When you empower your children by teaching them how to resist suspicious compliments and touches, you take critical steps towards protecting them from sexual abuse
Sexual abuse of children is perhaps the least acknowledged category of molestation, especially in Pakistan. This is despite recent events of this nature which warrant immediate attention. According to Sahil, an organisation striving to report and remove child molestation across the country, nearly 3,002 related cases were registered in 2013 alone. By the end of 2014, the number has escalated to 3,508 — exclusive of the cases that were probably not reported or identified.
As parents we can no longer brush the issue aside and naively assume it will never happen to our children. We must assure that not only are they safe from it but also equipped to recognise and tackle sexual abuse, should the need ever arise. Rozan, another NGO working to raise awareness regarding molestation in Pakistan defines it as “Any activity in which an adult or older child uses a child in a sexual way.” According to Rozan, the ‘activities’ can include:
• Inappropriate touching — especially around the private areas
• Peeping into bathrooms (or bedrooms) while the child is using it
• Making indecent comments and jokes in front of the child
• Exposing the child to sexual activity of any kind, be it pornographic pictures or videos or one’s own sexual organs
• Forcing the child to enact sexual ‘scenes’ like undressing — especially before a recording camera
• Raping or attempting rape on the child
But before we begin teaching our youngsters about this pressing issue, we must ensure that we comprehend it fully ourselves. There are many misconceptions people hold regarding child molestation which must be broken. For instance, we must realise that:
• Child sexual abuse is not restricted to just the underprivileged or uneducated strata of society. In fact, it is prevalent across every social class, regardless of religion, caste or creed.
• It is not only girls that are victimised by molesters. Young boys are vulnerable to abuse as well.
• The offender does not necessarily have to be a stranger to the child or mentally unstable or queer in appearance. It can be anyone and anywhere.
• There have been cases of children as young as two being raped or harmed in other ways. Therefore, it must be known that there are no age restrictions when it comes to child sexual abuse.
• Sexual abuse is not always accompanied by force or violence and therefore, becomes harder to spot in cases where the child sustains no obvious physical injury.
• The topic is such that it should be dealt with in secret. However, you must not assume that your child will automatically come and tell you about their experience. Granted children often make up stories but if you notice anything strange about their behaviour, it is best to approach them patiently and try to understand what they have to say without frightening them.
When it comes to sexual abuse, Rozan believes not being able to speak about it openly becomes the victim’s greatest vulnerability. “Often, this is accompanied by our discomfort as parents, teachers and adults to talk about such a sensitive issue,” states the Rozan Helpline blog. “Understanding the importance of proactively seeking the required knowledge and skills to communicate with children is one way of playing our roles effectively.” The blog goes on to say that educating children and addressing the issue on time is a must if we are to protect them. Our objective should be to employ age-specific methods to alert them. Dr Mary L Pulido, executive director at the New York Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NYSPCC) recommends, “Parents [should] frame the discussion around safety, rather than abuse, as it is less scary for the child.” Interestingly, children as young as two years of age have depicted the ability to grasp the concept of safety. Therefore, it is never too early for us to begin educating them. Following are some guidelines to follow when breaching the topic:
• One must begin by informing their child about different body parts and the purpose of each. Learning the correct names will make it easier for them to iterate what they went through. It is crucial to make them understand which of the parts are private (i.e. those that remain covered with underpants). This will also help alleviate any discomfort, embarrassment or hesitation they may harbour in their mind.
• Once your child has learnt about the human body, move onto distinguishing between good and bad touch. For instance, good touches may include hugs and kisses they receive from relatives and friends as long as they don’t make you feel uncomfortable. Unsafe touches, on the other hand, are those that hurt the child physically or emotionally and hence, should be reported.
• It is important that children develop the ability to resist things which make them uncomfortable, even though this can make them less disciplined in the long run. For this, do not force your child to kiss or hug others they do not want to. This will establish boundaries in the child’s mind and make them realise how to respect those boundaries. In her book Bitter Chocolate, journalist and author Pinki Virani alerts parents that child abuse may also be perpetrated by those who reside within our homes or are close to us, such as members of one’s domestic staff. Even though an offender may not necessarily be a stranger, children must learn to identify and protect themselves.
• Any measure undertaken towards educating the child is futile if you fail to create a comfortable and fun environment to talk in. Your child should know that they are cared for and not the culprit but the victim.
• Most importantly, it is the parent’s responsibility to remain vigilant of child abuse in every aspect of life. Internet abuse, for instance, is of particular importance seeing as how youngsters use the World Wide Web so regularly. There are options to place age-specific controls, monitor your child’s internet activity and ensure they never give out personal details over to anyone online.
One baby step at a time
Organisations such as Rozan and Sahil run full-fledged programmes focused on child sexual abuse. Aangan — Rozan’s oldest program — works on the emotional health of children and youngsters, especially those who have been subjected to molestation. For this, they have developed the cartoon Tinkoo Tina, a great video source to make children and their parents aware of the issue.
Mehreen Ovais is an alumna of Manchester Business School and Lahore University of Management Sciences. She is passionate about writing and journalism. She tweets as @mehreenovais
Published in The Express Tribune, Ms T, November 29th, 2015.