Child Sexual Abuse, How Children Tell – Prenita.

As the mother of a 21 year old daughter, one who is doing a course in creative and autobiographical writing, I am very fortunate to read some of the assignments she submits. Her journey down memory lane is beautifully crafted into short-stories that are at once exciting and readable.

One such writing that she sent me recently took me by surprise and left me startled. She had shared a story about the fun of growing up in a small, vibrant neighbourhood teeming with kids her own age. She had woven a story around the favourite childhood game of `hide and seek`, one that was played with great enthusiasm between all the boys and girls of the colony. Writing about an incident, viewed through the eyes of a seven year old, she mentions the darkened stairway, the excitement that courses through the body when one is trying to avoid being spotted by the ‘den’.  And, then she wrote about being fondled by a young friend as they hid in a secluded part of the house. Though she knew instinctively that this was not correct, she mentions withholding this information from me for fear of being stopped from going out to play.

After reading the incident she shared, I lived with guilt for many days, as I always thought myself to be an involved mother, one who was totally connected with her child and shared a very close and communicative bond at both, an emotional and mental level. Yet I had no inkling of what was going on in my daughter’s mind.

I’ve realized that there are some topics that are sensitive and in all cases `life-changing` for the child while he/or she is growing up. It also made me understand that children function at a very different level. They have different motivations that might keep them from sharing things that happen to them. We cannot ‘assume’ anything when we are bringing up a child. As responsible parents, we must communicate to our children about touch, both good and bad. We should discuss incidents that they do not talk about or are agitated about. During adolescence and more so in younger years we need to be very specific, directional and clear in our conversations especially when there are a number of people the child comes in contact with on a daily basis.

It is a reality that most cases of child sexual abuse are perpetrated at places where the child is supposed to be most secure. In many cases the child who is abused tries to indicate that all is not right in their little world. They cannot always articulate what has happened or is happening to them. They might verbalise their discomfort in words such as, “I don’t like that person” or “I don’t want to go to this house.” Their reluctance to be with a particular person or visible agitation in that person’s presence is a strong indicator that something is not right.

Child sexual abuse quite often manifests itself in many non-verbal behavioural changes like bed-wetting, stealing from a parent’s wallet, reluctance to go to sleep or waking up with nightmares. Some kids might regress into babyish behaviour and might not want to be left alone. They might stop eating. Quite often school grades might fall and teachers might notice a marked change in the child’s personality. Some young children might demonstrate precocious interest in sex. There could be more telling signs like unexplained bruising that should never be ignored.

Older children might become depressed, take drugs or indulge in self-destructive behaviour. They might find themselves lashing out against people who hold positions of authority in their life. These might be ways for them to communicate the trauma they are going through. A vigilant adult might look for more clues rather than write off these changes as mere teenage tantrums.

Jyoti, a survivor of CSA, now being counselled at RAHI, was abused from the age of six, she categorically says, `The kids who are being abused are telling, but the adults are not listening…` This is indeed a frightening scenario. If adults turn a deaf ear to the pleas of little children, their trauma could go on for years, scarring them for life.

According to Anuja Gupta, a counsellor at RAHI, it is often better for the victim not to tell, than to tell and not be helped…She says the trauma is tripled when faced with relatives and authorities who doubt the child and question the veracity of the child’s narration of what has been done to him or her.

The fear of being stigmatized and an unwillingness to implicate family members both lead to child sexual abuse being shrouded in secrecy within homes. Misplaced sense of loyalty facilitates the continued perpetuation of such crimes.

If there is any suspicion in a care givers mind, it should not be taken lightly. They need to be perceptive and vigilant to notice changes in behaviour in their children and also in the people around them. Quite often the touch of an elder towards the child is inappropriate, yet one is hesitant to voice displeasure. Children need to know that they are loved enough for people to stand up for them. If one is confused or has reason to suspect that a child might be abused there are helplines that offer guidance and advice 24 hours, like CHILDLINE India Foundation at 1098, or the Delhi Helpline at 181. Do not hesitate to call, even if it is just to clear your own doubts

We HAVE to be the voice of our children till they can develop a voice of their own, one that is strong enough and loud enough for others to hear…



  • Bass, Ellen, and Laura Davis. The Courage to Heal. London: Cedar, 1996. Print.
  • “India: Child Sex Abuse Shielded by Silence and Neglect | Human Rights Watch.” India: Child Sex Abuse Shielded by Silence and Neglect | Human Rights Watch. N.p., 7 Feb. 2013. Web. 08 Mar. 2014.

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