Being sexually abused as children can leave a lasting impact on one’s life and character, says Sonal Kellogg. For the Ahmedabad resident, these words on the effect of child sexual abuse (CSA) are not just critical insights, but drawn from her own experiences. Abused by her uncle from an early age, Sonal can offer a first-hand account of the trauma and aftereffects of abuse as a child.
“No child should be sexually abused. Rather, no child should be abused at all,” she says.
The 54-year-old Sonal not only narrates her experience without inhibition but also hopes to aid other CSA survivors with her forthcoming website – SABFree.
The former journalist, who is now a food critic and content writer, and single mother to two daughters, admits that she wasn’t always this outspoken. “I told nobody for years,” she says, adding that she is not alone in her silence. “People keep silent for years, and the hurt, pain and anger continues.”
Despite countless narratives of children being sexually abused, stories both horrifying and poignant, the phenomena continues to remain in the shadows. In 2007, a study showed that 51% children in India have been subjected to sexual abuse.
It’s a staggering figure—amplified by the realization that a significant number of children are abused not by strangers, but family members like fathers and uncles. Yet, stigma and lack of awareness combines to keep such incidents hush-hush, which Sonal says places immense power in the hands of the perpetrator.
She says, “The biggest weapon in the hands of the abuser is silence. At most times, people keep silent about it for years, and the pattern continues. What happened to me also happens to someone else. But the feeling of brokenness (among the survivors) heals best by speaking.”
Coming to terms with her own abuse while encountering news reports and stories of CSA, Sonal decided there was no better time to turn the spotlight on the issue and began to lay the groundwork for a digital initiative.
SABFree, short for Speak up and Be Free, aims to offer support for CSA survivors and give them a platform to share their experiences with each other.
The interactive website’s highlight will be a forum for CSA abusers to share their experiences, have conversations with each other and deal with the emotional trauma undergone by the participants. Sonal hopes to document the responses as well, and analyse the data to approach CSA and its prevention from a critical perspective.
The pain and conflicting feelings resulting from prolonged sexual abuse can perpetuate for a long time. More so, when one is just a child. Sonal says, “Children don’t have the language or ability to explain what is happening to them.”
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In an even more alarming situation, grown-ups sometimes refuse to believe children when they mention an instance of abuse. There are also conceptual problems in understanding the implications of CSA.
“For instance, people have a hard time believing that little boys can also be abused,” Sonal says. “There have been numerous reports about it, and studies even show that the number of boys being abused at a young age is actually a little higher than girls. I find this very surprising”
Simple lessons, like teaching children about the difference between good touch and bad touch can be empowering for children. “Awareness among parents is also important, though there are of course instances of abusive fathers too,” Sonal adds.
In her opinion, speaking out can be a cathartic experience for the survivors who may have never spoken about their experience before. More importantly, it can bring about change. “We have to stop child abuse—we are talking about millions of people,” she asserts.
The website is Sonal’s first step towards a bigger movement to prevent the perpetuation of CSA crimes.
Currently raising funds through a crowdfunding website, Sonal hopes to get started in a few months. She is currently leading the movement on her own, and finding like-minded people to join her initiative is one of her priorities.
Having recently found volunteers to aid her with creating the website, she now wants help in managing the day-to-day operations of SABFree, from managing an active community on the forum to leading awareness campaigns. Her aim is to expand into offline activities, with awareness programmes, events and discussions that can offer solutions to bring about a sustainable change in society.
Her own experiences have been a motivation for Sonal as much as her daughter. “My younger daughter is soon appearing for her exams,” she says. “My older daughter is married, and she and my son-in-law have been a great source of encouragement for me.”
With their support, she is now also penning her experiences in a new book, another means for her to make her voice heard to the world. The anonymity does more harm than good, she opines, and the only way forward is to put an end to victim shaming. Why should we stay in the shadows,” she asks, speaking for herself and countless others.