Handling abuse

Published On: August 27, 2016 12:25 AM NPT By: Usha Pokharel

Most times children are raped in one-on-one settings by a parent, family friend, babysitter or a neighbor
The other day I read about a six-year old girl sold to be married to a 60-year-old person in Afghanistan.  That to me is equal to giving away a baby to be raped. I had never thought I would have to raise the issue of child rape. This is not the kind of topic I feel comfortable about, but circumstances and times have changed and nothing has sanctity anymore.  

Few years ago I was associated with an institution called Anterdristi Nepal which worked on child abuse issues. Never did I think of children as rape victims prior to this involvement. I, like many others, thought rape was something more mature girls encountered. Then one day I found out they had a case of a four-year-old girl, raped by her father. I was shocked, tears rolled down my cheeks.   

I had heard many stories, from different individuals about people sexually abused as a child and how they survived that trauma. I noticed people often talked about other people because no one ever tells you about being raped as a child. Talking about such instances defames a family.

Hence they try to hush it up, regardless of what happens to the victim. Unfortunately, the majority of those involved in such heinous crimes are the same ones who say they care about family prestige.

I thought Nepali people were too nice for such conduct. I was wrong. I know it’s hard to believe that family members are involved in such activities, and very close ones at that, but such perverts are everywhere. Yes I know I sound impolite but this is one area not many people will write about.

We need to break this silence. I am not trying to create suspicion in your family but being careful does not hurt. Now that I have raised the issue, I would like to let you know that child abuse and rape can happen in any context and the perpetrators are usually males.

We all would like to think that people who rape children are rare, but that’s not the case. You will be surprised to learn that due to high instances of child rape in South Africa, it has been called an epidemic. Most of the times children are raped in one-on-one settings by a parent or other relative, family friend, babysitter, neighbors or in some cases, complete strangers. Child sexual abuse has existed for centuries. But they are not reported. In Nepal, for example, only four percent of rape cases are reported. Even if they are, there is tremendous pressure from the community to settle the matter. Victims are forced to marry the rapists.

I know the uncomfortable feeling we all have when we talk about child rape. But Nepal is gaining bad reputation with news of rape almost every day. Very recently there was a report of a 15-year-old girl from Makwanpur who confided to her mother of being sexually abused by her father. Her mother wanted to drown the issue, citing possible community backlash and social stigma. But the teenager gathered enough courage to defy her mother and filed a complaint against her father. He is serving a jail sentence at the moment.

I am again not trying to scare you all but it is an important issue. We have to learn to face them and be prepared for the worst-case scenario. We in Nepal have a tendency to trust everyone. May be it is time to think twice about that. Parents need to be prepared to face that fact and prepare their children as well. Child abuse is quite common these days and children are traumatized by it as much. They will not speak up but suffer in silence.  

If your child refuses to be alone with some people, don’t force them to be. Understand that something is not right with those people. Parents need to be aware that sexual abuse is capable of damaging a child physically and emotionally and behaviorally for the rest of their childhood and may impact the rest of their adult life. Children are too trusting and cannot distinguish between right and wrong touch. The perpetrators exploit this and cultivate a loving relationship with children.

Abusers are smart. They influence their victims that they will not be caught. They do not shy away from using various tactics ranging from bribery to threats, where emotional head games can trick the victims into not fully understanding what is actually being done to them.

Usually abusers target children who are vulnerable and easily reachable. They usually start by making the child feel comfortable and then they progressively begin to confuse and shift their limits of physical space till the child is unaware of what’s happening.

Sexual abusers are good planers and thinkers. They are constantly running by the situations through their minds, thus increasing the chance of their getting away with sexual abuse. Because most children can’t or don’t tell about abuse it is our responsibility to be able to recognize it.

If the child is an adolescent, adults tend to look at things differently. They will first question the girl’s behavior then they will believe the perpetrator rather than questioning his character when he says it was consensual. It is difficult for children to speak out against perpetrators, when abusers are people known or related to them. Under such circumstances victims are also unsure about whom to trust and where to seek help.

So how do you tell if a child has been abused or raped? If a child is sexually assaulted, he or she might choose not to tell anyone. But there are enough signs to indicate that they are struggling emotionally. Some will exhibit signs of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), also called rape trauma syndrome (RTS). Children display unusually irritable and moody behavior.

They may seem angry, frightened or even confused. They may feel depressed, anxious, or nervous, especially about being alone. They might withdraw from friends and family and have trouble sleeping. Their appetite might change and they may be unable to concentrate in school or to participate in everyday activities. If you see symptoms like these, reach out and let the child know that you’re always available to listen, no matter what.

If the child has not opened up yet and you still suspect some kind of trauma or distress, it is always a good idea to seek a therapist’s help to get to the root of the problem.  

Parents should listen to their children when they say they do not feel comfortable with certain family members. If they don’t tell, observe them.

Just because they have grown up does not mean they should be out of your radar. After all, you are supposed to protect your children. Listen to them when they are complaining about someone’s behavior. That is not too difficult, is it?

The author is an educationist and author of several children’s books


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