What, who, where, when, why and how?
I was eleven when it happened, Mami* recounted of the harrowing moment she was sexually abused by a grand uncle, he came next to me and touched me inappropriately even giving a slight kiss on my lips, it all but lasted for a minute but the harm was done for a lifetime. It is easy to wonder why the victim didn’t scream or push the molester away but the mind just goes blank at the moment and you’re too ashamed to even talk about it later, she said. For over twenty years till today, Mami and her grand-uncle still meet in every family occasion, while the secret she bears tears her each time.
This is just one story. According to research, 75% of molester’s are people that are a steady part of the child’s life, someone they trust. Those who experience early child abuse are known to lose trust, lack the ability to bond intimately, and even develop mental illness such as multiple personality disorder. Also, they are stuck with a heavy load of guilt.
But why is guilt associated with sexual abuse victims to such a great degree? An article in the Los Angeles Times dated July 7, 1985 notes that the sexual abuse victim is filled with guilt “because children are taught early not to talk about sex, to keep their clothes on in public. So after a sexual act occurs, the child assumes he/she is to blame.”
According to Child Abuse Statistics given by Childhelp.org, a child abuse report is made every ten seconds. Taking India into view, a UNICEF Representative to India reported that more than 7,200 children including infants are raped every year. According to TOI, 53% of children in India are victims of sexual abuse. Documentary filmmaker Sanjay Kumar Singh, who produced the film Chuppi Todo — Break the Silence (2011), said “As per statistics, every second child in India is a victim of sexual abuse.”
Mizoram stands out too. In a recent statistic released by Police CID (Crime), Mizoram had a recorded 712 cases of child sexual abuse from January 2012 to February 2017. In an average, 140 new cases each year, in other words, there are 140 young children molested in and around you every year.
Here is the sadder fact, many of these children do not even realize they have been a victim of sexual abuse. With sex being such a taboo word in the society, it has come to be that children experience it before they learn about it. “I was five years old when we were playing hide and seek and an older male cousin with whom I was hiding tried penetration but didn’t go through with it, the thing is I didn’t even know I was being sexually abused,” said Pari* another victim of child sexual abuse. As the situation was uncomfortable, I had a grave memory of it and only years down the line I realized I was abused, by then even this cousin had married and was with kids, she said.
As a close knit society, families share a strong bond, a bond that sometimes has to be framed for the sake of formality leading to rumours such as this ‘Her uncle tried to rape her but we settled it among the family because it will cause us a bad reputation in the society.’ It seems to be that concealing misdemeanours and keeping reputation at the forefront has emboldened this act, leading us to be the state with the highest percentage of child molestation in India as noted by the National Crime Record.
Here is the shocking factor – the family does not often support the victim. Early this year, there was a case where a 15 and 14 year old were raped by their step father for a total of three times but their mother stood by him. Somehow the two escaped and got through to the child helpline foundation. Just a month back, an eleven year old approached the child care unit saying three of her relatives had molested her. While interacting with her, it was found that even her 6 year old sister had been molested by such relatives. And what did the family do about it? They accused her of being a liar and a mentally unstable person, reputation reigning in first.
Child abuse does not belong to another nation, another community or to a neighbour, it knocks at your very door and parents have to face this reality and train their children to be wary of it. “The earlier we start talking with children about sexuality, even our very youngest, the better, said Robie H. Harris an author of children’s books. In 2013, the Chicago Public School made it mandatory to have sexual and health education for kindergarten classes. The curriculum included a focus on topics like bullying, correct names for external body parts and the difference between appropriate and inappropriate touching. The policy requires at least 300 minutes a year of sex education for kindergarten through fourth grade, and 675 minutes for fifth through 12th grades.
How many minutes are spent in Mizoram to educate our children regarding sexual education and how early? None, zero minutes to be exact. The Mizoram Post met the District Child Protection Unit officials in Mizoram who said as much as it would be instrumental to include sexual education in the syllabus starting from the Primary level, it is non existent as of now. The only sexual education the students of Mizoram get is through awareness programs conducted once in a while in schools and churches.
The District Child Protection Unit of the Social Welfare Department conducts campaigns, training sessions and takes awareness initiatives which have been cited as the reason for increase in reported cases. There are plans to make their awareness program reach out to all the schools in Aizawl district.
But, there is no one department of the government that can tend to every child’s whereabouts, even the extent of control of the parents is limited as children roam about during playtime and school time. What seems to be most important is education, to teach them the evil of practising sexual abuse when they are older and the importance of fearing it as soon as they start learning words. There are laws like the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012, to make sure justice is served. But how much could justice heal the scar that’s been imprinted in the child for life. Maybe it could help if one aimed to make ‘abuse’ a taboo word in the society rather than ‘sex’.
originally published in The Mizoram Post, April 11, 2017
image from here