The media is abuzz these days with horrendous stories of child sexual abuse, the most recent incidents being of abuse in shelter homes in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. While the trauma experienced by the girls will send a chill down the spines of most people, it is disheartening that hardly anyone seems to be concerned about the "why" of these incidents.
There are marches held, opinions articulated, outcries about how the offender deserves to be handled/punished but nothing on how the girls deserve protection or why this horrific injustice happened in the first place -- and definitely nothing on how such incidents can be prevented. This is the sad but bitter truth.
To overcome any social problem, however severe, it is important to understand its root cause. It is also extremely important to work on prevention, rather than on intervention. But at the moment, given that such crimes are so rampant, we need to work on prevention as well as intervention.
Let us, however, first try to understand the "why". Why are children abused? The different reasons may include:
- Many abusers carry the burden of a past childhood sexual abuse themselves. Not provided with any intervention to heal the emotional trauma, they simply do to children what was done to them.
- Many abusers develop an instinctive desire to experience a sexual relationship with a child; some develop an urge/fantasy to experience abnormal sex with children.
- Many others simply believe this is the best way to understand sex.
- Still others, who do not have a healthy orientation towards sexual activity, believe in bizarre methods of gratification.
- A majority of the abusers indulging in non-touch forms of abuse are blissfully unaware that their acts are punishable under the POCSO Act.
- There are also individuals who may have severe personality disorders, leading them to become child sexual abusers.
Once we are aware of the common causes, it is essential that we set about preventing these causes and assuaging the trauma of the survivors. It is important for us, as a country, to become more psychologically minded and facilitate psycho-social intervention for every child sexual abuse victim. Treatment and rehabilitation of children who have experienced child sexual abuse is one sure way to reduce the number of adult abusers.
Acknowledging that many adults develop an innate desire to experience sex with children/minors and encouraging them to undergo psychotherapy is another way to work towards preventing child sexual abuse.
Healthy sex education in the pre-adolescent period will also prevent many young adolescents and adults from indulging in child sexual abuse. As a society, we need to develop a healthy attitude towards sex, sexuality and sexual relationships. We need to be able to perceive it as a healthy physiological activity.
While the percentage of abusers is quite low, the percentage of passive bystanders is worryingly large. It is extremely essential that every bystander turn into an activist for this cause in his own environment. It is time every adult takes this up as his/her life mission; he/she must not hesitate to report sexual abuse occurring within families; it is time every adult spoke up to protect children from being abused.
If only the adults in the lives of those girls in the shelter homes, where abuse has been reported, felt responsible and accountable, these crimes could have been prevented and those girls would have been saved from experiencing physical and psychological trauma.
Prevention, developing psychological mindedness, creating awareness, sex education -- in simple words, transforming ourselves into responsible adults.
Child sexual abuse is a social problem that needs various interventions -- and a stricter law is just one of them. We as a society ignore the psycho-social angle which is an important sphere of intervention. Psychological mindedness, psycho-socio intervention for the abused as well as the abuser; a much more responsible and accountable society -- are some of the keys to overcoming this social malaise.
(Mahalakshmi Rajagopal, Founder-Director of Sahayam Trust, is a trained psychologist who has worked extensively in the area of child sexual abuse. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)