Society is busy talking about how women are unsafe in public and imposing restrictions on them before they step out under the guise of protecting them. Home is supposed to be a safe haven for women—the one place where they can be themselves, do what they want, wear what they wish, say what they feel, and still be safe. But is home a safe place for women? Are homes truly devoid of perpetrators?
Swati Maliwal, Chief of the Delhi Commission for Women (DCW), while speaking at the DCW annual International Women’s Day award programme at the India Habitat Centre, revealed that she was sexually and physically assaulted by her father, leading to several injuries. The trauma led her to fight for women’s rights.
Last week, actor-politician and member of the National Commission for Women (NCW) Kushboo Sundar disclosed that she was sexually abused by her father when she was eight. In an interaction with Barkha Dutt for Mojo Story, Sundar said that she kept quiet because she was afraid that even her mother wouldn’t believe her. Only at the age of 15 did she start revolting against her father.
Child Sexual Abuse At Home
Hearing women reveal being abused by their male family members, including their own father, leaves us with the question: Are women ever safe with anyone in this world? A woman's father, brother, uncle, and grandpa are the men who are supposed to be her role models, support systems, and safe zones. But when "papa," "bhaiya," "chacha," or "naana" turn out to be the bogeyman, where is a child supposed to go? Who will protect the child when the ones that are supposed to keep her safe take advantage of her innocence and trust?
According to 2020 National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), 96% of the perpetrators in child sexual abuse cases were known to the child as well as the family. This data is derived from the cases that are reported, but most child sexual abuse cases, especially ones where family members are the perpetrators, are covered by families themselves because, at the end of the day, "ghar ka izzat" is important even if it means leaving a lifelong scar on the child.
A lot of times, children don’t speak up because they don’t know how to express the violation that just happened to them. They either don’t know the words or they simply cannot get them out of their throats. Even if a child does gather the courage to speak up, many families fail to believe them or simply silence the child and cover up the incident to protect the family’s honour. The entire family acts as if the crime never happened and forces the child to forget and move on. As if that isn’t painful enough, many times, the child survivors are forced to meet and interact with their abuser.
Parents need to start trusting their child more than they trust a family member; even the child’s own father, brother, uncle, or grandpa could be the perpetrator. Children don’t make up such dreadful stories about anyone or go into a cocoon unless something is really wrong. So, before curbing a girl’s freedom under the guise of protection, parents need to realise that literally anyone, even the most trustworthy man in the family, could have a monstrous side to him. It could be unthinkable, but when it comes to children, parents need to be ready to accept that the big bad wolf could be literally anyone.
When parents and family members are unwilling to hold perpetrators accountable, regardless of how elderly, powerful, and respectable they are, what is the point of imparting sex education? How long are paedophiles going to walk away with a free pass despite the heinous crimes they commit? It’s high time we broke free from internalised patriarchy that teaches us to value family honour over everything. Parents need to address the elephant in the room before talking about how unsafe the world is for women.
Suggested Reading: 109 Children Sexually Abused Every Day in 2018 In India: NCRB Report
Views expressed by the author are their own