Child Abuse is more common than we think. The statistics are staggering with 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys being molested by the age of 18. And these numbers only include the reported cases. It is safe to assume that the actual numbers are much larger. It’s unfortunate that people in just about every strata of our society avoid talking about the topic as it is seen as sensitive and “against our culture” to discuss such matters openly.
Truth is, this is indeed a difficult topic to acknowledge and even more difficult to talk about. The sensitive nature arises from a social embarassment and relcutance to take action as the perpetrators are most often people known very closely to the family and the child.
“If I can look the other way and don’t act or speak up, then it doesn’t exist or, perhaps, it will just go away”.
Sadly, it doesn’t matter the age, it doesn’t matter the economic or ethnic background. The impact of abuse is the same on every individual and it is monumental. Abuse faced by a child in any form, acts as a silent killer and can have a dramatic effect on a person’s life as they mature into adulthood.
The focus, when there is one, is usually on the incidents and not on the impact on the individual – both long-term and short-term. While physical injuries may or may not be immediately visible, abuse and neglect of all kinds leave invisible festering scars that can have consequences for children, families, and societies that last lifetimes, and sometimes generations.
The above pyramid shows us how a child can go from the adverse experiences to various stages of disease processes and even early death. One of the first steps to raising awareness on the subject is to understand what abuse is and to recognise the different types of abuse and mis-treatments that a child can be subjected to.
Child abuse is everything that we refer to as adverse childhood experiences and includes any threatening or violent interaction of physical, psychological or sexual nature that may cause physical or psychological harm to the child. It includes (but is not limited to) Neglect, Physical Abuse, Sexual Abuse, Emotional/Psychological Abuse, Maltreatment and Medical Neglect. Sexual and physical abuse are forms of physical violence. But any form of physical or sexual abuse on a child is almost always accompanied by emotional and psychological abuse! It’s crucial that parents, caregivers, educators and just about anybody with children in their lives are trained on how to respond if they witness abuse, whether it is to their child or someone else’s child or even if they’ve been experiencing abuse themselves.
WHAT YOU CAN DO Parents! Your child’s safety is your primary responsibility. Teachers and other caregivers only supplement the safety net. To prevent abuse, it is important to keep the focus on adult responsibility, while teaching children skills to help protect themselves.
Here are the top 3 things you can do:
1. Communicate – Start early! Develop a healthy, supportive and creative system of talking about anything under the sun with your child. Explicitly communicate your unconditional love and support to them often by trusting and believing them when they tell you things that are difficult for them to admit or talk about. Abusers are great manipulators and will know how to get around almost anything. If you have safe talking strategies in place then the chances that your child will come and tell you right away are high. There are many creative tools to initiate, co-create and sustain this and the most important one is to start by really listening to your children when they speak. If people taking care of a child pay close attention, they will see that children are always trying to give off signs that they’re being hurt.
2. Empower – There is no weapon like knowledge! Educate your children on the various safety practices such as the concept of healthy secrets, correct names of body parts, safe and unsafe touches, respecting boundaries, etc. Empower children to make decisions about their bodies by allowing them age-appropriate privacy and by encouraging them to say “no” when they do not want to touch or be touched by others even in non-sexual ways. Besides, teaching the correct names for all body parts promotes the development of a healthy and positive body image and helps the child disclose abuse if it occurs.
3. Prevent – Be Active and be Alert! Learn about your children’s activities in school and outside. Get to know the people they are involved with. Watch for grooming behaviours in adults who spend time with your child. Above all, your intuition is your best friend! Nurture it and help your child nurture theirs by listening to it when it speaks up!
Most importantly, raise awareness and spread the word! Shatter the silence and let everyone know and hear about child abuse. Increase the conversations you have about abuse awareness in your community. When you share the knowledge you empower another individual with the tools and confidence to act in an abusive situation. Stand up against child abuse and say “NO!”
About the author
Mahima is a mom to two beautiful girls. She is certified in Expressive Art Therapy. In a nutshell, she is a personal growth and social change facilitator.