New Delhi, Feb 2: Sakshi (name changed) was just 13 years old when she was sexually assaulted by a relative who had come to live with her and her family in their south Delhi home.
The girl, who was studying in Class 7, was too terrified to even confide the repeated sexual assaults to her mother, who also failed to see the tell-tale signs. After months of torture, she finally broke down one day.
Her parents – both educated professionals – instead of approaching the police asked the 28-year-old relative to leave and tried to counsel the girl. Sakshi, however, was not able to respond well to counseling.
Her story is not a solitary one. There are many such Sakshis who are not able to confide in their parents or recover from the mental and physical traumas inflicted by someone they relied on or considered as a part of the family.
According to police officers and psychologists, in the majority of cases, the accused are known to the victim. Delhi Police, in their latest data, stated that rape cases increased from 680 in 2012 to 1,559 in 2013. According to the figures, in 96 percent cases the victims were known to the accused.
Despite such startling figures, most victims do not even confide in their parents, let alone register the crime, police said. Experts say this is why parents should take note of behavioral changes that may occur in children.
“Children may suddenly start avoiding a particular relative or friend. Such specific avoidance should not be ignored by parents,” Shekhar Sheshadri, professor, Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at Bangalore’s National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences, told IANS.
“Symptoms like sleep disorders, bed wetting, and school avoidance can be because of different reasons but can also be symptoms for a sexually abused child,” he said.
According to data released by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) for 2012, offenders were known to the victims in as many as 24,470 (98.2 percent) cases.
The data revealed that parents or close family members were involved in 393 out of 24,470 cases (1.6 percent), neighbours were involved in 8,484 out of 24,470 cases (34.7 percent), and relatives were involved in 1,585 out of 24,470 cases (6.5 percent).
Experts believe that developing a culture of conversation, and imparting sex education at the right time, can help reduce instances of such abuses.
“Talking about sex education is still taboo. With the decrease in puberty age, it’s important to discuss when, how and what kind of sex education should be imparted,” Adarsh Kohli, professor, Chandigarh’s Postgraduate Institute of Medical Education and Research (PGIMER), told IANS.
“Parents should create a rapport with their children,” she added.
Sheshadri added that an environment of comfort helps children open up to their parents.
“Children should be provided with an environment where they feel free to talk to parents. The habit of talking daily should be inculcated from a young age,” he added.
He said that the discussions should not be one-sided, and even parents should share their daily routine with their childfren in an interesting way.
To make children who have undergone such trauma, health experts suggest that parents handle the matter in an understanding way.
“They should never blame the child,” said Sheshadri.
He added that parents should ensure that their child does not feel “blamed” or “responsible” for what happened with him/her.
“If a child gets the slightest idea that he/she may be scolded or blamed, then he/she may refrain from discussing it with his/her parents,” he said.
Monika Chhibber, head of clinical psychology at Fortis Hospital, said that apart from opening channels of communication and reading change in a child’s demeanour, it is essential to maintain a close collaboration with the child’s school and teachers.
“Since a child spends many hours at school, often teachers are able to pinpoint if something is amiss. Hence it becomes essential to maintain a close association with the school and teachers,” Chhiber told IANS.
(Shweta Sharma can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)