What would you do if you knew your child was sexually abused? How would you help the child deal with it?
A girl aged 6 years was cycling down with her older brother. They were stopped by a stranger. Before they realized, he unzipped his trouser and held the little girl hard. They started to scream and the boy pedaled away.
However this left an ugly mark on the girl. She stopped hugging her brother, broke down uncontrollably into tears and did not want to play with her friends. I met her one week after the episode. She was slowly limping back to normalcy. But I wondered about the mark left on this impressionable girl.
In the present era, child abuse has become a very sensitive issue. Also known as child maltreatment, it is any physical, sexual, emotional, psychological or other act involving a child with intent to harm the child.
Statistics show that children are much more likely to be sexually abused by someone they know and even trust–including older kids at various parties we attend during the holidays–than by some creepy guy in a van.
To empower the child against abuse, we need to talk about it to our children. Being a parent, many of us feel uncomfortable talking about abuse to our kids. By teaching children about their body and talking openly about sexuality, and boundaries, a child will be more equipped to tell us if something is making them uncomfortable.
We teach children to be safe and look both ways when they cross the street. We also need to teach them how to keep their bodies safe. Children often keep an abuse a secret, but barriers can be broken down.
Age-appropriate, open conversations about our bodies, sex, and boundaries gives children a foundation for understanding and developing healthy relationships. It also teaches them that they have the right to say “no.”
What you should tell them:
- No one can touch your private parts; that is not acceptable.
- Teach them it’s not ok for someone to show you their private parts.
- Teach them it’s ok to tell someone NO if they want to touch you, even if they are a grown up.
- Teach them what parts of their bodies others should not touch.
- Be sure to mention that the abuser might be an adult friend, family member, or older youth.
- Start early and talk often. Use everyday opportunities to talk about sexual abuse.
- Be proactive. If a child seems uncomfortable, or resistant to being with a particular adult, probe further.
- Lastly, be very sensitive and alert to any differences in a child’s behaviour.
Name the body parts:
Don’t shy away from calling a butt, vulva, vagina or a penis by their actual names. Use the words they are known by- not the softer and simplified nicknames such as ‘pee-pee’ or ‘hoo-hoo’.
If the child knows the correct names, he/she can tell the parents what exactly happens. Dumbing down the names only confuses the children.
Children who are sexually abused tend to get super-sensitive to touch, mistrusting of all and tend to withdraw within themselves. Do not take this lightly. Make sure you seek professional help immediately. There are other subtle and overt signs in their behaviour that can act as clues.
What you should watch out for:
- A child tossing restlessly in bed, night after night.
- A child crying herself to sleep, afraid of the dark and/or experiencing night terrors.
- Aggressive and violent behaviour that cannot be explained.
- Consistent bed wetting
- Sudden loss of appetite or lack of interest in eating.
- Inexplicable mood swings and defiance of authority.
- Anything that causes them to harm themselves.
- Unresponsive, silent and withdrawn behaviour.
- Complaining of physical pain with no apparent injury.
Here are some good links to CSA awareness:
Please Note: This article has been written by Nikita Varivani from Tangram, under the guidance of Dr. Nimrat Singh.