This article is shared with the SoCo Hub by SoCo Member Maitreyee Das, a second-year student at the Gujarat National Law University.
An eight-year old girl who has been abused by her cousin. She grows up, suffers from depression or anxiety or spends most of her life feeling dirty and ashamed. Or she could suffer from PTSD. Or she could just suffer from all of it together. She will have difficulty trusting people. And these are just the psychological and emotional effects that I’m listing out here. I haven’t even gotten around to the gory details about the physical effects of child sexual abuse yet. And we all know that those details are going to make people uncomfortable.
So it’s time we sat down and had the talk. The birds and bees of this particular zoo. There’s a very, very good chance that this article just might get lost in the sea of articles that exist on child sexual abuse. I realize that I may just be reiterating things already said by so many authors. But it is high time that we started talking about the things which make us uncomfortable. Initiating discussion on child sexual abuse is uncomfortable. The conversations will not be loud, people would rather whisper. You learning that your child (or someone close to you) has been sexually abused will most definitely make you uncomfortable. You will be outraged, or you might choose to let this go. Or, this article may just remind you of that time you were violated by somebody, a memory that you pushed far back into your mind because it was traumatic for you.
This is India. Gynaecologists are afraid to use the proper terms to describe a medical condition, for the fear of being inappropriate. We do not have sex education in our school curriculum and rarely has any one of us ever received a proper birds-and-bees talk from our parents. Now, while I understand social considerations (although I disagree with most), we need to realize what we are putting at stake here, for the fear of being inappropriate. A child cannot go and tell their guardians when their personal space has been compromised with by someone. Now, regardless of how it happens or who does it to them, what really needs to be focused on is the impact of that compromise on the child. The effects, both short-term and long-term, are more damaging than any uncomfortable conversation.
I loved reading The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Not because of the “I swear, we were infinite” moments as much, but because of how the book addressed child sexual abuse. It deals with a very common phenomenon that occurs in cases of child sexual abuse. Most victims cope with the trauma by pushing it far back into their minds so that it becomes a repressive memory. The book also highlights the relationship that Charlie had with his aunt Helen who abused him, and how his love for her caused him to repress his memories. Finally, it highlights the toll the abuse takes on Charlie psychologically.
One in every five girls and one in every twenty boys have been sexually abused as a child. Victims of child sexual abuse have a chance of growing up to be abusive, depending on the environment in which they are brought up. There are victims living with depression, anxiety, PTSD, guilt, shame and a whole lot of other such feelings which collectively culminate into what is known as the damaged-goods syndrome. And I’m only talking about child sexual abuse that happens in the family, by somebody that is known to the victim. Almost all these cases go unreported, because, again, no one likes talking about it. No one wants to talk about it, and such incidents will only bring shame to the family. Highway (2014) did a very good job highlighting this problem.
We need to talk about consent. The children need to be taught that their personal space is not meant to be violated. They need to be taught that they have the absolute right to say no to any form of contact. We need to talk about these issues, because the child has to be able to tell at least one person about the abuse, without any feelings of shame or guilt, or the like holding them back. Such incidents make the child distrust the people around them. We need to create a safe space for the children for them to be able to realize, and speak out when their personal space has been violated.
When such incidents are hushed up by the family for fear of loss of reputation or whatever inconsequential reason, it will only make it more difficult for the victim. No amount of social approval will compensate for the psychological trauma that such an incident will have on a victim. The possible effects of any incident of abuse cannot be fathomed. It depends on so many different factors, but what we need to do is remove the stigma that is associated with it. It does not matter if this conversation makes you uncomfortable, because whatever reason you cite to not have this conversation is just not good enough to subject an individual to deep psychological trauma that may persist throughout their entire lives. So go ahead, speak out, and initiate that uncomfortable discussion, but what you should never, ever do is let the child believe that unsolicited personal contact is right.
DISCLAIMER: The views represented above are that of the author alone and do not reflect the views of the magazine, Ergo. No legal liability or other responsibility is accepted by or on behalf of Ergo for any errors, omissions, or statements on this site, or any site to which these pages connect. We accept no responsibility for any loss, damage or inconvenience caused as a result of reliance on such information.