CSA FAQ by Arpan Part 9 : Concerns and Apprehension
Concerns and Apprehension
Q35. How can parents talk about sensitive concepts like sexual abuse which is the core of Personal Safety?
Parenting is not an easy task. Parents do take up the challenges and support children in realizing their full potential and in keeping themselves safe. Communicating with children about their personal safety is a critical step in ensuring that they are safe and equipped to identify and respond to unsafe situations. It is natural for parents to feel embarrassed/uncomfortable because of the way society addresses these issues and the environment in which they have grown up. Personal Safety Education introduces appropriate vocabulary to help avoid embarrassment and continue conversations as children grow. For example, the touching rule (it is never all right for someone to touch, look at, talk about your private body parts except to keep you clean and healthy) is a simple yet holistic guideline to help children recognize unsafe situations- be it being touched inappropriately by a stranger or being shown pornography by an uncle.
In order to handle their discomfort, parents might take help of available resources (listed in our website), talk to their fellow family members or seek professional help for e.g., pediatricians/gynecologists/counselors. It is also important for parents to reflect on their own discomfort and work on it.
Q36. Sometimes young children are observed touching their private parts, could this be a sign of CSA or a natural reflection of a person’s sexuality?
Every action needs to be adjudged within its framework. Before you, as a caregiver, respond to this situation you should be aware of why, how and when a child is touching his private body parts. While a child’s unnatural interest in his/her genitalia may be an indicator of the Child Sexual Abuse, it is important to know that children touch themselves for several reasons, from curiosity to absent-mindedness to comfort. Children most often engage in sexual behavior that is based in developmental curiosity. This is normal and these children generally stop when they are told to do so or outgrow it naturally.
However, as a caregiver it is critical that you respond to the situation appropriately without being harsh, embarrassed or drawing too much attention to it. For example, reminding children of the Personal Safety Rule could be sufficient. When touching their private body parts become a preoccupation for children to the extent that it starts to impact their other daily activities, you might have to probe further to find the cause for such a behavior. It could be that they might have experienced sexual abuse themselves or it could just be that they are confused about sex and sexuality. In these situations, children need to be handled gently and referred for therapeutic support if the inappropriate behavior continues.
Q37. How do we handle curiosity/exploration etc. of children while playing with other children?
Children have the right to have their questions and concerns responded to in a timely and respectful manner – this means that adults should give age-appropriate information when asked for and answer their questions seriously (that is, don’t laugh at the child because of their questions or interests). However, parents and teachers need to give the information in a way that the child can understand. The vocabulary and context of the Personal Safety Lessons helps facilitate this – the vocabulary of private body parts and simple safety rules. As guardians/teachers we can be more vigilant and loving and gently converse with children about their actions. At the same time, children need to be equipped with skills that will help them acknowledge, understand and respect their own feelings, as well as those of others.
When children grow up, they want to belong to a group of friends. Peer pressure often becomes uncomfortable or even dangerous (drugs, alcohol, sex). At times children might even comply with unsafe situations in order to gain peer approval. Guardians can support their children and make them feel confident about the fact that they have the right to refuse if anyone touches them in a way that makes them feel angry, sad and/or confused and makes them feel like they are caught in an uncomfortable and unsafe situation. However, it is the norm for teenagers to break rules as they want to try on new rules and responsibilities. This means that often children agree to engage in sexual interactions with one another (thus breaking the touching rules). It is important for parents to create boundaries for teenagers through appropriate and positive disciplining and help them understand and learn from their experiences. Instead, if they continue beating or verbally harassing the children, that could lead the child away from parental support and into continued inappropriate behavior.
Q38. How do we respond to a situation when children have accidentally witnessed parents having sexual intercourse?
If children happen to witness parents having sexual intercourse accidentally, it is not sexual abuse. However, parents need to make an effort to have privacy while having sex. It is critical that the matter should be addressed with the children and an open dialogue needs to be initiated. At any cost the matter should not be sidelined or avoided and neither should children be lied to. Age appropriate factual information should be imparted respectfully to children or else they will get contradictory messages. There is also a probability that the child may procure information from other sources which in most cases might be scary myths rather than actual facts. If children have received Personal Safety Education from early years and the parents already have well established communication channels with their children then it becomes easier for both the children and parents to handle these situations. (Also refer to the answer for question no. 14)
Q39. How do we reply when children ask us how babies are formed / born or questions regarding mating of dogs?
Children are curious and ask a lot of question; they are growing and are exposed to so many new things every day. When children raise questions, we need to give them honest responses in an age appropriate manner. There is no one way to answer these questions as every child is different and may understand things differently. At these times, it is important not to be angry with the child or feel embarrassed or prevent the child from asking such questions or to ignore the question. Parents can look up for resources that can make them more comfortable to answer children in a factual way and in a language that they understand. Parents can also let their children know if they do not have answer to their question at that time. However, then it becomes the parent’s responsibility to find out the answer and let the child know. The parents should neither treat this as an excuse to avoid the question nor should they wait for the children to ask it for the second time. In the efforts to educate the child appropriately parents/caregivers need to overcome their discomfort. If needed, one can seek professional help from a family doctor/gynecologist/ pediatrician/counsellor as they will be in a position to impart relevant information to the child. However, for first hand advice on questions related to having babies, Personal Safety vocabulary helps.
Q40. How do parents respond when children ask questions like why are they not allowed to enter the room while one of the parent are changing? Why is the other parent allowed to enter the room at that time?
Parents can respond to younger children by reminding them of the touching rule. However, older children might not be satisfied with this response and they might want to know why mother is allowed to enter the room while father is changing and vice versa. Sex is about private parts but also about privacy. Sex and privacy have a lot to do with relationships and people behave differently in different relationships. For example, you can hold the hand of a friend, hug your parents, maybe kiss your girlfriend, verbally greet your neighbor, but only wave to the shop keeper. This is the same for the difference between husband-wife and parent-child. For example, you could draw their attention to the difference in relationship that parents share with children and parents share between each other: “Does your mummy take care of you? Does she take care of your friends or neighbours in the same way”? [Expected Response- No] “The way she looks after your dad does she do the same thing for you as well? There are certain things that she does only for you and few things that she does only for dad, or other people in the family. Similarly how your father takes care of you is different from how he looks after other people. Your parents love each other differently. So all of us have different responsibilities towards different people and we express our love towards them differently. Were you allowed to go out and play alone when you were 3-4 yrs old? [Expected Response – No]But today you are; similarly when you grow up, you will be allowed to do a lot of things which you cannot do now or cannot understand now. Your parents are adults they have different ways of behaving with each other and taking care of each other”.
1. Psycho-somatic Illnesses– disorders having physical symptoms but originating from mental or emotional causes
2. Ideation– The forming of an idea
3. Psychosis– any form of severe mental disorder in which the individual’s contact with reality becomes highly distorted
We are deeply grateful to Majlis Legal Centre for their invaluable inputs.