My aim in this article is not to delve upon the many statistical figures, facts and effects of Child Sexual Abuse (CSA), most of which is perpetuated by members of close/extended family, family friends and people in caretaking positions. In the past couple of years alone, there have been tremendously powerful testimonials and analyses that have done the same and demonstrated the rampancy and brutal side effects of CSA.
Even after almost ten years when my own scholarly engagement with the issue began, most of us still have to rely on the 2007 Ministry of Women and Child Development (MWCD) study on CSA that revealed how most CSA is incestuous. Newer studies are cropping up which tell us the vastly slow pace at which interest and awareness of CSA is moving; compared to other ‘hot’ topics in (inter)national development such as sexuality and child marriage.
I intend to instead analyse the connections between CSA and other emergent socioeconomic and political realities in our country, such as changing urban spaces and hyper-nationalism, in order to imagine more fruitful ways of dealing with the issue and most importantly, healing. While the term ‘Child Sexual Abuse’ is not inaccurate, we need to acknowledge that incest forms most CSA instances.
However, when it comes to CSA, the word ‘incest’ cannot be an all-encompassing word. ‘Incest’ here refers to an adult relative/caregiver in the position of power to sexually abuse a child. It does not refer to adults who are practising consent.
As an academic who works on sexual violence and a survivor who is still coming to terms with her abuse—not just the actual acts but every other betrayal that incest inflicted CSA usually entails, such as denial by family members and differential gender treatment in our country—I have noticed the changing urban settings and family structures within which younger generations face abuse.
For instance, as overwhelming survivor accounts reveal, joint families have always been conducive sites for abuse for obvious reasons—close proximities between children and adults, traditional beliefs that hold adults in perpetual positions of power, to name a few. However, with deepening globalization and increasing rural to urban migration that has garnered momentum since the 1990s, nuclear families have become more widespread and spaces where urban children ‘hang out’, have transformed as well.
These spaces are also divided based on class and caste. So for instance, while public toilets for basti children (who lack such facilities at home) pose a grave risk for sexual assault, a middle-class child is at increased risk of abuse by home-based nannies and tuition teachers.
How do changing urban landscapes and slow death of traditional family structures force us to think about the context and nature of CSA, who does it, and ways it can be prevented—without the responsibility of prevention falling solely on working women, who in most cases, are forced to leave their kids with caregivers while being upheld to unrealistic standards of motherhood.
‘Incest’ here refers to an adult relative/caregiver in the position of power to sexually abuse a child.
In our country, along with other parts of the globe currently, we are living in a particularly hyper-nationalist moment where our regional, linguistic and sexual diversity is constantly under threat of being co-opted into a singular, Hindi-speaking, Brahmanical, heteropatriarchal entity. U.P. C.M. Yogi Adityanath’s recent attack on secularism, for instance, is reflective of this narrow nationalism where there is just one idea of the “Indian”, and the rest is just a “Western” import.
Needless to say that in this vision, incest is a topic that is at grave risk of being branded as a “western” phenomenon. This has always been the case but in the current political environment, it is getting easier for patriarchal politicians to point at technology and media in order to make such preposterous claims, which are easily lapped up by their loyal constituencies.
Finally, CSA will happen irrespective of our best efforts to contextualize and tackle it. For children who have been or are being abused, how do we conduct sex education and send positive messages on sexuality, when CSA permeates every aspect of their sexual beings and defines ‘sexual’ for them?
For a staggering number of adults reading this piece who are CSA survivors themselves, how do we not only confront our abuse, heal and learn to love ourselves, and then move beyond that to see how we are so much more than the sum total of our abuse? A large part of my healing has been academically engaging with CSA and working with school children on the issue. Let’s give ourselves love and space and find out how we can move from being CSA survivors to thrivers.
For people interested in healing from incest and child sexual abuse (CSA), RAHI organizes regular healing workshops. There is an upcoming one in Hyderabad in the first week of January 2018. Please contact Akanksha at firstname.lastname@example.org for more details.
Featured Image Credit: Nature’s Way Counselling