Why Children Remain Silent About Sexual Abuse

Why do children stay silent about sexual abuse? A post for the UNICEF Red Siren campaign to #EndViolence against girls

Child Sexual Abuse – it happens to children of both sexes. But in the form of rape, it happens more to girls (especially if we also count child marriages, and marital rape). Little girls are being raped – a four year old, a nine year old. It doesn’t bear thinking about. In fact it’s so hard to deal with, we brush it aside, try and forget it, believe it’s happening to others. People of a different social strata, different community, maybe even a different religion. Not us. This helps us to distance from it. Of course, rapes of little girls don’t only happen in slums and we know that.

But I don’t want to write about the worst form of sexual abuse of little girls. Rape is violent and dramatic and makes headlines. Sexual abuse isn’t only about rape. Sexual abuse is far more insidious, supposedly mild and harmless compared to rape. But is it?

Survivors of sexual abuse suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) until and unless they are treated for the sexual abuse. And usually even after that, although they learn to handle it and to use the pain as a learning. But it can strike anytime and emotional triggers are many.

Why children stay silent about sexual abuseUNICEF has launched The Red Siren Campaign to draw attention to this silent epidemic.
Why do we call it silent? Because little girls who have been sexually abused don’t talk about it.
Why don’t they talk about it?


Children don’t have words to describe what has happened. Children don’t even have proper names to describe their genitals. Have you told your child that he has a penis, she has a vagina or do you simply use terms like chi chi or the place you pee from? Giving names to ALL body parts as naturally as you would name eyes, knees, cheeks, hair or nose immediately removes the secrecy and shame associated with sexual organs. And, your child will be able to tell you exactly what happened, which part was touched and how, should the need arise.


Children don’t talk about sexual abuse because they’re afraid nobody will believe them. And they’re probably right. Children have very strong instincts and they can sense when grownups are going to take the side of another grownup. Why do parents disbelieve their children? Because it’s so inconvenient to believe the truth. That an adult trusted with the care of the child has touched it inappropriately, possibly even hurt the child. It’s easier to brush it aside as lies. Although why a parent would think that a small child would lie about things they have no knowledge of, – sexual things – is very puzzling. When children have urinary infections, difficulty sitting down, blood on their underwear – that’s when parents believe them. Don’t let it get so far.
If your child tells you something, presume it’s true and look into the matter.

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Because of the guilt associated with sex, a guilt that’s such a huge part of our society, they’re going to think they have brought it upon themselves and not tell you. Have you as a parent noticed if you have the tendency to ask the child “But what did you do to make them behave like that?” If this is your reaction to your child’s complaints or confidences then you’re raising a child who blames herself for everything that happens to her. A child needs reassurance that her parents will help her fight her battles. The time for self reflection and self questioning is later, when the child is mature enough not to slip into self blame. Girl children particularly grow up believing everything is their fault. Unwanted from birth, seen as a burden and a financial liability, the only way that they can justify their existence is by being very good, causing no trouble, never complaining and for sure not telling about something that has the potential for so much trouble as child abuse.
Indian girls – unappreciated and under valued from birth believe that all the bad things that happen to them are because they are girls and a huge burden.
That’s why children are silent about the abuse that happens to them.


One of the ways abusers can continue perpetrating the sexual violence is by threatening the child. Perhaps he says he will harm her parents somehow, or her. Threaten to kidnap her. He may even give her a small taste of what could happen to her if she does tell her parents. Children can’t reason things out the way adults can and the wily adult who decides to abuse her has studied her for a while, knows her fears and weaknesses and plays on them. The abuse is never random. The abuser checks out the scenario, the psychological makeup of the child, the relationship between the child and her parents and siblings and he grooms the child progressively to make the crime somehow acceptable to her. After the first round of unacceptable touching, the child feels complicit in the crime and he can use that to threaten her.


Ensure that there’s a culture of listening to your child in your home. Take what they say at face value. Trust your child. Should the child tell you about something alarming that was done to her, don’t over react. Be patient, calm, kind, reassuring and loving. You can rant and show your anger when you’re alone or discussing with your spouse or your own parents. Not towards the child. She may misinterpret your anger and think it is directed at her.
Give proper names to all body parts and talk about bodily functions in a matter of fact way.

Raise your children to have self esteem. Respect them, appreciate them and honour them.

And I hope that you never need this advice. But remember, forewarned is forearmed and if you know what to watch out for you may be able to prevent it somehow.


About the Author


A freelance journalist and teacher, Kalpana is a feminist, an animal rights activist, passionate about the environment and fitness through yoga. She believes in a holistic and sustainable lifestyle and she also happens to be read more...

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