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Protecting children from sexual abuse

THE QUESTION whether the Nithari killings were linked to sex abuse of children has ignited concerns of parents at the alarming rise in the number of cases involving molestation of innocent and unsuspecting children.

india Updated: Jan 09, 2007 14:56 IST

THE QUESTION whether the Nithari killings were linked to sex abuse of children has ignited concerns of parents at the alarming rise in the number of cases involving molestation of innocent and unsuspecting children.

Arrest statistics and records of police complaints indicate that child molestation cases constitute a noticeable portion of sexually related crimes. Problems in reporting of this behaviour may make the true incidence difficult to determine.

Several families refuse to report such acts when they occur for fear of the effect of publicity on the child, the stress of the police- legal system, and harassment from the pedophile (child molester).

What kind of a person  is a child molester? Nearly all pedophiles are male and about two thirds of their victims are girls, typically between the ages of  8 and 11. In at least one-half to two-thirds of the cases, the child molester is an acquaintance or a relative of the child.

Poor life adjustments are responsible for the displacement  of sexual drive from adult objects to children in most pedophiles. They have been  consistently found to be immature, inadequate in social situations and having a higher than average rate of other problems in sexual functioning. They are in fact, poorly equipped to compete for adequate sexual relationships in the adult world. As  a consequence they turn to children for satisfaction.

The severe social penalties and negative social reactions do not seem to check their behaviour because of yet another characteristic ascribed to this group – a lack of control over impulses.

Remember that both girls and boys are at risk of being sexually abused. Parents can keep in mind the following while preparing children to protect themselves.

1. He or she must not speak to strangers. Getting into a strangers’ home or car should be absolutely forbidden.

2. Simple explanations such as no one should be allowed to touch areas covered by swimming costumes, serve to explain the concept of  private body parts to small children.

3. Help your child feel comfortable in coming to ask you questions about sex. Don’t embarrass a child or tell him or her “you are too young to understand that now.”  If a child is old enough to ask questions, he or she  needs to understand it at some level.

4. After you have tried to answer your child’s question, check to see if your answer is understood. Also give a chance to your child to ask more questions that may arise from the answer you have provided.

What to tell children  about sexual abuse
EVEN PRE-school children should know how to protect themselves from sexual abuse. This means that you need to let them know that it’s okay to say  ‘No’ to an adult . An example of how to discuss this with a four-year- old: “There are big people who have a hard time making friends with other big people. So sometimes they make friends with kids.

And that’s OK, but sometimes they ask kids to do things big people shouldn’t ask kids to do. Like, they ask them to put their hands down their pants, or to touch you in the area covered by your swimming costume. If anyone asks you to do that or asks you to do something  strange and asks you to keep it a secret, I want you to say ‘No’ and come tell me right away.” If you suspect a child close to you is being abused, sensitive management of the situation  is essential.

Avoid asking explicit or leading questions, since children will often reply in a way that they think will please an adult. Instead, encourage the child to feel comfortable in your presence. A question such as, “You don’t look very happy today – is there anything I can do to help?”  is more specific, open-ended and clear than, “Is there anything you are not telling me?”

Above all, remember the  effects of child abuse are serious as regards proper psychological development of the child. It also significantly affects the nature of intimate relationship that the child might have with others as an adult. If you think your fears of abuse are well-founded or shared by other adults whom you believe to be objective and impartial, contact a professional.

(The author is a psychologist and heads twin departments of Psychology and Social Work at BSSS. He can be contacted at drvinaymishra@rediffmail.com )