“In my years of practice I saw that almost 80% of the patients who came to me for mental health concerns were victims of abuse – sometimes in childhood and at other times victims of domestic abuse.”
7-year-old Veer has suddenly developed a fear of going into the study in his house. His parents have been goading him to get over his fear, but they are unable to understand the basis of it. This continues for a few more weeks until one day in school he breaks down.
Upon having a conversation with him, he tells his teacher about a cousin who has been showing him lewd pictures and obscene videos when they spend time playing and watching television in the study.
At 7, Veer has understood that something is wrong about this, but he is unable to find the words to tell his parents why he is fearful and uncomfortable.
Such moments go beyond simple ‘good touch-bad touch’, and they need urgent addressing.
To go beyond the realm of ‘good touch-bad touch’, a concept that almost every educational institution today is conducting workshops on, we at The Better India, spoke to Ashwini N V, a psychologist and the founder of the Muktha Foundation based in Bengaluru.
Muktha Foundation, which began as a project in 2016 and was later registered as a Not-for-profit Trust in 2017, works on preventing child sexual abuse and promoting mental health.
Ashwini says, “In my years of practice I saw that almost 80% of the patients who came to me for mental health concerns were victims of abuse – sometimes in childhood and at other times victims of domestic abuse.”
One of the reasons why Muktha Foundation came into being was to study the interpersonal relationship between mental health and abuse.
“One of the projects that we have launched is called ‘Bhaya Muktha’, which means freedom from fear. For this, we have trained close to a lakh students to help them exercise caution when dealing with people. We empower them with the signs they can use to identify predators,” she says.
Why do we need to go beyond the good touch-bad touch model?
“Very often in cases of abuse, there is no physical contact at all. So by only teaching the children to differentiate by touch, we are giving them half-baked information,” she says.
Examples of abuse where the perpetrator does not touch the child at all are many.
A perpetrator might be deriving pleasure from the voyeuristic act of watching the child when he/she is taking a bath or changing their clothes.
Another abuser may be making the child view obscene material. These are all abuses as well.
Ashwini also urges us to watch for changes in behaviour pattern in children as they may be warning signs of abuse.
Some of the signs may be:
• Inappropriate engagement with toys or objects
• Becoming unusually secretive
• Nightmares and sleeping problems
• Writes or draws images with a sexual connotation
• Becoming extremely withdrawn or clingy
• Thinks of self or body as repulsive or dirty
• Reacting in a surprised manner when asked if somebody is misbehaving with them
• Change in eating habits, difficulties in swallowing.
In an earnest attempt at making a difference, Ashwini has laid down ‘6 Cautions’ that children must be taught as a thumb rule to help prevent sexual abuse.
1. ‘Look’ Caution
Acts of voyeurism, exhibitionism, making children watch pornography, ‘sexting’, and other behaviours where the sexual abuse involves ‘seeing’ must be reported.
2. ‘Hear’ Caution
Acts of speaking in a vulgar manner directly or over the phone, telling a child ‘I am going to touch you’ (Not necessarily doing it), pressurising a child to touch him/her verbally (irrespective of the outcome) must also be reported.
3. ‘Touch’ Caution
A child must be empowered and encouraged to report not just when touched in the private parts, but mostly when touched unnecessarily and when nobody seems to be around.
Over-emphasising on what is considered ‘private parts’, has in many cases led to cases going unreported as children fail to recognize and therefore report it.
4. ‘Hold’ Caution
Any act of hugging, making the child sit on the lap, or penetrative sexual activity that makes the child uncomfortable must be reported.
5. ‘Alone’ Caution
While this does not directly constitute sexual abuse, it could very well act as a precursor to sexual abuse or some other form of abuse. This refers to encouraging a child to be in circumstances where the child is alone or seeking information regarding when the child is alone.
6. ‘Space’ Caution
Getting very close to children despite a lot of space around. This can act as a precursor to possible abuse.
With this petition, Ashwini and the organisation are hopeful of starting a conversation about prevention of child sexual abuse. She says,
“This is not a subject that you can introduce for one year and forget about. It needs to be reiterated time and again depending on the age appropriateness of the child. Think of it as working with concentric circles, each year you need to increase your radius.”
“While the implementation of the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POSCO) Act, 2012 is great legislation, it is only tertiary. What we need is primordial prevention,” she says.
It is also important to educate adults about these various behaviour patterns and look beyond the basic good touch-bad touch method of dealing with child sexual abuse.
We urge you to help Ashwini get this point across to the government and for that she needs your help. Do click here to lend your support to this cause.
(Edited By Vinayak Hegde)