In a world where taboo and stigma takes centre stage, our voices are trapped within layers of mistreatment and fear. A victim of child sexual abuse, coming forward and talking about the experience that changed their life forever does not find the support and love that they require. Rather they are told, “What will people say?” People talking, an accusing finger wiggling under our noses, apparently needs more attention than justice and the freedom to come out and talk about the hurt that is persistent in the lives of survivors.
I am a victim of child sexual abuse. At an age when we are told the stories of princesses being saved, I was molested by a newspaper vendor my family knew quite well. This happened for three years, from the time I was ten till I was thirteen. This article, however, has not been written to give the gory details of the incident. I do not intend to try and gather people’s attention towards what happened, I want all of us to see what could have happened.
When someone comes forward to share their story of child sexual abuse, the driving force behind their action is usually a newfound sense of liberty and courage gathered from places ranging from friends to self help groups and organisations. The one fear that engulfed me since childhood, whenever I thought of recounting my experience, was the thought that my story will be the one thing that would define me; that people will not look beyond my experiences as a child. I did not want to be tagged as a ‘survivor’ or a ‘victim’, I did not want my friends to begin talking about me with ‘You know she was molested as a child…’
deep down, I knew I needed to be hugged and told that I am loved regardless of what happened.
It was difficult to get over this fear and start to tell about the incident to my friends and peers. The real breakthrough happened, however, when I recounted my story of sexual abuse to a journalist a couple of months ago. When I told her that I don’t blame my parents for what happened and I never will, she said that I needed to forgive myself more than I needed to forgive them. So I decided to tell them, to recite the one story that had defined my life for almost a decade now, because I knew it shouldn’t.
I realized that there must be hundreds of people out there, continuing to live a life of desolation because they were not told in their childhood, that it is okay to be a victim of sexual abuse, and that the blame lies on the shoulders of their perpetrator. But society does not think so. A survivor is tarnished by the incident that should have been a reflection of how the world fails its children. I tried for weeks to find an appropriate moment when I could tell my parents about what had happened, not because I was looking for solace in their acceptance of the fact that they could not protect their only child inside their own house, but because deep down, I knew I needed to be hugged and told that I am loved regardless of what happened.
Also read: The Taboo Of Child Sexual Abuse In India
Over the summer vacations at home, I spent many hours dwelling on finding the right time and the correct method to tell them about the incident. However, futility paved its way in when I failed to muster up the courage to tell my parents how I have questioned my abilities for over a decade, and I returned to college without any success.
But the revelation was meant to happen anyway. One fine day, when I was told by my mother that my friend’s home is not safe for me and that “Kuch bhi ho sakta hai” (Anything could happen). In a fit of rage, I blurted out that she couldn’t save me from being sexually abused in her own home. What I wanted to be an adult, sensitive conversation with my parents became a war of self-esteem and shifting the blame on one another. My mother ended up telling me that it was my fault and that “I shouldn’t have opened the door.” But the fact is, I did open the door, and that it did happen, regardless of what I should or shouldn’t have done. I said, “Try explaining this to a ten year old, not me.”
At this point, I want to reflect upon what went wrong. As people, we are taught to save ourselves from abuse; we are asked to protect ourselves at all costs. We are, however, never told that sometimes, it is okay to fail. It is okay to not be in a safe zone all the time, and that falling victim at the hands of a felon is their fault, and not ours. What my mother was not told during her childhood was that she didn’t need to remain within bolted doors all the time in order to remain safe. My father was not told during the parent-teacher meetings that even a happy, meritorious child can have scars that lie under her skin. What the society as a whole doesn’t know, is that we don’t need ‘courage’ to talk about something that isn’t our fault in the first place. When we begin to empathize, we understand that the fault is nobody’s in particular, but our pseudo and misguided notions of perfection.
What the naive child’s mind doesn’t know, is that being wronged is not equivalent to being wrong.
Indian children are pressurized too much into being a good kid; they are told to behave in a certain way, to act a certain way, and to basically present a whole package of perfection in front of the world. What the naive child’s mind doesn’t know, is that being wronged is not equivalent to being wrong. What Indian parents need to understand is that a child does not have to be a flag-bearer of how cultured or mannered their family is. We need to get over this rush to be tagged as perfect, unblemished; and one of the ways of doing this is by making our children see the fact that they will find love and respect, irrespective of what they go through. A parents’ love is unconditional, a child must be told the same.
I cannot stress enough on the importance of sexuality education in our schools; especially gender neutral ones. Boys too, are victims of child sexual abuse, anyone who believes otherwise hasn’t been following the reports and studies on the same. Boys are equally vulnerable, and we have to acknowledge this fact. More importantly, sexuality education should be inclusive of the parents as well; after all, it is the parent a child looks up to.
Similarly, it is equally important for the parents to be taught how to handle disclosures. They need to understand that when their child recounts the most horrific details of their lives, they are looking for ineffable love and support, and not “You should have told us earlier.” It is unimportant when we decide to share; the point is to create a space safe enough for a survivor to be able to share their experience, and what we do afterward. We have to teach our children how to become their own saviours, they don’t have to depend on some armour bearing superhero who takes too long to arrive.