Sexual Metamorphosis….No Child’s Play
Note: This is an article I wrote for the recently concluded Asha-Sanctuary conference.
Sex trade includes street prostitution, massage brothels, escort services, outcall services, strip clubs, lap dancing, phone sex, adult and child pornography, video and internet pornography, and prostitution tourism. While women tend to make up the majority of sex trade workers, there is an ever increasing trend of children being exploited.
The situation of children in sex trade cannot be divorced from incest, which is not commercial and where the perpetrator is most often a family member. I would like to focus on child sexual abuse (incest, child pornography, child trafficking), its psychological impact on child development and need for severe changes in the Indian law governing child abuse and child trafficking.
Child sexual abuse is the adult (or older child) exploitation of the normal childhood development process, through the use of sexual activity. Examples of the types of sexual activity might include touching, kissing, fondling, manipulations of the genitals with the fingers, and actual sexual intercourse. Child sexual abuse occurs in four ways typically: incestuous abuse (by family members), sexual abuse by strangers, child prostitution and child pornography. Incest is not openly acknowledged and discussed. That is the first step we need to take – bring it up for public discussion and awareness. We need to acknowledge that incest is rampant not only in the gulli-kuchi’s of the chawls of India, but more insidiously in the AC rooms of the middle and upper class. Everyone, irrespective of class, caste, age, status needs to acknowledge that our children have been exploited and we must take swift action to stem this exploitative practice – even if that means going against a family member if he/she is the perpetrator. In a survey conducted by RAHI, 76% of respondents had been abused when they were children - 40% of those by a family member. Most incest occurs between ages 11-15 and majority incidents involved a family member, more often by an uncle, a cousin or an elder brother.
In sexual abuse by strangers, the perpetrators are typically people in authority –librarian policewallah or tourist. Sexual abuse by strangers is most often a solitary incident and goes largely unnoticed. This is rampant in touristy places, where the 'ice cream uncle' or clown acts as a pimp. The nature of a pedophile is to lure children to a secluded area with goodies and they are always around parks, playground, schools where they can find their next prey. With much younger children, it becomes a game of hide-and-seek and sexual play becomes their secret game.
In examining patterns of sexual abuse and exploitation, it is important to keep in mind that the knowledge base is changing rapidly. While earlier belief was that sexual abuse perpetrators were almost always men, female perpetrators are both, accomplices who aided male perpetrators and independent abusers, who had come from a background of bad childhoods, unhappy marriages and earlier sexual victimization. It has been acknowledged that male children are also sexually victimized and are at great risk. It appears that female children are more likely to be sexually abused in an incestuous situation, while more male children are sexually abused outside the home.
Child pornography can be with or without participation of the child. Voyeurism is pretty common in India and with cell phones, web cameras people who have a fetish with a child’s body take images of the children without anybody’s knowledge. Other times, when sexual abuse is established, the perpetrator takes videos, photographs of the children, sometimes in the middle of sexual activity. While these are mainly taken for their own pleasure, it can be used against the child, should the child decide to speak to a trusted adult. In a closeted society, the sexual material becomes a trump card with which the perpetrator flees.
Child trafficking for prostitution, massage parlors, domestic help etc is an economic nexus between police, pimp, family and others. Children who have been trafficked are more often than not been abused.
Signs of incest
With all the above forms of child sexual abuse, the development growth of the child is affected. Apart from the health risks involved, they are marred psychologically which tends to have long-lasting effects on their development. The child who is physically abused often suffers emotionally from inconsistent parenting and fear. The sexually abused child suffers from the lack of affection or supervision which leaves him/her vulnerable to the subtle advances of the perpetrator; and the neglected child becomes anxious or apathetic about a life in which basic needs aren't met.
One general consequence is developmental fixation or "freezing." The child who has difficulties in the classroom or with poor social adjustment skills may very well be an abused child. Another sign could be a child who suddenly gets withdrawn and non-communicative. They don’t have a healthy boundary between personal and public space. Many survivors of child sexual abuse grow up to be promiscuous as teenagers or young adults. Many times, these memories are repressed and show up much later in their adult lives. A trusted adult who is constantly observing the child can however, pick up the signs earlier.
People with history of child sexual abuse should see a counselor. The counselor should be a professional, but if one is not available then a trusted adult can also counsel. Counseling survivors of child sexual abuse is a challenging task. The main reason is that the child has learnt not to trust adults. Therefore, the first step to building communication with such children is to appear to them in a non-threatening manner. One of the primary purposes of counseling the maltreated child is to provide a safe place and safe relationship within which the child may experiment with new adaptations to a safer world, and in which the child's arrested development may become "unstuck." Counselors cannot literally replace the requisite parental bonding which helps children to grow and develop, but have an opportunity to help the child develop a trusting relationship with an adult.
Once a trusting communication has been established, the child will be more available to share accounts of their childhood. It may well be that the counselor will have to listen to many normal childhood story before the child shares his/her history of sexual abuse. Counselor or adult must remain infinitely patient understanding that the child needs to talk about the abuse when they are ready. Do not force or prompt. Be observant of non-verbal communication in addition to the spoken word.
The key to understanding the abused child is to look at the developmental stage rather than the chronological age. The counselor will be able to identify adaptations which the child made to the abuse and teach the child more appropriate ways of interacting. Children often reveal in play the traumatic events of their earlier years. They may also show to the counselor maladaptive behavior which puts them at risk of further maltreatment.
In the counseling relationship, working with maltreated children requires many techniques other than talking and listening. Using structured or unstructured play situations and artwork, music or clay provide a safe way for children to release tension and express themselves. Younger girl children do well with dolls and dollhouses to act out family issues for the counselor. Many abused children have not had normal play opportunities and benefit greatly from free play in the counselor's office. Using puppets, reading stories, or acting out role plays are ways in which abused children can try out new approaches to relationships.
Abused children also do well when counselors work with them in groups. Younger children do well with developmental play groups, while older children and youth can benefit from activity groups as well as treatment-oriented groups. Group counseling can be especially useful with children and youth who have been sexually abused by reducing their feelings of shame and different-ness and helping them to learn how to protect themselves.
It is important to remember that counseling alone cannot protect children, and that any effective long-term intervention will require a concerted team approach and a community which cares. Estimated therapy time for sexual abuse survivors is two to ten years. It's not easy. It's not fast. It's never actually over. The best a survivor can do is to reclaim his/her life, reclaim his/her personal power and release him/herself from the hold the past events had on him/her. It is possible. It can be done.
Awareness is your weapon of defense:
Adults want to protect children from sexual abuse, but they can't always be there to do that. Since that is the reality in life, children and teens need to know about sexual abuse in order to increase their awareness and coping skills. Without frightening children and teens, we need to provide them with appropriate safety information and support at every stage of their development.
Even the best educated child or teenager cannot always avoid sexual abuse; children who are well prepared will be more likely to tell if abuse has occurred. This is a person's best defense. As a child/teenager you need to know:
- you are loved and deserve to be safe
- the difference between safe and unsafe touches
- the proper names for all body parts, so you will be able to communicate clearly
- that safety rules apply to all adults, not just strangers
- that your body belongs to you and nobody has the right to touch you or hurt you
- that you can say "no" to requests that make you feel uncomfortable -- even from a close relative, family friend or friend
- to report if any adult asks them to keep a secret
- that some adults or siblings have problems
- that you can rely on others to believe and protect you if you talk about abuse
- that you are not to blame for sexual abuse
- to tell a trusted adult about abuse even if you are afraid of what may happen
- Listening To A Child or A Friend
If someone trusts you enough to tell you about an incident of sexual abuse, you are in an important position to help that person recover. The following suggestions can help you provide positive support. Keep in mind that sometimes it’s important just to listen.
- Keep calm. It is important to remember that you are not angry with them, but at what happened. Children can mistakenly interpret anger or disgust as directed towards them.
Believe them! In most circumstances children or teens do not lie about sexual abuse.
- Give positive messages such as "I know you couldn't help it," or "I'm proud of you for telling."
- Explain to the person that he or she or he is not to blame for what happened.
- Listen to and answer the child's questions honestly.
- Respect the person's privacy. Be careful not to discuss the abuse in front of people who do not need to know what happened.
- Be Responsible. Report the incident to the local authorities, or to a counselor, or to the school nurse or to a teacher that you trust. They can help protect the person's safety; they can contact the local authorities and provide other resources for further help.
- Help them get help. Getting competent professional counseling, even if it's only for a short time is essential.
- Panic or overreact when the person talks about the experience. People need help and support to make it through this difficult time.
- Pressure the person to talk or avoid talking about the abuse. Allow the person to talk at her or his own pace. Forcing information can be harmful. Silencing the person will not help her or him to forget.
- Confront the offender in the person's presence. The stress may be harmful. This is a job for the authorities.
- Blame the child. Sexual abuse or incest in never the child’s fault!
It is disconcerting but true, the India Penal Code 1860 does not recognize child abuse. Only rape and sodomy can lead to criminal conviction. Anything less than rape, as defined by the law, amounts to 'outraging the modesty'. It is time we left the Victorian days behind and moved into the 21st century! These laws are problematic when applied to adult women, but they are even more difficult when applied to children. The legal definition of rape calls for proof that the rapist actually penetrated a victim, even a young child. While sec. 376 IPC seeks to provide women redress against rape, it is rarely interpreted to cover the broad range of sexual abuses [particularly of children] that actually takes place. The word 'rape' is too specific, this does not include abuse on 'boys'; moreover, 'intercourse' is often interpreted to mean with an 'adult.' Offences under Sec. 354 of the IPC are bailable, which allows foreigners to simply leave the country before prosecutions begin. While Andhra Pradesh, by a state amendment, has made the offence cognizable, non-bailable and to be tried by a court of session [where the minimum punishment is imprisonment for 7 years, and a fine], other states have not followed. What is also lacking is a central law on the subject. The Juvenile Justice Act was amended and rewritten in 2000, but it makes no attempt to identify sexual abuse on children. Sec. 23 of the Act deals with assault, exposes, willful neglect, mental and physical suffering, for which imprisonment for a term of just 6 months is prescribed! Sec. 5 of the Immoral Traffic Prevention Act 1956 prescribes punishment of not less than 7 years for inducing a child into prostitution, but does not directly address child abuse. There are some positive changes to ITA in the Amendment Bill, 2005, approved by the HRD ministry. Section 5C replaces the word minor (below 16) with child (below 18). Police officials say anyone having sex with a child can be booked for sexual exploitation and rape. But it is still limiting because it only refers to intercourse/rape rather than touch, masturbation, fondling and other forms of child sexual abuse. New Section 5B makes human trafficking, if repeated, punishable with life imprisonment. India is a signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child 1989. India ratified this Convention in 1992. This international convention obligates member states to protect and promote the physical and psychological health of children. State parties must take affirmative action in protecting children from all forms of sexual abuse, neglect, exploitation, torture, or any form of cruelty.
- Make sexual education mandatory as part of school curriculum
- Publish pamphlets talking about child sexual abuse in different regional languages and distribute at local quarries, bus stops and other places where children are involved in labor
- Talk to adults in the community (all sections of society) and educate them about pedophiles and child abuse
- Redefine fears around reporting child abuse and seeking counseling.
- Have mandatory reporting of abuse. Failure to report should be a civil and criminal offence
- Expand definition of abuse to include genital probing, touching, fondling, kissing etc – so that perpetrators can be legally tried and convicted.
- Police should go accompanied with social workers on calls related to child sexual abuse.
- In US, there are agencies like Child Protection Services that intervene. As far as I know, there is no central body in India that works in a coordinated way with police and court systems the way CPS does.
- Prayaas has established the toll-free number for children to receive help. It should be available all over the nation and not be restricted to about 60 cities.
- People charged as child molesters should be publicly known and under Right to Information, this information should be made public when perpetrators are released from prison
- If they are on bail, their movement should be tracked by GIS mapping
- Hospital staff should be mandated to report child abuse if they see signs of child physical or sexual abuse. Failure to report should be a civil and criminal offense.
- The setting up of a Children's Court or family court to try all offences against children can be a bold step. A child-friendly court will help to minimize the double trauma that abused children are subject to in courts, which even adults find intimidating and terrifying.
While changes in the legal system will help nab the perpetrators, the real work remains with survivors of child abuse. We need to educate our fellow-adults that pedophiles can be amongst us and we must stop them. We have a responsibility to our children to educate them about their personal space and rights, so that they grow up with a healthy appreciation of themselves, their experiences and their choices in life. They might never be able to be completely rid of their childhood abuse, but as they morph into adults they can learn from that experience that intimacy and sexual activity is not child’s play.
Best wishes for a successful conferencece!
 Stovall, B. (1981). Child sexual abuse. Ypsilanti, MI: Eastern Michigan University
 Survey conducted by Delhi organization RAHI, “Voices from the Silent Zone”
 The term pedophile refers to any adult who habitually seeks the company of a child/children for the gratification of his/her sexual needs.
 McCarty, L. (1986). Mother child incest: Characteristics of the offender.
 Bolton, F., Morris, L., & MacEachron, A. (1989). Males at risk: The other side of child sexual abuse. Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications.
 Shivkami RaviChandran, More than the letter of the law, India Together, October 2004
 The Goa Children Act 2003 is legislation against child sexual abuse, especially those related to tourism. The legislation has specifically made any such cases of abuse non-bailable offences under section 2 (a) of the Criminal Procedure Code, 1973. The fines and jail terms are also severe -- Rs 100,000 with imprisonment between one to three years for sexual assault and incest, and Rs 200,000 with seven to 10 years jail term in case of a grave sexual assault.
 In 1988, as Deputy Commissioner of Police in New Delhi, he founded Prayaas as an NGO dedicated to caring for children in distress, including child trafficking victims. With assistance from various donors, he has built up an impressive network of shelters and drop-in care and education centers for vulnerable children. Working with the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, Prayaas led the effort to create a nationwide system of child-help emergency phone lines called "Child Line." Now any child in distress in any of India’s 56 largest cities can call "1-0-9-8" toll-free and receive help.
 This is being done in some counties in US and in most cases criminals on parole, tend to go to a nearby children’s park or school where they are re-arrested for violating parole conditions.