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Tuesday, Aug 20, 2019

Where’s the support to help minor survivors of sexual abuse recover from their trauma

On the occasion of World Mental Health Day, HT interacted with two such survivors to understand how it has affected their psyche.

punjab Updated: Oct 11, 2018 10:14 IST
Aneesha Bedi
Aneesha Bedi
Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
(Representative image )

As the #MeToo movement gains momentum across the country with sexual harassment survivors coming out in the open, many have also expressed how their mental health has suffered.

Abuse needs to be prevented in any environment, but imagine the helplessness of children who have been victims - some so young that they cannot fathom what has happened to them.

If not given adequate support, psychiatrists say they can be scarred for life.

The impact of sexual abuse on a minor’s mental health continues to be undermined. On the occasion of World Mental Health Day, HT interacted with two such survivors to understand how it has affected their psyche.

Scared of stepping out of home

“I couldn’t go to school or step out of my house alone,” says a 15-year-old boy, a student of Class 10, who has been allegedly sexually assaulted by his female tutor. The matter is under trial and he’s sitting in a room outside the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Court waiting for his statement to be recorded, looking disturbed.

Cases received by the Child Welfare Committee from police
  • April 2017 to September 2018: 106
  • January 2016 to March 2017:  51 
  • January 2015 to December 2015: 45

His mother talks about how he missed school for nearly a week as the accused, currently out on bail, threatened and followed him, asking him to take back the complaint.

“He’s a child. Imagine how this has affected him if we find his story so disturbing,” says the mother. Unable to focus on his studies ahead of his examinations, his health has deteriorated. “He lies awake at night,” she laments. The father is optimistic that the teenager has shown progress in the past one week.

The teacher lived in the same colony as him. The alleged sexual abuse case hit the headlines after police arrested the tutor on May 24 after the child helpline filed a police complaint.

The families know each other well, which is why the teenager and his sister started taking tuitions from her from September 2017. The police complaint said the woman asked the teenager’s parents to send the sister for tuitions at a different time to enable her to focus on their son.

She was sexually abusing him since March.

She faints often: Father of 6-year-old rape survivor

Two months after a 35-year-old man got life term for the rape of a 6-year-old girl, her father’s tears continue to flow.

“How can I be fine if my daughter isn’t?” he asks. Back from the hospital after getting her checked up,this peon with a private firm talks on the phone.

“She collapses every now and then and keeps talking about what happened to her. She’s a child and does not quite know or understand what has happened to her,” he says.

She was raped in December 25 last year after being lured by the man with the promise of a biscuit and kidnapped. Last month she joined school. Her family is yet to receive the Rs 2 lakh compensation the court ordered.

The father does not know what a counsellor is when asked if they were receiving any support for the child to help her forget the incident.

Treatment gap?

While effective adolescent mental health programmes are in place in the country, there’s a lot to be desired when it comes to treatment of survivors. Children should be helped to tackle changes at various levels, emotional, hormonal, bodily changes, making them susceptible to peer pressure or enhancing risk taking behaviour.

Sangita Vardhan, head, Child Welfare Committee, Chandigarh, believes adverse childhood experiences result in significant mental health impairment. However, only very rudimentary mental health services are available in children’s homes.

“We need more inter-agency convergence to leverage support for children with adverse childhood experiences,” she told Hindustan Times.

The most significant outcome of childhood abuse was the dropout rate of girls in Chandigarh due to sexual abuse in childhood.

Mental health support a must

According to Manjit Sandhu, lawyer and member of the POCSO panel, Chandigarh, “Even though POCSO courts award compensation to victims, the amount at times doesn’t even reach them. There should a separate mandate for mental health support as even families are not educated enough to help their children. The counsellors are there temporarily during the trial post which they aren’t seen around. This is when the child is most vulnerable.”

Former dean and head of psychiatry department, PGIMER, Chandigarh, Savita Malhotra said a huge percentage of depression cases are due to some sort of sexual abuse encountered during childhood.

“It is important to bring a change in mentality and outlook in the society otherwise nothing helps. I’ve personally tried to tell mothers who have come to me with a children who have been sexually assaulted by their own fathers, that it was a criminal case. This one lady and her brother vanished and never came back to me. Imagine, how violated the child, the victim, must have felt after that,” she says.

First Published: Oct 11, 2018 10:14 IST

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