Wednesday March 6, 2013
Betraying the trust
Rapists are often people victims trust, not strangers in dark alleys.
AS a child, Amelia* was taught never to talk to strangers. She was told to run and scream for help if a stranger tried to hurt her or made her feel uncomfortable in any way. And, if a stranger offered her sweets, she was to say “No!”.
No one ever warned Amelia to be wary of family members because they are supposed to love her. So, when Amelia was eight and an uncle approached her with candy and gifts and proceeded to cuddle her tight and touch her inappropriately, she was thoroughly confused.
Women and girls are constantly warned about the evil out in the world.
We are all taught about stranger danger. According to the Women’s Centre for Change (WCC), an estimated 80% of rapes are committed by people known to the victims, usually someone they know and trust, such as parents, relatives, neighbours and friends.
Children are particularly vulnerable to sexual abuse by family members or those close to the family as they are trusting and helpless, but teenagers and adults can also be exploited by these predators.
It happens in all strata of society; the perpetrator could be an unemployed man or a professional. But they all prey on the vulnerable.
Musician Anoushka Shankar, daughter of the legendary Indian sitar player Ravi Shankar, recently admitted she was sexually abused as a child.
“As a child, I suffered sexual and emotional abuse for several years at the hands of a man my parents trusted implicitly,” she said in a video. Anoushka, 31, shared her story during the recent Valentine’s Day global One Billion Rising movement “for the child in me who I don’t think will recover from what happened”.
“The majority of child sexual abuse cases is caused by people the children know, love and trust. The perpetrators ‘groom’ the children by building the trust between them,” says P. Nagasayee Malathy, executive director of Protect and Save the Children, a non-profit organisation that works extensively with victims of child sexual abuse.
“Grooming” is a process by which an abuser draws his/her victim into an intimate relationship, making sure that the relationship is kept secret by making the child feel he or she is a part of it.
Typically, abusers target their victim by sizing up a child’s vulnerability. Children who are emotionally needy, have low self-confidence, and have less parental oversight are prime targets.
Abusers observe the child’s needs and subsequently begin to fill these needs gradually – such as by paying them attention, praising them, giving them gifts and treats, for instance – thus building trust or a special relationship with the child.
They then create situations that allow them to be alone together with the children: baby-sitting, tutoring them, driving them to and from school, etc. Once trust has been built, the abuser sexualises the relationship. Finally, the abuser asserts control by insisting upon secrecy and cunningly introducing blame and guilt to maintain the child’s continued participation.
“It is important that we all know about this ‘grooming’ process so that we can stop blaming the child,” says Malathy.
Before the Child Protection Act (1991) and the Child Act came into force, authorities had no tool to take action against parents who refused to protect their children from abuse. Now, officers of the Department of Social Welfare have the authority to protect any child from abuse at any point.
Once a report is made (by the victim or a concerned party), a welfare officer has to go to the ground to investigate the allegations within four hours.
“If the officers suspect abuse, the child is removed from the home immediately and taken to the hospital for a medical examination. The child will also appear in court and will be in the protective custody of the welfare department for one month. The child will be kept in a safe place, away from the perpetrator, pending further investigation,” says social worker Amy Bala.
Family support for children who have been sexually abused is crucial, adds Malathy. Children must feel like they can talk about the abuse without being blamed for it.
“Child protection should start with the family. Trust your child when he or she shares about sexual abuse. Listen to them and assure them that you believe them. Always be vigilant at home or wherever the child goes. Teach your child about personal safety measures, and about safe and unsafe touch,” she says.