With the media in recent months constantly throwing up occasions of child sexual abuse (CSA) one would think that there is a sudden spurt in perverted behavior or that it is a horrifying new trend. Worrying though it is, that is not so. For unlike today, previously there was, for one thing, no social media and the news media, conservative at best, didn’t dwell too much on such topics. Also unlike in the past rather than trying to hush up such incidents or brushing it under the carpet for fear of embarrassment and loss of reputation, people have begun to openly address the issue which all things considered is an extremely good thing.
But having said that, CSA is indeed a perturbing reality. And now that it is out of the closet as it were, though there is no need to be overly alarmed, we need to tackle it the right way. With a little extra care and vigilance, we can most certainly prevent such incidents from happening and keep our children safe.
The World Health Organization defines CSA as ‘The involvement of a child in sexual activity that he or she does not fully comprehend, is unable to give informed consent to, or for which the child is not developmentally prepared, or else that violate the laws or social taboos of society. Children can be sexually abused by adults or other children who are –by virtue of their age or stage of development – in a position of responsibility, trust, or power over the victim.’
In layman language therefore, any untoward action with sexual overtones with contact or without – touching, kissing or even verbal innuendos – with regard to a child’s private parts or his by an adult, is CSA-Bad touch.
We need to now empower our little ones tactfully with the same knowledge so that they can protect themselves if ever the need arises. It is after all impossible to be with your child 24/7. Thus the role of a parent in creating an environment that not only takes into account the overall development of the child but also the child’s personal safety is crucial and cannot be overemphasized.
So how do we do that? Some parenting tips that can get you started.
1) Safety Rules: Create a set of safety rules that you can implement for your child according to various situations. Don’t we tell them to look left and right before crossing the road; not to play with knives or poisonous stuff? Similarly, without scaring them, regularly tell them not to talk to/go with strangers or not to allow anybody to touch/hug them unnecessarily. Discuss it with other parents, teachers, and counselors who can help you frame a set of such rules. Include them in the safety rules at various stages of your child’s social development.
2) Good touch and Bad touch: Start reading about it and discuss with experts to get a good understanding of this topic, before you begin talking about it with your child. By explaining it in simple terms you inculcate protective measures in your child. Discuss the body with your child. Label its various parts and tell them who should be allowed to touch and not touch where. This is not about sex but about how to keep your child safe. They are safe guards. Both parents can do it. This is more effective since it will involve the whole family in the discussion. Then when teachers and school counselors take it up, the child will accept it more readily. Or vice versa. Haven’t you noticed how often your child tells you what ‘my teacher said?’
3) Be ever vigilant: We need to be aware of who our children are mixing with. Most children under five are not aware of good and bad touch. But you are. The moment you notice something awry, warn or take your child away.
Do not allow the child – even your 9/10-year-olds – to be alone, however rude it might seem, with anyone who –
- Brings expensive gifts for the child for no reason
- Likes to spend an unnecessarily long time with the child
- Is keen on physical affection especially if the child appears uncomfortable
- Tries to spend time with the child too often in your absence
- Wants to often play games with the child – e.g. hide n seek
- The child seems afraid/anxious/nervous of – whoever it might be
- You yourself feel uncomfortable about
It is better to err on the side of caution.
3) Perpetrators: Be aware of not just the stranger in your midst but the overly doting and affectionate uncle, cousin, neighbor, domestic-help or even another older kid. Statistics tell us that almost always children knew and trusted their perpetrators. It can happen in your own home among people who could be close to you and your child. Almost all abusers may come across as – gentle perhaps, well behaved and affectionate. They are not always social outcasts, misfits or abusive strangers.
4) Anywhere: Be aware no place is really safe. Child abuse can happen at play, at school or at even at friendly sleepovers, so parental or some supervision is a must. So you need to
- Know where your children are always
- Set rules as to where they can go or not go
- Who they may speak or not speak to
- What to do if there’s a change of plans
- Encourage the buddy system
5) Open Communication: Be always available to talk/listen to your child. Unfettered parent-child communication is extremely essential. Your child must feel that he – young boys too are victims of CSA – or she can talk to you about anything and everything, anytime.
6) Know your child: Good parenting is to know their likes and dislikes, their fears and anxieties – how they react to situations. A parent-child relationship built on mutual trust, love and confidence are important. So that they grow in self- confidence and self- esteem under parental guidance.
7) Modern technology: CCTVs, child monitors and other safe guard measures are easily available in the market. You can even keep an eye on your little one from your office.
8) Safe Circle: Create a ‘safe circle’ for your child which comprises a set of 5-6 people who you trust your child with. These can be grandparents, aunts etc. who the child can approach for help or guidance when you are not around. Tell these adults about this safe circle and their role/ responsibility as part of the child’s safe circle. The child should also know about his or her safe circle members and should be comfortable with them.
9) Contact Information: Always arm your child with your name, address and telephone number when the child is out. Also, provide an alternate contact that the child or someone else can call up in case of any problem anywhere. Pin it on the child’s dress or inside a pocket. Apart from keeping the kid safe, it increases the self-confidence.
10) Child safety measures: Keep abreast with the latest prevention and parenting tips through teachers, books and online. You also need to keep an eye on your child’s online activities. Unknown Facebook friends for example must be discouraged
So a little forethought and caution with some proactive steps in this regard are all that’s required to keep your child safe.
About the author – Sreelata Menon
Armed with a Masters in History, Sreelata was an Assistant Editor with the erstwhile Onlooker and World Trade Magazines before teaching History to undergraduates and doing a stint in an advertising agency. Reinventing herself as a web content writer, she writes regular blogs on freelance basis on child development and current happenings for online and print publications. Now established as a children’s writer, her books include Guru Nanak and Indira Gandhi for Penguin-Puffin. She is also the author of ‘Freelance Writing for the Newbie Writer’.
Coming up next – How to talk to your child about Good touch and Bad touch.