1. What exactly is child sexual abuse (CSA) and why is it so important to tackle it?

Child Sexual Abuse is also a form of abuse wherein a child is used for sexual gratification of a person. It can involve touching or fondling of a child’s private parts, or asking the child to touch one’s private parts; or any sort of contact whereby the person perpetrating it seeks sexual gratification. Child Sexual Abuse need not necessarily be touch-based; non-touch based abuse such as exposing one’s genitalia, using sexually explicit language with a child, showing a child pornography etc. are all also forms of CSA. Studies show that this is usually committed by a person who is in a position of power and trust, someone usually known to the child, as this makes it easier to take advantage of a child’s vulnerability and helplessness.

2. How relevant is CSA in the Indian context?

India has the highest number of Child Sexual Abuse victims in the world. Government statistics put the figure at 53% of all our country’s children. Numerically that means more than 1 out of every 2 children have been sexually abused in some form before the age of 18. The numbers combined with the fact that being a family centric society and CSA being a taboo subject, most cases go unreported due to the fear of shame and honor.  It is this shifting of the blame from the perpetrator to the victim that allows the problem to exist and multiply. Studies have shown that a single offender is capable of targeting multiple victims. This explains how this problem is very relevant in the Indian context.

3. Who are the most common perpetrators of child sexual abuse?

Media often depicts child sexual abuse as a gory crime committed by strangers who lure, kidnap, abuse and maybe even murder child victims. However, studies conducted world over have proved that sexual crimes against children are most often perpetrated by someone known to the child or in a position of trust and power. This could be family members, friends, neighbours, or even seemingly trustworthy educators, school bus drivers etc.  Abusers come from all classes, ethnic and religious backgrounds and may be homosexual or heterosexual. Most abusers are men, but some are women too. You cannot pick out an abuser in a crowd. They usually are people who are well-liked, respected and trusted by a lot of adults. Some will seek out employment which brings them into contact with children, some will hold positions of trust which can help to convince other adults that they are beyond reproach, making it hard for adults to raise their concerns.

4. What are the signs that an adult may be using their relationship with a child for sexual reasons?

Although it is true that anyone can be an abuser, we can look out for indicators which can help us keep children away from such adults. There are some signs an adult will show if they are seeking sexual pleasure from a child. Some of the things that can be seen as cause of concern in behavior of the adult or an older teen are:

  • Unnecessary involvement in child’s life, not letting them have sufficient privacy
  • Insisting on showing physical forms of affection such as kissing or hugging
  • Taking extra efforts to make the child feel “special”
  • Looking out for opportunities to spend alone time with kids than being with people of their age. This may be done by way of getting a job that puts them in  the contact of children.
  • Picking on a child
  • Frequently walking on a child/teenager in bathroom or bedroom
  • Showing too much interested in child’s/teenager’s sexual development
  • Spending lot of money on them for no reason.

5. What is our government doing for this?

There is a strong law in India for sexual offence committed against children called Protection of Children against Sexual Offences (POCSO). It came into action in 2012 after an extensive study done to find prevalence of child sexual abuse by Ministry of Women and Child development (MWCD). It is a very comprehensive and child-centric law. To read more about the law click here & here

6. What are the signs that may indicate that a child is being sexually abused?

Child sexual abuse can impact a child profoundly which can bring in changes in their psycho-social behaviour. While these signs may not be surely indicative of CSA, they can tell us that the child has some issues. Here are some signs you can look out for:

  • Inappropriate sexual behaviour, which includes acting out and using toys or objects in sexual way
  • Problems with sleeping, such as nightmares
  • Being socially withdrawn or avoiding social contacts
  • Sudden personality changes
  • Unexplained fear of certain places or person
  • Unusual secretive behaviour
  • Changes in eating habits such as eating in excess or skipping meals
  • Changes in temperament

You can talk to the child if you see any of these signs in them to check if something is bothering them.

7. How does child sexual abuse usually happen? Is there a pattern?

Child Sexual Abuse is generally shown as a snatch and grab situation through media, however it is rarely the case. It is often an ongoing abuse and mostly the abuser chooses a child who can be abused repeatedly. It was found that there is a common pattern among sexual abuse offenders which happens in three stages.

People who abuse children groom the child by gaining the child’s and his/her family’s/caretakers’ trust. They find out what needs are not met in child’s life and try to fulfill them. Similarly they offer parents and caregivers much needed help and support. The next step is to make the child comfortable with their touch, such as caressing them on shoulder or head for no reason, making them sit on their lap or hugging them. At this stage the touch looks casual and non threatening but is still providing sexual pleasure to the person. During this time they start finding privacy with the child too and try and make the child feel comfortable with such arrangements. This is called Grooming.

After grooming abuser feels safe enough to violate the child. Once the abuser has gained such access, he/she begins to actually Sexually Abuse the child. This stage may also include showing pornographic content to them.

People who abuse children may offer a combination of gifts or treats and threats about what will happen if the child says ‘no’ or tells someone. This is called Accommodation. Often, the abusive adult will convince the child that they won’t be believed or that they are somehow responsible for the abuse and will be punished for it. The child may care about or feel protective of the person who sexually abused them and may feel they’d be betraying this person by telling about the sexual contact and the abuser may use this information to help maintain the secrecy. The abusers may scare the child with threats of being hurt physically, but more often the threat is about what will be lost if they tell e.g. the family breaking up or someone going to prison. Which makes it more difficult for child to seek help and they end up with self-blaming.

8. Can people sexually abuse and exploit children on the internet?

Yes. Mostly young people tend to become less wary and talk about things far more openly while communicating via social sites than communicating face to face. Both male and female adults and some young people may use the internet to harm children. It includes, but isn’t limited to, looking at, taking and/or distributing photographs and video images on the internet of children naked, in sexual poses and/or being sexually abused.

In many circumstances, grooming online is faster and anonymous and results in children trusting an online ‘friend’ more quickly than someone they had just met ‘face to face’. Those intent on sexually harming children can easily access information about them and they are able to hide their true identity, age and gender. People who groom children may not be restricted by time or accessibility to a child as they would in the ‘real world’. Adding a Monitoring application on the devices the child has access to is one way to keep the unknown threats away from children. Always having that rapport and open communication with the child of what information should be kept private and what should be public is important.

9. Can child sexual abuse also involve a child abusing another child?

Yes, More than a third of those who sexually abuse children are under the age of 18 themselves. In many instances, especially with younger children, a child may not understand that his or her forceful sexual actions toward another child are harmful.

Children who harm others often have been victimized in some way themselves. But being sexually victimized absolutely does not mean a child will develop sexually abusive behaviors. Most children who are sexually abused never sexually harm another child. However, without treatment, a child who has been sexually abused may be more vulnerable to being abused again or to be confused about which behaviors are appropriate.