Preventing child sexual abuse!




By Masud Khabeki


Sexual abuse is a difficult subject for most people to discuss in almost everywhere and unfortunately very difficult to discuss in our culture. It is even more difficult for parents to discuss with their children. But as frightening as the topic may be, sexual abuse is a serious and unfortunately, a common problem that affects both boys and girls. In 90% of the child sexual abuse cases, the person who sexually abuses a child is an adult or older child known to the victim, often an authority figure that the child knows, trusts or loves. The offender usually uses coercion and manipulation, not physical force, to engage the child. The incident of sexual abuse may include any kind of sexual act or behavior with a child, and could include activities involving genital contact as well as non-contact events, such as showing pornographic images to children, taking pornographic photographs of a child, etc.

Due to the complexity to deal such incidents, the families need to understand that certain facts must be known to the children and these need to be discussed among family members to prevent and eradicate this growing menace. The data collected in cases of child sexual abuse revealed that most offenders are known to the child, they may be family members, relatives, friends, teachers, coaches, babysitters, and others in positions of authority.

There are certain characteristics that are common among children who are sexually abused. Children most susceptible to sexual abuse have obedient, compliant and respectful personalities. They may be children from unhappy or broken homes, as these youngsters may be eager for attention and affection. The children who are victims of sexual abuse can display many or few behavioral symptoms as well. They may withdraw from family or friends, display poor school performance, experience depression, anxiety, or exhibit aggressive and self-destructive behavior, or, they may not display any outward abnormal behavior. Child sexual abuse often involves more than a single incident and can go on for months or years.

Furthermore, the parents must understand that child abuse and neglect result from the interaction of a number of individuals, family, societal, and environmental factors. Child abuse and neglect are not inevitable—safe, stable, and nurturing relationships and environments are key for prevention. Preventing child abuse and neglect can also prevent other forms of violence, as various types of violence are interrelated and share many risk and protective factors, consequences, and effective prevention tactics.

The families, parents and adults must take the steps needed to prevent child sexual abuse. Adults are responsible for ensuring that all children have safe, stable, nurturing relationships and environments. The government resources are reactive in nature as targeted to reduce child sexual abuse are generally focused on treatment for victims and criminal justice-oriented approaches for perpetrators. While these efforts are important after child sexual abuse has occurred, little investment has been made in primary prevention, or preventing child sexual abuse before it occurs. Limited effective evidence-based strategies for proactively protecting children from child sexual abuse are available. More resources are needed to develop, evaluate, and implement evidence-based primary prevention strategies to ensure that all children have safe, stable, nurturing relationships and environments.

The law enforcement agencies have to introduce additional efforts and have to improve the strategies for the prevention of child sexual abuse. The law enforcement agencies and particularly the police authorities have to improve surveillance systems and data collection for monitoring child sexual abuse cases. In addition to this we have to increase our understanding of risk and protective factors for child sexual abuse perpetration and victimization at societal level. Police authorities have to strengthen existing prevention measures and develop new evidence-based policies, programs and practices as the primary prevention of child sexual abuse. Youth- and family-serving organizations, public/governmental agencies, community leaders, and others must have the information necessary for effective primary prevention strategies. We have to believe that child sexual abuse is preventable if we make certain strategies that help to reduce children’s exposure to sexual abuse and ensure safe, stable and environments for all children.

Prevention of children from sexual abuse (generally a by-product of child neglect) may become very easy if we fully understand that how the process of sexual abuse starts. The criminologists have identified four types of abuse and neglect which always resulted in the abuse of children. First, the physical abuse which is the intentional use of physical force. Examples include hitting, kicking, shaking, burning, or other shows of force against a child. Second, the type of sexual abuse involving pressure or forcing a child to engage in sexual acts. It includes behaviors such as fondling, penetration, and exposing a child to other sexual activities. Third, the emotional abuse that refers to behaviors that harm a child’s self-worth or emotional well-being. Examples include name calling, shaming, rejection, withholding love, and threatening. Fourth, could be a type of neglect, the failure to meet a child’s basic physical and emotional needs. These needs include housing, food, clothing, education, and access to medical care. We have to develop strategies for the protection of children from sexual abuse keeping in view the aforementioned evidence.

We have to understand and admit that child sexual abuse and neglect are serious public health issues with far-reaching consequences for the youngest and most vulnerable members of society. Every child is better when he/she and his/her peers have safe, stable, nurturing relationships and environments. We can reduce the incidents of child sexual abuse only by strengthening the economic supports to families in need of support by providing financial security and family friendly policies. We also need to change social norms to support parents and positive parenting for example legislative approach to reduce corporal punishment not only in schools but at home. Furthermore, we have to enhance parenting skills to promote healthy child development as it can help to minimize the children’s risk of molestation. In early childhood, parents can teach their children the name of the genitals, just as they teach their child names of other body parts. Parents can teach young children about the privacy of body parts, and that no one has the right to touch their bodies if they don’t want that to happen. Children should also learn to respect the right to privacy of other people. Teach children early and often that there are no secrets between children and their parents, and that they should feel comfortable talking with their parent about anything—good or bad, fun or sad, easy or difficult. Parents must caution their children to take care from adults who offer children special gifts or toys, or adults who want to take the child on a “special outing” or to special events. The parents must create an environment at home in which sexual topics can be discussed comfortably. They may use news items and publicized reports of child sexual abuse to start discussions of safety and reiterate that children should always tell a parent about anyone who is taking advantage of them sexually. Least but not the last, if your child discloses any history of sexual abuse, listen carefully, and take his or her disclosure seriously. Too often, children are not believed, particularly if they implicate a family member as the perpetrator. If you don’t intervene, the abuse might continue, and the child may come to believe that home is not safe and that you are not available to help.    Parents must support their child and let him or her know that he or she is not responsible for the abuse.


The writer is on advisory board of an Islamabad based think tank