Opening up to facts about incest and child sexual abuse

The photograph shows a game in progress as part of a child sexual abuse awareness generation workshop organized by RAHI Foundation at Rabindra Bharati University, Kolkata in 2015. The participants, around 10 in number, are all older adolescents or young adults (most of them young women). The venue is an indoor one. The game seems to be focussed on team work and coordination. The participants, standing side-by-side in a long chain, are barefoot and have their ankles tied to the person next to them on either side with pieces of cloth. With hands held or placed over each other’s shoulders, they are required to step forward together into hooplas placed on the floor. The participants seem to be all cheerful and having good fun in the process. Behind the participants is a banner that says “RAHI Foundation Youth Community Programme on Child Sexual Abuse, Kolkata

Q&A - Child Sexual Abuse, Oct '18
RAHI Foundation on prevention, age and sexuality nuances of incest / child sexual abuse

Reader queries

What can one do to prevent child sexual abuse?
Worried parent, Delhi

Dear Worried Parent

Prevention of child sexual abuse is primarily the responsibility of the adults in the child’s life. The most basic step towards that is for adults to learn the facts about child sexual abuse. This will help one understand the risks that children face.  Of course, equipping children with basic ways of keeping themselves safe and teaching them about ‘safe’ and ‘unsafe’ touch is necessary. This coupled with the fact that they have full right over their bodies.

More importantly adults need to be more in tune with their children and create safe spaces where children are allowed to express their feelings openly, without being shut up. Adults who create a strong emotional bond with their children will be in a position to prevent abuse from happening or at least will be able to recognize the signs as soon as something happens, even if the child doesn’t talk about it.

If abuse is indeed happening, then the adult’s response has to be very open and understanding. This will go a long way in helping the child recover from the trauma of the abuse.

What if two people below 18 years of age are involved in sexual exploration with mutual consent? Would this also be considered child sexual abuse? What if they’re siblings?
Anonymous, Kolkata

Dear Anonymous

Sexual exploration is not sexual abuse, even amongst siblings. Sexual abuse has very clear signs of a play of power, and is a violation. It’s accompanied with feelings of helplessness, confusion, shame, guilt and so on. Sexual exploration can turn into sexual abuse. We’ve seen this happen in cases where sexual interaction starts with exploration but moves into becoming abuse when one person doesn’t want it any more – the interaction doesn’t stop and a boundary gets crossed.

However, please keep in mind that according to the law, the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act, 2012, any sexual activity below the age of 18, even if it's consensual, is considered child sexual abuse.

Is it true that homosexuals are child sexual abusers?
A concerned teacher, Kolkata

Dear Concerned Teacher

This is a big myth! Such an idea comes more from homophobia, that is, a hatred of or bias against 'homosexuals' or people who have same-sex relationships. It could also be an outcome of ignorance, rather than an understanding of incest / child sexual abuse. Same-sex attracted people can also sexually abuse children. But there’s no basis for thinking that if someone has a homosexual or bisexual orientation, they will sexually abuse children.

In fact, the majority of child molesters, of both boys and girls, are known to be heterosexual. But sexual orientation of the abuser has no link with their abusive behaviour.

Please click here for the previous issue of this Q&A column on child sexual abuse and related issues – Editor.

About the main photo: A child sexual abuse awareness generation workshop organized by RAHI Foundation at Rabindra Bharati University, Kolkata in 2015. Photo courtesy: RAHI Foundation

Author Photo

RAHI Foundation

RAHI Foundation is a centre for women survivors of incest and child sexual abuse based in Delhi and Kolkata. It has been working since 1996 to end incest / child sexual abuse and address its long-term impact on women survivors. Write in your queries to kolkata.rahifoundation@gmail.com, and they will be answered with due respect to confidentiality.

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