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Put a Full Stop to Child Sexual Abuse

We believe that we live in a safe society but very often this is a myth. We, in our clinics, often hear complaints from parents (who bring in their children for counselling) about a child's reluctance to go to school, loss of interest in studies and a general tendency to remain shy and aloof. Mostly these complaints are about the girl child although there can be many exceptions too.

Put a Full Stop to Child Sexual Abuse

Sentinel Digital Desk

After assessment of these cases it is often found that such behaviour is a result of sexual abuse. Studies say that 1 out of every 5 girls and 1 out of every 6 boys undergo sexual abuse. Child sexual abuse, which is also known as child molestation, is a form of abuse in which a child is used by an adult or older adolescent for sexual stimulation.

Child sexual abuse occurs when the child is misled or pressurized into sexual activities. Child sexual abuse takes place in schools, colleges and at homes.

There are different forms of sexual abuse. Child sexual abuse can be of two types-contact abuse and non-contact abuse. Contact abuse includes touching the child's private parts, making the child touch someone else's private parts, using a body part or object to rape or penetrate a child for sexual pleasure or forcing the child to perform sexual activities. Non-contact abuse includes showing images of person's private parts to a child, showing pornography to a child, photographing a child in sexual poses, encouraging a child to watch or hear sexual acts either in person or on a video, prostituting/trafficking the child and/or watching the child undress or take a bath in the bathroom.

So what are the consequences of these unfortunate and heinous acts? In some cases, children hesitate to share these incidences with their family because they cannot judge whether the incident merits informing in the first place. Some children also do not report abuse fearing rejection from family members. The worst cases happen when parents know about the incidents but try to cover or hush up the situation. This mostly happens when the molestation is done by a family member or relatives. Parents mostly try to neglect the child's voice or often pressurize them to keep their thoughts bottled up. The consequences of abuse (in any form) are depression, anxiety, phobia, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and suicidal ideation. Some others might display antisocial behavior, aggression and increased impulsivity. Experiencing child sexual abuse can also increase a person's risk for future victimization. For example, recent studies have found that women who have undergone child sexual abuse are more likely (2-3 times more) to become victims of sexual violence and people who experienced child sexual abuse have double the possibilities for experiencing intimate (non-sexual) partner violence.

Thus, as care givers, how can one protect a child from sexual abuse? Although it is said that there are various preventive resources in terms of child sexual abuse, it is always the primary responsibility of the parents to ensure a safe and stable environment to the child. Resources for child sexual abuse have mostly focused on legal acts, treatment of victims and criminal justice-oriented approaches for the perpetrators. These things are applicable after child sexual abuse takes place. Therefore, it is more important to talk to children about physical touch and its precautionary measures.

Body mapping is an exercise where children can find a safe space to talk about their stories of sexual abuse. It is an art-based technique, which focuses on embodied experience and tries to explore the bodily and psychological feelings and experiences of the victimized children. It basically includes a graphic picture of the human body highlighting the body parts through which you can ask children about their experience of physical touch in relation to their own body parts. The exact assessment (of whether the abuse has happened or not) can be done by putting a cross over the areas that are pleasurable and putting a tick mark in the unpleasant areas of the body.


Ms. Ankita Kakati

Counselling Psychologist

Faculty, MIND India, Guwahati

Ask Dr Sangeeta Goswami

Question: How can I know if my daughter is suffering from sexual abuse?

There is no sure way to identify sexual abuse. Some of the red flags that a caregiver can look for are:

Behavioral signs:

• Excessive talk about or knowledge of sexual topics

• Not talking as much as usual

• Not wanting to be left alone with certain people or being afraid to be away from primary caregivers, especially if this is a new behavior

• Regressive behaviors or resuming behaviors they had grown out of, such as thumbsucking or bedwetting

• Overly compliant behavior

• Sexual behavior that is inappropriate for the child's age

• Trying to avoid removing clothing to change or bathe

Emotional signs:

• Change in mood or personality, such as increased aggression

• Decrease in confidence or self-image

• Excessive worry or fearfulness

• Unexplained health problems such as stomach aches and headaches

• Loss or decrease in interest in school, activities, and friends

• Nightmares or fear of being alone at night

The most important thing is to watch out for sudden changes in behaviour. Trust your gut and don't ignore your feelings if something seems off. If a child tells you that someone makes them uncomfortable, even if they can't tell you anything specific, listen and believe the child. Most importantly, tell your child that whatever had happened is not their fault and they should not feel guilty about it. Helping children to recognise red flag situations and teaching them what to do when they encounter them is a powerful tool in childhood sexual abuse prevention.

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