It was a cool Saturday. It had rained a few hours earlier and the sand was wet and perfect for play. Four little girls were playing outside on the football field in the neighbourhood. Shola was a bubbly 5 year old who loved to cook gourmet sand recipes. She said she will be a great chef once her mummy lets her cook in the kitchen with real ingredients. Zainab just turned 6 and loves to build cars from anything she lays her hands on, sand, paper, balloons, toys, even her food. According to her, car games are fun and dolls are boring. Efe is 5 years old and the leader of the pack, she loves to draw in the sand and believes everyone needs to give her enough space to birth her artistic ideas. She is the executive play space distributor for the group and no one dares argue with her sharing formula.
Chioma is a bright eyed 4 year old who just loves to sit on the sand and watch her friends play. She’s a quiet girl whose smile pierces the soul with warmth. She’s the perfect customer for Shola’s restaurant, the only one willing to test run Zainab’s car models even though she has gained quite a few injuries doing that. She’s the art enthusiast willing to watch Efe draw and admire her art works. She’s what you will call the perfect team member. Seeing these girls play in the sand amidst laughter and chatter puts a smile on one’s face that can wipe any frustration out. But behind the happy faces of these little girls lie a dark secret. One of them has been sexually abused and we don’t know which one.
According to the Boston University School of Medicine, 1 in 4 girls is sexually abused before the age of 14 and 1 in 6 boys before the age of 16. The US Department of Justice reported that more than 90% of all child sexual abuse victims know their perpetrator. Almost 50% of the offenders are household members and 38% are already acquaintances of the victims. Africa has the highest prevalence of child sexual abuse of 34.4%.
Child sexual abuse is touching a child’s genitals or private parts for sexual pleasure. It is also making a child touch someone else’s genitals, play sexual games and putting objects/body parts (fingers, tongue or penis) inside the vagina, mouth or anus of a child for sexual pleasure. Child sexual abuse includes showing pornography to a child, deliberately exposing an adult’s genitals to a child, encouraging a child to watch or hear sexual acts, inappropriately watching child undress or use the toilet/bathroom. It even includes photographing a child in sexual poses. Sexual abuse by a family member e.g. father/mother, brother/sister, uncle/aunty, nephew/niece, grandparents and other relations is INCEST.
Knowing about child sexual abuse is not enough. Knowing how to prevent it is the most important thing. Here are a few tips:
Open Communication with your Children: Create an atmosphere that enables your children talk to you about anything and do so very early in their lives. If you have older children, ask them how their day was and encourage them to talk about their day in details. Ask questions like, “where did you go today?” “Who were you with today?” “What are their names?” and “What did you do together?” and watch for their reactions. Know the people in your children’s lives from their friends to their teachers to their coaches at school to their friend’s parents. If your child suddenly dislikes a person or an activity with an adult he/she used to like. Pay close attention and find out the reason.
Early and Continuous Sex Education: This is a discussion most parents avoid. It used to be okay not to teach your children about their body and sex some years back but today, if you don’t they will learn it from friends, movies, the internet and from adults who will become their abuser. Sex education is not a one off talk, it is a talk that you will have with your children at every stage of their lives and as their curiosity grows. Teach your children about their body parts. Don’t use slangs like “pee pee” for penis. Tell your children the correct names for their body parts and parts of their body that is private to them and must not be touched by anyone.
Avoid One on One with an Adult: Ensure your children are never left alone in private with an adult not even a lesson teacher or a relative. If your child is interested in sports or any activity that requires a personal coach, make sure such coaching sessions are done in the open spaces where people or someone can see them. Talk to your child when he/she returns, observe the child’s mood and see if he/she can confidently talk about their activity with the adult. Drop in unexpectedly when a child is alone with an adult even; trusted family members. If you eliminate or reduce one adult/one child situations, you will dramatically lower the risk of sexual abuse for your children.
Talk to your children about Sexual Abuse: Mention that the abuser might be a close family member, an adult friend or an older youth. Let children know that no adult should ask them to keep a secret from their parents or anyone else.
Be Proactive: If you suspect any sign of abuse on your children, take them for medical examination and confirm. Trust and act on your intuitiveness or sixth sense. If you notice your child acting strangely around a particular adult like a little girl who always pulled up her clothes anytime her mother’s younger brother came around, ask the child and act fast. If your child seems uncomfortable or resistant to being with a particular adult, find out the reason and do something about it. Many child abuse survivors say that they wished their parents did something when they told them about the abuse. May we at this point ask for your cooperation to reports abusers to the police whether it is your relation or your house help. Sending them out of your house protects your children but puts more children at a risk of being abused by that same person.
Trust your Child’s Perceptions: Children are naturally intuitive and often sense an adult’s ulterior motives, although you may not suspect anything. Many victims say they knew what the adult was doing to them was wrong but didn’t know how to stop it. Parents need to recognize that even people who are in positions of authority and respected by their communities can be abusers.
Child sexual abuse happens all year long, it never takes a holiday or a day off and we can’t either. Over to you guys, share your comments, suggestions, advice or questions with us below.
Photo Credit: newsone.com
Project Alert is a non-governmental human rights organization established in 1999 to protect and promote the rights of women and young girls in the society, especially their rights to live free from all forms of violence against them. Our areas of intervention are Research and Documentation (R&D), Human Rights Education (HRE) and Support Services Program (SSP) which includes legal aid, temporary shelter services for abused women, counselling, and skills acquisition training. Follow us on twitter @Projectalertvaw and connect with us on Facebook: Project Alert on violence against women | Our website