I was sexually abused as a teen by a relative. I often wonder if my life would have turned out better, had comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) been a mandatory part of our school and college curriculum. But it was not to be.
The earliest memory that I have of my childhood, is being straitjacketed into a predetermined set of rules, of decorum and propriety. I still remember distinctly my terrible acts of defiance and disobedience that were beaten down mercilessly. My mother, despite being a highly educated professional, was stuck in her own cycle of patriarchy, misogyny, and a Victorian era style of parenting, that simply did not conform to the demands of the modern world. It was not too far in the future that I was to face the consequences for her parenting gaffes.
I was sexually abused as a teen
Although no-one would believe that I had no knowledge of consent, good and bad touch at that age, I did not feel sufficiently empowered to protect myself against what society would term as an authority figure. Now I can say that, although I would not call myself lucky, I was indeed fortunate to have this incident as a turning point in our lives. In a way, through my trauma, I forced my mother to break through her cycle of patriarchy and misogyny and enter the modern world. It was then that she started communicating with me more openly and honestly, and got me treated for the deep impact the sexual abuse left on me, along with the negative patterns that I developed to cope with it.
Child sexual abuse (CSA) is, globally, a serious public health concern. According to the World Health Organization, “Child sexual abuse is the involvement of a child in sexual activity that he or she does not fully comprehend, is unable to give informed consent to, or for which the child is not developmentally prepared and cannot give consent, or that violates the laws or social taboos of society”. The global prevalence of CSA has been estimated at 19.7% for females and 7.9% for males. Most child sexual abuse offenders are known to their victims; 30% are closely related to them, and 60% are acquainted with them. According to the recently released NCRB data, 32,608 cases of CSA were reported in India in 2017 while 39,827 cases were reported in 2018 under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (POCSO). A child can be a victim of CSA at home, in school or in relatives’ or neighbours’ houses. The effects of CSA include addictions and major depressive and anxiety disorders. When a family member is the offender, it can result in more serious and long-lasting psychological trauma. Getting the right kind of support after a case of CSA, although very important, has proven to be difficult in the extreme, and abused children and their families struggle to navigate the tortuous processes of health and social care, therapy and medication, and the criminal and justice systems.
The prevention of CSA is more difficult. Simon David Finkelhor is an American sociologist who has been conducting research in child sexual abuse since many years. he has come up with two major strategies for the prevention of child sexual abuse – namely, offender management and school-based educational programs. Finkelhor surmised that school-based educational programs are helpful in teaching vulnerable children, skills such as how to identify a dangerous situation, how to refuse and reject overtures from a potential offender, and how to call for help in case of difficulty in managing the situation. According to him, the programs should include psychological therapy, promote disclosure, and reduce self-blame. Considerable research already exists showing the effectiveness of these programs. From my own experience, however, I believe that it is not sufficient to simply know the concepts. The child must feel empowered enough to apply those concepts in a real-life situation.
And so it happened that, following prolonged treatment with both psychiatrists and psychologists, when I found myself relatively healed from my trauma and able to focus on my life once again, an idea called Nivaaran, an organisation for the prevention of child sexual abuse, was born in my mind. Now that I have completed my bachelor’s degree in Applied Psychology, I feel that I am in a better position to launch Nivaaran, a complete platform for the prevention of child sexual abuse and unwanted sexual experiences in older women by empowering them through comprehensive sexuality education. Nivaaran would also include therapeutic services for CSA victims and help with the criminal justice process. In time, I hope to get CSE included mandatorily in school and college curriculum. I took the first step towards my goal, with a desire to teach children and young adults how to protect themselves as I was not able to, by joining Project Rakshak – I, My Own Bodyguard, a nation-wide campaign to combat Child Sexual Abuse (CSA) as a State Ambassador of Delhi, through workshops on comprehensive sexuality education, funded by KidsRights, Amsterdam.
To conclude, in his epic fantasy series, Stormlight Archives, the author Brandon Sanderson asks, “What is the most important step a man can take?” The answer to Sanderson’s question is, “The next one” and this is the mantra by which I have decided to live my life, evolving from victim to survivor to finally soar as conqueror.
Pictures used are representative only. These are personal narratives contributed by our readers. These are not the views of SheThePeople and we don’t take responsibility of the veracity of these direct contributions. Have a story and want to share it? Write to [email protected]