Learning the warning signs of child sexual abuse is often the first step to protecting a child who is in danger.
For those who have watched the horror series “The Haunting of Hill House”, the event of Theodora “Theo” Crain joining the dots about her child client’s experience as a psychologist is unforgettable. Theo, after multiple sessions with the little girl living under foster care, comes to the crushing conclusion that the latter is actually being sexually abused by the very man who is fostering her.
A study conducted in 2013, “Child Sexual Abuse in India : Current Issues and Research”, cites another study conducted in 2012 where 160 boys and 160 girls were randomly picked across Grades 8 and 9, and in the process revealing that almost 18% of them had been sexually abused within the confines of their home.
In 2017, the WHO estimated that up to 1 billion minors between 2 and 17 years of age have endured violence in various forms including physical, emotional, or sexual violence. According to UNICEF estimates from 2014, sexual abuse (ranging from groping to rape),affected over 120 million children, representing the highest number of victims. In 2017, the same UN organization reported that in 38 low and middle income countries, almost 17 million adult women admitted having a forced sexual relationship during their childhood. (1)
These global statistics give us a fair idea about how extensive and historical the phenomenon of abuse in minors is. It has been prevalent in every cultures and society ever since a long time but have only recently become a paramount subject of methodical study.
What is child sexual abuse?
In 1999, WHO Consultation on Child Abuse Prevention adopted the definition of child sexual abuse as:
“Child sexual abuse is the involvement of a child in sexual activity that he or she does not fully comprehend, is unable to give informed consent to, or for which the child is not developmentally prepared and cannot give consent, or that violates the laws or social taboos of society. Child sexual abuse is evidenced by this activity between a child and an adult or another child who by age or development is in a relationship of responsibility, trust or power, the activity being intended to gratify or satisfy the needs of the other person.
This may include but is not limited to:
- the inducement or coercion of a child to engage in any unlawful sexual activity;
- the exploitative use of a child in prostitution or other unlawful sexual practices;
- the exploitative use of children in pornographic performance and materials”
Samantha Morton talks about her horrible experience as a child sexual abuse survivor in this clip:
Whether we like it or not, want to admit to it or not, child sexual abuse is indeed a global phenomenon. Consider the benchmarking index called “Out of the Shadows“. which includes 60 countries to throw light upon the issue, the context in which it occurs and how governments, civil societies and media come together to tackle this issue.
According to this index, while the United Kingdom is the safest country for children to grow up, the Democratic Republic of Congo is the least safe.
What are the dynamics of child sexual abuse?
The reason it is important to shed light on the dynamics involved in child sexual abuse is because it is different from adult sexual abuse.
Here are a list of things to remember:
- Most often than not the abuse is generally perpetrated by someone the child and the child’s family knows well. (it can be a trusted caregiver, someone very familiar to the child – school bus conductor, maid servant, known relatives or even an immediate family member.)
- Victims of child sexual abuse come from varied backgrounds including poor socio-economic backgrounds, broken homes, those mostly left unaccompanied, those with psychological disorders or cognitive issues, those with lesser social and emotional support, those who are in foster care or have been adopted.
- Disclosure in child sexual abuse is a process rather than an event. It is because most victims either have a fear of their perpetrator or believe caregivers will not believe them or both.
- Most victims prefer to disclose the details of abuse to their mothers or to a teacher.
- Retractions of complaints are common, and mostly happen if the victim senses they will not be believed or the if the perpetrator threatens them.
- A perpetrator can be both male or female, irrespective of the gender of the child.
While statistics and dynamics reveal a part of the problem, there’s much more to be done at an individual level to ensure the safety of children. Narrow down further and you’ll know safeguarding your own child against sexual abuse is perhaps one of the most basic steps you can take. But for that you have to be keenly tuned into symptoms of child sexual abuse.