Most of us teach our children to stay wary of men around them, as we largely live in denial over the existence of female sexual predators. A recent case of child sexual abuse by a female attendant, at a reputed school, has put this oversight into the spotlight. On Monday, the Mumbai police arrested a 59-year-old female support staff, on charges of allegedly inappropriately touching a four-year-old student.
As per a report in The Times of India, the accused has been booked under the Prevention of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, and the school has suspended her. The student’s father said that she had been hesitant about going to school for over a week, and had been complaining of stomach ache since past few days. On Sunday night, she confided to her cousin that someone was touching her inappropriately at school.
For parents across India, this case comes as a rude awakening that our children are at sexual threat from female predators as well.
The benefit of passive and nurturing image
An article called Misperceptions about child sex offenders published by the Australian Institute of Criminology sheds some light on how we commonly tend to perceive sexual predators to be exclusively male. It says that nearly 0.9 and 0.8 percent of victims reported to being sexually abused by a female relative or their mother or stepmother respectively. The report also clarifies that the perpetrator categories of ‘family friend’, ‘acquaintance/neighbour’, ‘stranger’ and ‘other known person’ should not be disaggregated by gender.
There is a wide perception among peers and society that women are not capable of abusive behaviour. In fact, we have been so busy associating men with sexually abusive behaviour, that we have turned our gaze away from women completely. Most of us would not blink an eye before trusting women with the well-being of our children. With increasing awareness about sexual abuse, most parents opt for female babysitters, teachers, etc for their wards. Just in 2016, parents breathed a sigh of relief when the Supreme Court made it mandatory to have a female attendant on school buses.
But if the aforementioned data is anything to go by, then a small yet significant number of women may pose a threat to our children.
Let’s give our children gender-free guidelines
Sexual crimes are a bitter reality. No parent can truly guard his or her child 24 by 7. Now however, the sheer flaw in our generalisation about the gender of sexual predators is staring in our faces. As a society, this issue demands a deeper commitment from us. This drive to eradicate child sexual abuse from our society has to be a long-term goal. We certainly need to start taking instant measures to protect our children. One such step is to raise awareness about sexual predators in children, beyond the tag of gender.
Our gender-specific instructions may confuse them about what counts as sexual abuse and what does not. So schools and peers need to address the topic of sexual safety sans the gender of the perpetrator. We must have a conversation with children about all men they come across. But let’s also start asking them about behaviour of women around them as well. Normalisation of the topic and increased vigilance are the only ways we can protect our children.
Picture Credit: IndiaTimes
Yamini Pustake Bhalerao is a writer with the SheThePeople team, in the Opinions section. The views expressed are the author’s own