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Often, a child who is a victim of child sexual abuse is silenced when not taken seriously by trusted adults, who might prefer to close their eyes for social prestige.
I was molested at the age of 13 by someone known to me. At that age, you feel violated, but you are completely at loss of words.
I felt ashamed and violated. A plethora of emotions went through my mind. It took me months to figure out what happened to me. I kept my mouth shut because I had no words. After lot of analysis my innocent mind convinced itself that it was my fault. Maybe I asked for it. I should not have worn a skirt above my knees. Good girls lower down their voice and raise the length of their skirts.
I stopped wearing skirt altogether. At 16, I switched to salwaar kameez and pants which covered every inch of my body. To my surprise it did not helped either. I was riding my bicycle and was eve-teased in the middle of the road. I felt helpless. I did not know which attire I should shift to. This time I cried my heart out to friends. They had experienced similar incidences. They sympathized with me and we all mourned at our helplessness. This is what we all had seen women in our respective families doing. I was satisfied that I could talk about it this time.
The incidences of sexual assaults continued in the years to come. I recall travelling in Delhi Transport Corporation buses during college days. I used to thank god when someone would not touch, pinch or brush themselves against my body. I felt violated but I now knew it was not my fault.
The bruised child was the foundation of an angry woman. Coming to a metropolitan city and learning to express myself was a liberating experience. I could speak without shame. I started interacting with women who have been though similar experience in their childhood.
To my surprise, some of my male friends were also targeted as a child. There were a few common points in all the stories, I heard. Most of the times, the perpetrator was someone known to the family. Nobody believed them and no action was taken against it. In all the cases, the burden of shame of child sexual abuse was with the victim and not the offender. Even if it is not shame, women chuckle about it if the seriousness of act was mild. Say for instance, an elderly stranger masturbating at the bus stop or a male relative trying to brush up against your body.
This makes me question the values of our social set up which belittles such experiences inside and outside our homes. Our way of solving the problem is to cover up the problem.
Indians rely on their social capital. We take pride in remembering our family history, father, forefathers, etc. and thus we have this multiple branches of first and second cousins. It is the family you trust first and then friends. Family in this context would encapsulate all those distant cousins and relatives, who you get as your social capital in legacy. This doesn’t get enough attention due to paucity of time and children grow up in a small community of uncles, aunts, cousins – this social capital is never a choice for an individual. In cases where avuncular love costs an individual her childhood, it is the most toxic way you can bring up a child.
For a girl it’s not during the onset of menstrual cycle that she comes to know for the first time that she is a woman which would probably mean following certain rules related to her sexuality and ‘shame’. The ‘stronger’ sex makes them realize the fact at the tender age of five or six. A pedophile might be an uncle, family friend or a distant cousin, living as a parasite in your household without you having inkling of what damage he is capable of inflicting on your little baby.
A friend mentioned that a family friend inserted his finger in her private part at the tender age of six. She could never express it as a child. Years later she has become an extremely possessive parent never trusting any man in the family. In the case of another friend, a tuition teacher tried to feel her non-existent breast when she was a 10 year old. No wonder, she has no respect for elders in the family. Worse amongst all, a guy friend was asked to have oral sex at the age of seven. He has left the country for good.
My idea of giving gross details is to just convey how such heinous acts affect the psyche of children and causes permanent damage, shaping an adult with a permanent hurt. Our society does not even try to heal these cases. As much as we want to believe that such cases are rarity, the fact is that majority of children go through such experiences.
The most dismal aspect of this issue is that women have to accept it as a natural phenomenon and stop questioning about it. The perpetrator feels that it is his birth right to bully, molest and sexually assault the victim. The deafening silence of the victim and family members encourage the perpetrator.
Women are accepted as an object of lust and not human beings. Unfortunately the code of conduct for being a good woman does not allow them to express their displeasure or anger. However suppression does not solve the problem. It is expressed in the micro-aggression patterns of adults and creates a lot of confusion for people around them. Even if they express it, parents in most of the cases do not stand by their children for they fear their social acceptability. Social prestige is prioritised over the mental health of the children. No wonder that mental health is not a priority of most of the people in our country and they don’t fail to joke about it.
Gender stereotypes expect a man to either be a protector or a destroyer. A woman is either a nurturer or a victim. If they fail to fit into any of these patterns, they become outcasts for society. So they choose not to speak, and try their best to fit into one of these roles.
It is important to teach your child expression and not suppression. It is unfortunate for any child to go through child sexual abuse. If a child does not feel safe at home, she/he may want to explore that feeling elsewhere. It can be overwhelming for parents and dangerous for a child. When a child is expressing what she/he feels, respect her/him as an individual from a very early age. After all, she/he is also an individual with senses to feel in a different stage of development.
Before you trust an outsider, trust your child’s word. Living in an illusion of social prestige will not help you in the long run but maintaining a healthy relationship with your children is a gift you will get forever. You will never feel respect starved because you will command respect for standing by them through thick and thin.
Image source: shutterstock
Priya Tripathi identifies herself as a feminist, bibliophile, survivor and a runner. She believes her
It is a good idea to bring up and speak openly about this topic Priya. It cannot and should not be swept under the carpet any longer. The offenders often walk about confidently and free from any judgement or punishment and the unfortunate victims cringe in shame and guilt and pain for the rest of their lives. This has to change. You have rightly spoken about this issue and we must create more awareness to sensitise kids and parents around us of the danger that often lies right under our nose in our own families, and so called circle of “well wishers” whom we refuse to accept as evil or deny punishing for their wickedness-all in the name of friendship or family honour. It is high time in India we stop pretending that all is well in our great traditions and values. We must expose and shame the offenders and support victims so that these crooked and perverted individuals don’t continue with their destructive and criminal behaviour.
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