BANGALORE: If a child claims to be ill and refuses to go out and play, parents may have reason to worry that he or she might be a victim of sexual abuse, say experts.
In view of the recent cases of sexual abuse of minors, it has become important for parents and family to be able to read the signs. Studies have shown that more boys are sexually abused than girls. Dr Shekhar P Sheshadri, child psychiatrist at NIMHANS, says, “This is not the first or the last case of child sexual abuse. We, at NIMHANS, will circulate a list of measures to help identify such victims.”
Dr Shaibya Saldanha, child psychiatrist at Enfold, says such children may display physical as well as psychological symptoms, such as stomach ache, sleeplessness, urinary infection, bed wetting, avoiding people, withdrawing into oneselves and refusing to go out and play.
There may be children who may not show any symptoms as they have somehow come to terms with it and don’t want to disclose it to others. Parents must look out for warning signs like changes in habits, falling grades, recurring illness and faking illness.
Dr Dhanya Raveendranathan, assistant professor at the Department of Psychiatry at Dr B R Ambedkar Medical College, says children must be educated about sexual abuse.
“A five-year-old child can be taught to distinguish between good and bad touch. They must understand it is not their fault. Most of the time, the abusers are known to the victims. So the theory of ‘don’t talk to strangers’ may not work. They must know that their bodies are their own. They can say no to a hug if they want,” she says.
Child psychiatrists say children should be told they are the first protectors of their bodies. They are small and the person troubling them may be bigger than them, therefore they should ask for help — asking for help is a sign of courage.
What to Look Out For
Dr Sangeetha Saxena, associated with Enfold Proactive Health Trust and CPRU in some hospitals, shares a few pointers on how to find out if a child has been sexually abused:
Social behaviour: A happy child may become introvert, silent, refuse to participate in group activities. The child may become insecure and cling to a trusted adult or become excessively fearful. Occasionally, he or she may become violent or easily enraged. The child may try to avoid coming in contact with a particular person.
Personal grooming: May neglect personal appearance or deliberately try to look unhygienic, shabby or unattractive. May start wearing multiple layers of clothing, or those inappropriate for the weather.
Academic performance: May show poor concentration, distraction or lack of interest in academics. May fall asleep at school as sexual abuse may cause sleepless nights/nightmares/ disturbed sleep.
Sexualised behaviour: May replay the abuse with another child, generally younger or same age.
Eating habits: Child may start losing weight or start eating excessively.