First things first: child sexual abuse (CSA) is more common than you think. No one's immune, certainly not little boys (contrary to popular belief). Ask around, like we have, and you'll realise just how common it is.
Why such grim news straight off, you're wondering? Because all of us need to abandon the 'it doesn't happen in good families'/'it won't happen to my child' attitude so that it doesn't happen to any of our children. And even if it happens to one in a thousand kids, we don't want our kids to be that one, right?
Child abuse often leads to a cycle, where the victim turns into an abuser in later life or becomes vulnerable to further abuse. Parents and guardians are the first and most effective barriers that protect children from abusers. But no parent can be around absolutely all the time. Here's how we can get our kids to help us protect them:
Start early: CSA activist Harish Iyer, who has also been a victim of abuse as a child, says, "Every child is vulnerable to abuse, irrespective of age or background. So talk to your children as early as you can. Children have a very strong intuition. Even if they don't understand what's happening, they generally know when something bad is being done to them. Create a free-to-share atmosphere at home. They shouldn't be intimidated or embarrassed to share anything."
Share the rule of touch: The idea is not to alarm or scare them so much that they shy away from all new people. So keep the communication simple. Social psychologist Chandni Parekh, who specialises in sexuality education, says, "A child needs to be told that certain parts of their body should not be touched except by caregivers. Good-touch/bad-touch knowledge is very important. Children should be told to inform their parents if they have been touched inappropriately."
Protect from porn: In addition to touch, children need to know that they must raise an alarm if an adult exposes his/her private parts or asks them to show theirs, or talks about sex, pornography or related topics that make the child uncomfortable. Tell them repeatedly that there must be no 'secrets' about touching between them and any adult. Most kids are afraid of not being believed, or worse, blamed, if they complain about being abused by a family member. They must be be assured that no matter who it is, the touching rule cannot be broken and that you have complete faith in what they're saying.
Enlist the school's help: Traditionally, Indian families have shied away from talking about sex, and sex education isn't given much importance in schools either. "If we continue to withhold information about sex and the possibility of sexual abuse, as well as information about reproduction and disease, we put all children at risk," says Harish. Other experts too emphasise the need to have multiple points of education. "What if the abuser is a parent or close relative? It is imperative that the child has an outlet outside of the home, too," he says.
If there's something you've done, a method you've adopted or an explanation that's worked for your kids without alarming them, share it with the parents here. We're sure you agree that some lessons mustn't be learnt from experience...