government's first national study on child abuse in 2007 showed that 53.22 per cent of the children surveyed across India reported one or more forms of sexual abuse. The study also confirmed our worst fear – a pervert relative abusing the child. 50 per cent of the abusers were known to the child or are in a position of trust and responsibility and most children had not reported the matter to anyone, the study found. Prabhu agrees that often a relative gets away with sexual abuse as the child is hesitant to talk about it.

"Lack of communication is the biggest drawback. The most crucial thing is to win a child's trust. So parents must take the effort to communicate in such a reassuring manner that the child feels comfortable to talk about everything; including their boyfriend/girlfriend," Prabhu says. If a child tells her parents about her friend who has a boyfriend and the parents ask her to stop hanging out with her, then that would be breaking the communication, she adds. "It gives the child a reason to work around things without keeping the parents in the loop. Parents must realise that friends, other than the family, are a very integral part of an individual's life."

Prabhu says that parents need to begin educating their children about sex from an early age, so that they can tackle sex pests better. "Educating your child about sex is a gradual, evolving process and considering the child's age and when you think she is ready, you should answer her curious questions. A lot depends on how well you have honed your communication with the child. It is high time parents quit being in denial. If parents feel awkward, they must consult their family doctor to help them discuss it."

Dealing with abuse
If the child falls prey to sexual abuse, then the family should avoid talking about it as that would only hurt the child further. Instead, take the child to a therapist. "The first symptom is that the child turns very quiet. He/ she will refuse to eat and will start losing weight. So, if this child doesn't open up at all to the parents, then the counsellor enters the picture." In such a situation, children should be allowed to cry their heart out, Prabhu says.

After building a rapport with the child, therapists then use psychological tools like:

Play therapy
Play therapy helps children cope with emotional stress or trauma, by allowing them to alter the world on a smaller platform – through their toys. When children play in a certain manner with certain toys, they play out their feelings so that they can deal with them.

When a therapist absorbs what the child feels, the child begins to free its repressed thoughts.

Projective techniques
Projective techniques such as the Rorschach or the human figure drawings help detect child sexual abuse. In a Rorschach ink blot test, a child is asked what the ten ink blots on white backgrounds 'look like' and why. Human figures help children express complicated feelings that may be hard to express. For instance, a sexually abused child will focus on genitalia in his or her drawings unlike a normal child.

The Children's Apperception Test is a projective test for measuring the personality traits and attitudes of children (aged 3-10), other than assessing psycho-sexual conflicts during a child's growing up. Flashing a series of pictures, the child is asked to describe the situations and weave stories around the people or animals in the pictures.