Child sexual abuse is more prevalent in society than we assume. According to Unicef, at least 120 million girls under the age of 20 – about 1 in 10 – have been forced to engage in sex or perform other sexual acts, although the actual figure may be much higher. As parents, we don’t like to think that our children could be a victim of any sexual assault and want to prevent our children from the worst. However, it is impossible to be physically present with them all the time.
But as guardians, we can create awareness in our children about various sexual abuse possibilities and encourage open communication about the same. Here are some key problems and critical strategies that we must incorporate as we encourage children to speak up.
As parents, we usually discourage fear and anxiety. As a result, kids fail to identify and communicate these feelings. They are left confused when perpetrators target them. Many perpetrators confuse and manipulate the children further and try to normalize sexual acts. And so, children are left perplexed and end up never speaking about it. We must teach our kids to acknowledge their signs of fear in various scenarios like increasing palpitation, discomfort or sudden sweating, and encourage them to talk about experiences that may be the cause. This would help them to establish open communication.
Many times, in Indian society we don’t feel the need to name private parts and expected changes in them. We must teach our kids to normalize talking about them without shame. As parents, we shouldn’t dismiss but answer any questions associated with them. This encourages open communication and trust. In many cases, children wish to stop the sexual abuse but it became confusing as the offender made it a pleasurable experience. The confusion budding in a developing mind creates a sense of shame that many perpetrators use to silence them. It is extremely critical for the child to understand that irrespective of whom it is and what is happening to them, there are personal boundaries and anyone encouraging them to touch their body unjustly is unsafe and must be spoken of.
You may have heard the importance of teaching kids about “good” and “wrong” touch. It is equally important for them to understand the definition of “wrong touch”. The child itself isn’t wrong; it’s the act that’s wrong and harmful. We need to provide clarity to speak up about it and learn that in any situation, it’s the fault of the perpetrators. If there’s no clarity, the child might face feelings of self-blame and self-doubt and would refrain from speaking about sexual abuse. Narrate a story to clarify that no matter what anyone says, wrong touch is unsafe and unacceptable, and children must tell their parents anytime they sense it.
A basic thing we tend to miss is building a connection with our children. Communication with children is important. We must encourage them to talk about their feelings and experiences. Ask them questions and show interest in the conversation. A safe space to discuss feelings is of utmost importance to help our children with any wrongdoings and help them deal with feelings. What are some questions to consider while interacting with children:
* How was your day and what happened today?
* How do you feel about the day?
* Did you meet anyone new?
* Were you uncomfortable?
* Were you upset or angry today?
* Let them acknowledge their feelings, not deny them. It’s when kids understand their feelings are acknowledged, that they truly build trust, and then together you can work on how to deal with those feelings. They need to understand that no matter what, they are loved and safe with their parents.
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Feelings should never be ignored, else the child will think they are at fault.
Another important and most ignored area is online child sexual exploitation. According to Interpol, an estimated 2.4 million instances of online child sexual abuse were reported from 2017 to 2020 in India. And 80 percent of the victims were girls under the age of 14 years.
This stems from the lack of understanding of money, and perpetrators lure children by providing a stable source of it through online sexual exploitation and child pornography. Refrain too much use of technology without adequate knowledge. Incomplete knowledge for a growing child can be dangerous. Create some sense of financial security and develop an understanding about earning through respectable ways and feeling accomplished through hard work. Teach them a sense of satisfaction through day-to-day accomplishments; rather than focusing on materialistic things and valuing themselves based on what everyone else is buying.