CHENNAI: In India, a child is sexually abused every 15 minutes. “Unless we think and work as a community, our children won’t be safe,” said Mahima Poddar, founder, Kindness Project, child abuse awareness and prevention expert, addressing city-based mothers as part of a Child Abuse Awareness and Prevention workshop, curated by ‘InspirED Moms’ at iSpark Nutrience, Gopalapuram.
A 2017 National Crime Records Bureau report shows a steady rise in incidents of crime against children, and according to data collated by Mahima, about 40 per cent of the time, the abuser is a neighbour or a friend of the parent(s). “So, profiling a person who is likely to be an abuser on the basis of their marital status, economic background, profession, relation with the child or age doesn’t matter. The danger could be from anyone and it is important to teach skills to help children protect themselves and be vocal about the abuse,” she shared.
Talking to CE, Mahima said, “Child sexual abuse has been prevalent for a very long time. It’s only now that a lot of cases are being reported. I have conducted more than 100 such workshops across India. Every time I ask the participants — both men and women — this question: ‘Has anyone in this room not faced abuse of any kind as a child’, not a single hand goes up. So, almost everyone has been abused as a child, and a lot of people have the realisation that they were exploited, only during these workshops. It is unfortunate and sad.”
Mahima emphasised that she wants to educate parents who are in denial. “Parent(s) who usually attend these workshops want to know more. But, there are parents who are in denial. They put their child’s safety in line just because it’s difficult and inconvenient for them to believe what their child says or feels,” she explained.
She advised parent to have healthy conversations about the child’s private body parts from an early age, teach the child to say ‘no’ when they feel uncomfortable, empower them with body safety practices, good and bad touches, good secrets and bad secrets — the ones that make a child feel unsafe and uncomfortable, watch out for ‘grooming behaviour’ in adults, supervise play dates, and trust your instincts and that of the child.
When a child discloses abuse, remember to stay calm and listen to them. “Tell them that you believe them and are glad they told you. Tell the child that it is not their fault and do not prod them...limit it. Sexual abuse is always the fault of the bigger, older or stronger person,” she added.
Signs to look for
● Becoming quiet or sad
● Having nightmares
● Avoiding social situations
● Afraid of being left alone with someone in particular
● Being unusually anxious or fearful
● Enacting sexual play between dolls