1. All child sex abusers are not paedophiles: While paedophilia is a clinical disorder where adults are sexually attracted only to prepubescent children, majority of child sex abusers are situational abusers. These are people who use a child for sex because the child is accessible, most commonly from within the family or household.
2. It is not a western concept: Paedophiles are found all over the world and possibly in your own backyard. Though no official statistics are available for the country, it is estimated that 20 per cent of children will experience some form of sex abuse before they reach 15.
3. Both boys and girls can be molested: Though paedophiles are usually exclusive in their sexual preferences (only boys or only girls), situational abusers often pick the child who is easily available to them. There have been cases of bisexual perpetrators in both cases.
4. People you know and trust are the biggest threat: While paedophiles often take up jobs that allow access to children — working in schools, crèches and homes, a situational abuser is usually a family member, a teacher, a priest, a servant or driver. Across all religions, celibate priests are twice as likely to abuse a child, and among family members, weddings offer common opportunities for situational abuse by a relative.
5. No age is a safe age: While US statistics put 11 years as the age where children are most vulnerable to abuse, infants as young as three days have been victims.
6. A molester does not have to be physically present to abuse: Paedophile rings across the world pick out victims on the Internet and invent games and ‘dares’ to get young Internet users to strip and touch themselves in front of the webcam.
7. Child sex abusers rarely use force: They may take several months to win a child’s trust before attempting molestation. They use bribes; cajole children into participating in a ‘secret’ act, play touching games and often start with innocuous tickling and hugging before crossing the line to sexual abuse. The child is often too young or too confused to know that he or she is being violated.
8. Paedophiles pick their victims carefully: They don’t look for the prettiest child or the chubbiest cheeks, but seek out the one who is the most vulnerable. Shy children with domestic problems are easy targets as they quickly drop their defences in the face of support and validation from the abuser.
9. Paedophiles form a kinship with fellow abusers: They are not sad, lonely people but systematically seek out others like themselves. They enjoy safety in numbers and use each other as an alibi, a friend to confess in and also as a source of tips.
10. Parents need counselling too: Some experience feelings of guilt and shame much like the child and blame themselves for having missed obvious signs. These parents would need counselling to effectively deal with such trauma. Those in denial must also seek help to effectively understand their child better.
Information courtesy: Dr Dayal Mirchandani, Psychiatrist, Behavioural Science Network.