Child Sexual Abuse is a crime that occurs in every country and across all sections of society. The most frightening part of the crime is most of the times the act is committed by the person child knows and trust.
As of March 2020 cases of Child Sexual Abuse has crossed 13000 in India. More than 100 children are being sexually abused every day in India. And this is just an official number from the National Crime Record Bureau(NCRB). In reality one can't imagine the actual numbers of child sexual abuse in India as many cases go unreported.
While POCSO Act, 2012 is a comprehensive law to provide for the protection of children from offences of sexual assault, sexual harassment and pornography but the issue needs a deeper attention. There are many layers to it. It requires special treatment. To begin with dive deep into the following questions -
- Can a child who is young recognize sexual abuse?
- Child who has been abused & recognize the wrong can reach out for support?
- Child has support systems to reach out for support and share?
- Are parents/caregivers/guardians trained to acknowledge and act upon child sexual abuse?
- Are parents/caregivers/guardians capable of reporting the crime when the offender is a close kin?
- Do we as society understand the magnitude of child sexual abuse?
- Does legal recourse addresses any of the layer above?
- Is legal provision enough to protect child sexual abuse?
- Can a legal provision provide justice to a child who has been abused sexually?
These are just few questions Roshni* an adult survivor of child sexual abuse raises to the system and public. Being a lawyer herself and aware of POCSO she says -
POCSO alone is not the ultimate solution to put an end or even reduce the child sexual abuse incidents. Offenders and Pedophiles are moving scot free all around us. Sexual abuse is one of the most traumatic thing that can happen to a child. The psychological impact on a child who is sexually abused is beyond our imagination. We as a society have a bigger role to play and unless we take responsibility to stand against the act nothing will ever change.
I still remember clearly I was asleep and suddenly felt someone over me. I woke up hastily with a sense of fear only to realise I was alone and safe — says a 28 year old Roshni, an adult survivor of child sexual abuse who often experience triggers.
It is very common for adult survivors memories to be triggered by sights, sounds, smells or even feelings that survivors experience. These triggers can bring back memories of the trauma and cause intense emotional and physical reactions, such as raised heart rate, sweating and muscle tension.
Roshni-Her Story. Her Words.
As a child I grew up in a joint family. I lived with my parents, elder brother, aunts, uncles, grandmother and cousins.
I remember the room, there were three beds. I was sleeping with my aunts on one bed, on one bed my grandmother was sleeping and on the other my uncle was lying down. It was late at night, lights were off and it was dark. Everyone seemed to be asleep except that offender (from here on uncle will be addressed as offender). I was safely lying down between two of my aunts.
The moment everyone was almost in deep sleep the offender stealthily came towards me, held me and made me sleep beside him. I started to feel disgust and anxious as if my body already suspected threat.
And suddenly he made me lie beside him, took my hands inside his pants rubbing his dick. I felt something wet in my hand. I didn’t know what was happening. What I remember feeling was disgust, rage, helpless. As a child I may have felt some other emotions as well when the crime was committed.
The offender used to use my hands to masturbate.I don’t remember how many times this happened but I do remember it was more than once. I had no idea what was happening, where were my hands, I remained quite, I was too young may be 4 or 5 years old I don't remember exact age, but I was old enough that I still remember the incident distinctly.
As an adult sometimes I have felt unsafe whenever I see or meet someone from family resembling the offender. Sometimes even a safe and feather light touch on my shoulder, head, cheeks makes me feel unsafe and disgust.
As I grew, our families separated. At home I felt safe with my parents & brother I couldn’t have been more relieved. If only I knew that was not the end of abuse.
When I was in class 6th. I used to go for tuitions. The teacher was approx 60 years old. I used to sit on stool facing wall and his stool was right beside me. One day when I was reading the textbook he put his hands inside my top and pressed my one of my breast and then moved to another and passed smirke.
I had no idea what was happening, I didn’t know what to do. I was quite. Again, feeling helpless, powerless, disgust and ashamed.These are the feelings I recall now, I wonder as a child what other emotions must have evoked.
I went home cried but didn’t say anything. Next day I went tution praying to god that offender doesn't touch me, that day he touched my inner thighs and asked me how was I feeling ? Then took me to his bed, made me lie down and kissed on my lips, before he could move ahead he suspected someone's footsteps and immediately asked me to leave.
I immediately ran as if I was escaping myself from death. I took my books and stationary, hastily pulled the door, sat on my bicycle and reached back home.
This day I almost felt like I escaped from death, I couldn’t control my tears and cried. I then told my mom this teacher is not good and I won’t go. And I stopped going. After this incident I have seen this offender across road when I used to wait for my school bus. I used to use to foul slang languages in my head out of rage and to comfort myself.As even a glimpse of him would make me extremely angry.
There is yet another story of abuse. Remember not, not twice but offenders have abused me multiple times.
There was still another home that was unsafe and yet another monster who abused me. This time I will address offender as monster because I want to. My story, my words.
As a child I see so many of my friends being fond of visiting grandmother’s house. I have felt mixed emotions and mostly dreadful. I don’t remember the time, I remember multiple incidents of being abused by cousin elder brother (hereinafter monster).
I remember there used to be time when yearly trips to my granny’s place was mandatory. At my granny’s place there were grandparents, uncles , their wives and children. I have lost my beloved uncles and grandpa. Late uncles’ sons (my cousin brothers) are married and blessed with kids.
If there is someone who has all my love and heart is my granny. I love her unconditionally and she is more like a friend to me. She is the sole reason I traveled there.
To begin with some pleasant memories. My granny’s place is located in one of the heartland of India. I still remember the moment we entered the road there were mud houses like how we imagine rural India to be (although not all rural areas looks like this) . The greenery and clear sky used to be a beautiful sight. My most favourite time was when it rained, the smell and sound of rain with delicacies used to be a soulful experience.
Amidst all of this, there also a lived a monster. I would like to name this abuser a monster because he has abused me for several years to be specific until 2015, I was 22 year old back then in my third year of law school.
He has groped my breasts when I was asleep , he has rubbed my hands with his hands, he has rubbed my lips with his hands, he has forcely tightly held my hands, sometimes sent sexually offensive text messages when I was a minor and some I don’t even recall. Most of the times when he found me alone or asleep he would use the opportunity to abuse me.
Fact : A crime of opportunity is a crime that is committed without planning when the perpetrator sees that they have the chance to commit the act at that moment and seizes it. Such acts have little or no premeditation.
The last abusive incident I remember was the time he visited my hometown and I went with him on a ride.
- Now you may judge why would I go?
- I was a major then why did I go ?
- I was a law student yet did not protect myself ?
- Even if I did go how did I not protect myself at the age of 22 years? And maybe you have more questions in your head.
NO QUESTION OR JUDGMENT OR ANYTHING JUSTIFIES HIS ACT. MY AGE DOESN'T INVALIDATE MY EXPERIENCE. MY ACADEMIC BACKGROUND DOESN'T EMPOWER ME FIGHT. TAKE A PAUSE, RETHINK AND REFRAME.
- Why did a married man with kids abused me?
- Irrespective of the marital status why did he abuse me?
- What gave him the power?
- The male privilege conferred because of patriarch system?
- The power dynamic?
- What gave him the power to commit the act?
- The situation that they were in middle of the river and she had nowhere to go?
- The silence? The assumption of consent?
- The legislation that he knew she will not use?
- The authority?
- Why did he abuse me as a child and as an adult?
I still wonder genuinely — what on earth gave this monster reason to commit such a heinous crime? Every possible encounter with him, his laugh, his jokes, his body, his presence He — fills me with anger and disgust.
And now I want to share my final thoughts
Stop telling survivors to move on. These messages are destructive and backwards. In order to heal, survivors need to be supported as they explore their trauma, examine its effects, and work through their feelings. Only by dealing with the abuse does the past begin to lose its power, allowing survivors to move forward. Pressuring survivors to “move on” is another way to avoid addressing the abuse.
Support adult as well as child survivors by listening to their voice and not shutting them down.
Do not entirely view legal protection as the way to fight. The legal remedy can definitely be taken but this is not the only way to fight child sexual abuse. There has to be a holistic approach.
A holistic approach would be
- Enabling safe environment that leads to open dialogues on the issue and conversation on child sexual abuse is not a taboo.
- Enable a system where parents can be trained and educated on how to prevent child sexual abuse and support their child if the child has been abused.
- A strong legal framework that victims, awareness of these legal provisions and encouragement to report cases.
- Psychosocial intervention for survivor.
- Emotional care and support for survivor.
- Civil societies and government advocating collaboratively to be able to stop and reduce child sexual cases.
- Educational institutions running awareness sessions on subject of child sexual abuse (safe & unsafe touch and allied topics).
- Lawmakers and policymakers to continually reflect on efficacy of legal framework.
- Researchers to conduct extensive research with an objective of understanding the issue and possible ways to combat in different socioeconomic culture.
Child sexual abuse is not a one time act of crime there is an extensive body of research that documents adverse short- and long-term effects of such abuse.
Although there is no single syndrome that is universally present in adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse and I can’t say how other survivors feel as everyone has a unique journey.
What is important is to understand the gravity of the crime and take a step towards creating a safer world for every child and survivors.
*Note- Name has been changed.
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