BANGALORE : Many perpetrators of child sexual abuse are victims of sexual violence themselves, experts say.
City Express asked doctors and psychiatrists how children and their parents can identify offenders and prevent abuse.
According to Dr Shaibya Saldanha, co-founder, Enfold India, an organisation that works with victims of child sexual abuse, the offenders can be anywhere between 14 and 60, and in some cases, older.
They are mostly cheerful, heterosexual males usually married with children of their own.
"Most sex offenders usually focus all their energies and attention on one child at a time, taking him or her out for treats, more than any of the other children," she says.
Lavanya Devdas, a child rights advocacy specialist, disagrees, saying current society has turned overtly xenophobic. "It is important to empower the child in a way that she can confidently get out of an uncomfortable situation and make proper decisions, as adults are not always going to be around," she says.
She says most sex offenders are disturbed because they are sexual abuse victims.
"As a result of this, they have low self-esteem, just like the victims, and use projection as a means of defence. They are usually too friendly and engage in grooming activities with the child before making a move," says Lavanya.
Behavioural changes are the most important key to understanding if a child has been abused.
"Children who have been abused may show multiple signs, like nervousness, depression, withdrawal, aggression towards adults, alcohol consumption or substance abuse," says Lavanya.
Some children also exhibit early onset of inappropriate sexual behaviour, she says. This includes using adult language and slang terms for sex, talking about sex incessantly, and expressing interest in sex and more.
Signs of trauma Other symptoms include problems with sleeping, bed-wetting and nightmares. "Some children express fear of being alone with certain relatives and refuse to hug or be around certain individuals, which parents should take seriously," Saldanha says.
Some of these symptoms, however, could point to other kind of trauma, like bullying as well, she warns. Currently only 10 per cent of child victims come forward and talk about being abused.
Physical symptoms also should not be overlooked.
"Often infections like urinary tract infection (UTI) occurring in young boys and girls suggests penetration and should be looked into as a sign of sexual abuse," says Lavanya.
Who is the typical child molester?
A study conducted on child sex offenders in treatment at the Center for Behavioral Intervention in Oregon, USA, suggests parents and teachers look out for these tell-tale signs.
A potential offender pays attention to your child and makes her/him feel special.
He presents the appearance of being someone you and your family can trust and rely on.
He gets to know your child’s likes and dislikes very well.
He goes out of his way to buy gifts or treats your child will like.
He isolates your child by involving him in fun activities to be together alone.
If you are a single parent, he may prey on your fears about your child lacking a father figure or a stable home life.
If his career involves working with children, he may choose to spend free time helping children or taking them on “special outings”.
He takes advantage of your child’s natural curiosity about sex by telling “dirty” jokes, showing her/him pornography and by playing sexual games.
Probably knows more about what kids like than you do (music, clothing, video games, language, etc.)
Makes comments like, “Anyone who molests a child should be shot!” or “Sexually abusing a kid is the sickest thing anyone can do.”
If he is a parent, it is even easier for him to isolate, control and molest his own children. He can sexually abuse his children without his wife ever suspecting a thing.
He may touch your child in your presence so that he/she thinks you are comfortable with the way he touches them.
She recalls a case where a young child of 4, who was often alone at home with the house maid, started exhibiting rashes in his genital area. Perplexed the parents took the child to the doctor, but it was diagnosed as a symptom of poor hygiene. The mother then took over bathing duties of her child, and it was only then that she realised that the rashes were a result of the maid (who chewed tobacco regularly) sexually abusing the child.
Teachers need to keep an eye out for children who are suddenly failing exams or doing poorly in studies, getting bullied, have low self-esteem and are suffering from an existential crisis.