By Sameena Mohiddin
A friend of mine inspired me to study Child Sexual Abuse (CSA). Yes, it exists in Kashmir too. What piqued my curiosity to study the phenomenon of child sexual abuse in our society was that despite its prevalence, most people did not take it seriously. So, I decided to work on CSA. However, it was difficult to work on the sexual abuse of children and finding the sample (size and scope) was a humungous task. After the initial teething problems and issues, I managed to conduct a pilot study for four months in district Srinagar. The research was revelatory: I came to know about and understand the many forms of child abuse that is prevalent in Kashmir. Before dwelling on these forms, it is important to put into perspective and define the nature of Child Sexual Abuse.
As per Ranbir Penal Code (RBC), “Child” means any person below the age of 18 years and includes any adopted, step or foster child.
Sexual abuse is an unwanted sexual activity, with perpetrators using force, making threats or taking advantage of the victims who are not able to give consent.
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorder-Fourth edition (DSM-IV), Child Sexual Abuse is defined as a form of child abuse in which an adult or an older adolescent uses a child for sexual stimulation. Forms of child sexual abuse include asking or pressuring a child to engage in sexual activities (regardless of the outcome), indecent exposure (of the genitals, female nipples, etc) with intent to gratify their own desire to intimidate or groom the child, physical sexual contact with a child, or using a child to produce child pornography.
My study demonstrated that perpetrators also inflict other forms of abuse on children. This includes sexual abuse perpetrated verbally which the victim might not understand. I found out perpetrators target and attack lonely children and after taking them into confidence and then abuse them while feigning to be a playmate or caregiver. If parents do not have friendly relations with their children or do not spend time with them, it encourages the perpetrators for continuation of abuse for years.
After the abuse, perpetrators usually try to blackmail the survivor through different ways to prevent disclosure and reporting of the abuse. Usually, victims do not disclose the abuse to their parents or other kith and kin because they are fearful that they might be blamed for the abuse or no action will be taken against the perpetrator. They also fear that disclosing the abuse might disturb their parents. However, if disclosed, parents for most of the time do not report it to the police or relevant authorities either because they fear that this would bring disrepute to the victim and therefore the family. Not reporting adds a layer of suffering to victims: they feel dirty, guilty, uncared for. The ancillary psychological damage is that they develop inferiority complex and low confidence and low self esteem.
According to many studies, the perpetrators are usually those whom the victims know well. This has a resonance in Kashmir. It has been found that the perpetrators could be siblings, parents (father specifically), other family members, neighbors, and any other person that the family knows very well. This group might include teachers, either religious or school teachers.
The consequences of CSA might not be visible to the victim’s parents (in most cases) and other people. The magnitude and severity of the consequences is contingent on the severity of sexual abuse. The more severe and intense the abuse the more are the negative impacts and consequences. The survivors tend to be socially and emotionally imbalanced and are not able to adjust at home as well. They prefer to remain isolated, are hyper sensitive
What is lacking in our society, regarding the prevention of CSA is the grave mistake of parents who choose to be in denial. They do not even countenance the fact that sexual abuse happens in our society as well. Moreover, many parents do not believe in talking with their children regarding sexuality.
The remedy to this problem is that parents must talk about sexual abuse and sexuality with their children – if not directly but at least indirectly. The natural curiosity of children should be attended to and answered so that they would not look out predatory people around to find answers. It may be added that CSA is not area specific only but during my research it was found that victims were also from villages and other far flung areas as well. This suggests that this insidious evil does not exist in Srinagar city only but is equally prevalent in villages.
Besides parents, schools can play a major role in creating awareness about Child Sexual Abuse among children. There are many ways that can be employed by schools that may include drama, demonstrations, and quick reaction to students noted to be disturbed should be taught the difference between good touch and the bad touch and they should be encouraged to speak about their insalubrious experiences.
In terms of family and parents, it is their duty to take action against perpetrators and not encourage them by remaining silent. Children need to be free from psychological troubles and worries. This is critical for their proper development and their intellectual and emotional wellbeing. Sexual abuse creates and leaves permanent marks on their lives. Therefore, young vulnerable children need to be protected from this insidious evil on an urgent basis. Let the phenomenon and prevalence of Child Sexual Abuse be taken seriously and let us all join hands to combat this evil now. It will be good for our whole society if steps will be taken today only instead of tomorrow else till tomorrow more children might be suffering.
—The writer holds a Master’s degree in Human Development. She can be reached at [email protected]