Child sexual abuse is a violation of a child’s body as well as of the trust, implicit in a care giving relationship. This violation can have a significant impact on how the child, as a victim and later
on as an adult survivor, sees and experiences the world.
The effects of child sexual abuse can be damaging
but need not be permanent.
Child sexual abuse is not even acknowledged as a reality by many, say trainers from Arpan who are trying to create awareness about this taboo subject
In India, talking about sex and sexuality is still a taboo. Child sexual abuse (CSA) is not even acknowledged as a reality. People were shocked when Pooja Taparia started creating awareness about the issue. She is the founder of the NGO, Arpan, which started work in this area in 2007. It came into being with a team of just two or three people who started conducting awareness sessions, training various stakeholders like children, parents, teachers, civil society groups, clubs, etc.
Going back to her own early work in this field, Pooja recalls, “The inspiration to start working on the issue came when I watched a play on CSA and was deeply moved by it. The play depicted the trauma faced by a survivor of sexual abuse as she carries on with her life, makes decisions, develops relationships and the fears and crisis she experiences in her everyday life. The play shook me from the core. The understanding that children are violated (the violation of not only child’s body but the trust implicit in care-giving relationship) and the revelation that child sexual abuse can be psychologically traumatic and disturb a person’s everyday experience of self and others if not supported and healed at the appropriate time, unsettled me. So I decided to do something about it.”
Arpan evolved an effective two-pronged strategy—prevention and healing—to reduce the occurrence of CSA and heal its psychological, social, sexual and physical consequences. Its preventative programme is called ‘Personal Safety Education’ (PSE) and is the core programme. PSE is conducted in private, semi-private and government schools and institutions. The programme aims to empower children by imparting age-appropriate knowledge, information and skills related to personal safety and by building their self-esteem to prevent and protect them from sexual abuse. The programme also includes awareness and skill enhancement of adults like parents, teachers and institutional caretakers who are the primary stakeholders in a child’s life. These stakeholders are empowered with adequate information and skills about CSA so that they can create strong safety and support networks around children in their respective environments.
The second part of Arpan’s work is to provide psycho-therapeutic support to children who report cases of attempted and continued sexual abuse. Qualified psychologists work with survivors of CSA and their families to heal the trauma and impact they faced. “We work at various levels to help restore the child’s sense of self awareness, self-worth, create safe and supportive environment, stabilisation, help the child to process the trauma and reach re-integration,” says Pooja.
Over the past eight years, Arpan has reached out to over 22,000 children and adults directly through its training and capacity building programmes.
An anecdote narrated by a parent illustrates the effectiveness of Arpan’s efforts. “When an uncle tried to kiss my child who has borderline mental retardation, the child categorically said: ‘NO, do not kiss me. I will not allow’… I did not think the child would understand, you trained us and her takeaway is so high that now I am confident that she will be able to protect herself.” The child is just under four years old. Donations can be made in the name of Arpan by demand draft or cheque, payable in Mumbai. Donors will receive a receipt as well as the 80G certificate for income-tax exemption.
by Shreya Sen and the Therapeutic Intervention team at Arpan
Therapy for child sexual abuse survivors is an aspect often ignored when it comes to responding to abuse. However, therapy can help navigate the various trying circumstances a survivor faces, such as in the case of incest. Shreya Sen, with the Therapeutic Intervention team at Arpan, an organization that works to prevent child sexual abuse, talk about the various ways therapy can help heal.
Addressing an issue as prevalent as child sexual abuse is often a daunting task. The patriarchal structure of our society is such that those lower in the power hierarchy (in this case, on grounds of their age) are often faced with a greater risk of sexual violence. This structure also supports and perpetuates an environment of fear and silence around this issue; so much so that the idea of community honor has come to be strongly associated with it. As an organization working towards the prevention of child sexual abuse, one of our biggest struggles is to challenge this culture of shame and social stigma attached to it so that the victim-survivors of sexual violence, and their families, choose not to keep the abuse a secret for the fear of losing social standing.
This culture of silence is often internalized by the victims themselves. A lot of survivors talk about how difficult it was for them to disclose their abuse to their support systems because they felt ashamed and guilty about what happened to them. For survivors to be able to share their stories, it is imperative to create and acknowledge spaces with a safe, compassionate and supportive environment within their immediate surroundings (families, schools, neighborhoods, etc.). Thus, it is important to work towards greater awareness at a societal level, stressing on the wide, prevalent existence of child sexual abuse and how it ties into our social fabric. Persistent and unrelenting work on this would gradually take us towards the larger societal attitude changing in favor of being more acceptable and open to addressing the issue. Additionally, having an atmosphere where sexual abuse is openly talked about allows for survivors to share their stories with each other and build a support system that allows for disclosure in an empathetic space. Through our work, we have found that people often make their own disclosures after witnessing other survivors share their histories of abuse.
At the same time, it is also essential to increase access to safe spaces beyond immediate support systems. Counselling therapy and support is one such safe space that needs to be made available to survivors for their growth and healing. In the present social context, survivors usually have to cope within a dichotomy where their abuse is being either wholly dismissed and/or ignored, or their entire personhood is being built around their experience of abuse. Therapists work towards providing survivors with stable, secure, affirmative relationships which give them a space to feel the way they want to and to help them make meaning of their experiences in their journey of healing. Furthermore, therapists are able to help survivors recognize and acknowledge the significant and seemingly insignificant coping mechanisms that the survivors may have subconsciously adopted to rebuild their lives.
Unfortunately, the stigma around child sexual abuse is matched by the prejudices against its impact on mental health. At our organization, we spend a lot of time addressing the anxieties of survivors and their families that makes them resistant to the idea of therapy. Educating guardians on the meaning and methods of counselling helps reduce some of the resistance since some of the myths and misconceptions they hold against therapy get addressed. For most people, therapy is not as important a form of intervention as some others like legal support or rescue and rehabilitation programmes. But counseling/therapy is often one of the most productive way of helping survivors cope within their existing situation. For instance, in some cases of incest, the abuser may be the primary care taker of the child upon whom the child is dependent for his/her financial, physical and even emotional needs. In such cases, the survivor’s sense of helplessness and loss of control gets further reinforced because they see no escape from their situation. Here, once again, the therapist is able to empower the survivor by helping them recognize and implement their own coping mechanisms, while also being able to strengthen alliances with other trusted/helpful adults (such as a non-offending parent, a teacher, a neighbor, etc.) who can support the child and ensure a greater degree of safety for the child.
It is crucial to acknowledge the short-term and long-term mental health impacts that sexual abuse can have on a child. Trauma, in the context of sexual abuse, can be all pervasive and it may (or may not) affect various aspects of an individual’s life. To what extent it will affect someone depends on several parameters such as the age of the child, available resources, support systems, severity of abuse, relationship with the abuser and so on. The relationship established between the therapist and the survivor can often become one of the first truly egalitarian space for the survivor to regain a sense of power and control. Therapy helps survivors overcome their guilt by attributing accountability of the abuse to the perpetrator instead. Additionally, therapists can help survivors cope with issues like depression and anxiety by helping them set long term goals and envision a life beyond and outside of the abuse.
Children need to be respected, heard, spoken to (softly, openly, honestly). Their curious questions need to be answered creatively, genuinely and playfully. They believe in us and expect that we believe them in return. These are some harbingers of a relationship that the child will treasure forever! If we were to think of a child being violated of her/his basic integrity like in sexual abuse, respect, belief in the child, communicating with them openly/honestly, making them feel heard and understood become more important than ever before. These can be overwhelming times not only for the child but for their entire support system. A therapist who is trained in work with children and families on this issue can be a person to validate collective feelings of concern, help the family navigate through this challenging patch and make visible the strength, resilience and hope, which was always present, but is now shaken up due to such trying times! We always urge guardians to never hesitate to access help – it is only a measure of the hopes and dreams that they have for themselves and their children.
This article was written by Shreya Sen and the ‘Therapeutic Intervention’ team at Arpan. Arpan is an NGO in Mumbai that works towards the prevention of child sexual abuse and providing therapeutic assistance to those affected by it. They also run a counselling helpline for child and adult survivors of child sexual abuse and their support systems. The helpline can be accessed on +91 98190-86444.
A girl never exists in a vacuum. Her community, family, friends, and environment all shape her life. That’s why, to support girls, The Global Fund for Children works with organizations that are rooted in the community and use innovative approaches to advance girls’ rights and well-being. Through our partnership, we help these grassroots organizations grow into thriving and sustainable community resources that can endure for generations.
Last year, GFC invested $1.3 million in 81 organizations working to address the needs of girls in 31 countries around the world.
The International Day of the Girl Child, established by the UN and celebrated each year on October 11, serves to highlight major issues and accomplishments in the field of girl’s rights. This year’s theme is “ending the cycle of violence.” Girls around the world confront many of the worst forms of violence, including genital mutilation, child marriage, and sexual abuse and exploitation. GFC supports grantee partners in every region of the world that are working to help the most marginalized girls and halt the cycle of violence.
To honor the International Day of the Girl Child and to give a sense of the innovative, frontline efforts of GFC’s diverse group of grantee partners, we are highlighting two organizations working to ensure the safety and rights of girls in their home communities: Asociación Civil Defiende in Guatemala and Arpan in India.
Asociación Civil Defiende’s educators facilitate a
workshop about self-esteem and feelings in a rural
elementary school in Guatemala.
Asociación Civil Defiende, one of GFC’s newest grant partners, combats the sexual abuse of girls through a unique prevention program in local schools. Begun by Roberto Morales, a self-trained theater artist, the organization uses creative movement, puppetry, and theater to break the silence around the culturally taboo subject of sexual and gender-based violence in rural Mayan communities.
Through Defiende’s workshops, children learn to assert their rights, understand and respect their bodies, and stand up for the rights of others. Defiende also works with school staff to ensure that schools are safe for both girls and boys and that teachers are equipped to respond in cases of abuse and violence.
Arpan set up an interactive installation about safe and unsafe touches at the KalaGhoda Arts Festival.
Arpan empowers children and communities with prevention and intervention skills to reduce instances of child sexual abuse for both girls and boys. Arpan is a leader in addressing child sexual abuse and was the first organization in Mumbai to offer personal safety education to children, teaching them about safe and unsafe touches and how to seek help.
Arpan also provides training to teachers, parents, and other NGOs on prevention and intervention. Founded by Pooja Taparia, who was motivated to create the organization by the magnitude of the issue and the unavailability of resources to address it, Arpan not only works to prevent abuse but also meets survivor needs. The organization provides psychosocial support, rehabilitative services, and safe spaces for children who have experienced abuse and works with schools to develop long-term plans to ensure the personal safety of students.
The International Day of the Girl Child is an opportunity to recognize what has been achieved for girls around the world. It is also a call to action to address what remains to be done. GFC’s ability to support community-based organizations like Asociación Civil Defiende and Arpan depends directly on the engagement of our own community. Help GFC reach more of the world’s most marginalized girls by making a donation today.
An Arpan educator leads a small group discussion during a Personal Safety Education workshop.
‘60% survivors of child sex abuse against reporting’
SOCIAL STIGMA Distrust of police handling the case is one of the major factors
MUMBAI: A majority of child sex abuse survivors are against mandatory reporting of abuse, which has been stipulated in the new legislation Protection of Children against Sexual Offences Act (POCSOA) , revealed a recent study.
Close to 62.5% survivors interviewed for the study by Arpan, a city-based non-government group stated that they were not okay with mandatory reporting of abuse because of the social stigma. One of the clauses of the POCSOA, 2012, is ‘mandatory reporting of occurring and/ or apprehended sexual offences against children’ under Section 19, which makes failure to report punishable under Section 21 of the Act.
Surprisingly, out of the 64 respondents to the study, 40 were against mandatory reporting stating that their social environments were not sensitive enough for them to disclose abuse. “I’m a man, and it’s almost impossible to make anyone believe that I had been abused by another man,” stated one of the respondents. “I once told someone about my experience and she laughed and told me that I probably enjoyed it.”
Distrust in the manner with which the police would handle the case was also one of the major factors for survivors not wanting to report. “If I was eight or nine years old, and I knew my mother would report the matter to the police, I wouldn't know what ‘complaining to the police’ would lead to,” said another respondent.
Respondents also said that reporting without the consent of the survivor would shake the faith of the child in the trusted adult. “To have someone you confided in to do the same without one’s consent is worse,” wrote a respondent.
Only 24 survivors said that they agreed with the mandatory reporting clause.“If my abuse had been reported to the authorities at the time it was happening, it may have prevented the systematic abuse of other young girls,” said a respondent.
Shreya Sen, co-ordinator, research and development, Arpan who conducted the study said that the study was not aimed at discouraging mandatory reporting.
“The study only shows that instead of just mandatory reporting, awareness and sensitization of responsible stakeholders needs to be done along with the need of safety education to be implemented,” she said.
The seed of Arpan was planted way back in 2006. Since then, the journey of Arpan resembles the growth of the ‘Moso Bamboo tree’ which needs watering every day with no noticeable growth for some time. That does not dampen the spirit of the gardener and the watering of the plant continues. One day, it opens up, catches its first ray of sunshine and away it goes. Arpan’s story of growth has mirrored this. While the initial few years were about building a strong foundation, the last couple of years have seen amazing growth, taking Arpan to new heights. As much as this process has been organic, it would not have been possible without a focused, conscious and deliberate growth and a recognition that this transition is a trade-off between the present and the future. Allied with this, has been the realization that navigating this transition would mean to look at Arpan through a different lens as strategies that were promising for a small scale organization can hinder the growth and sustainability for a larger organization. With Arpan’s maxim, that ‘being better is more important than being bigger’ the continuous challenge has been to ensure that the growth does not jeopardize Arpan’s culture, significance of its beneficiaries, its people, its execution processes, and its quality and controls. Arpan’s story of growth is as much a story of the organizations scale of work as well as growth in each of its clients as well as its team. Given the nature of intervention at times, growth can be momentary, transitory, intangible and not apparent. However, Arpan’s story is incomplete and futile without mapping the growth and change that happens in the life of its beneficiaries. This Annual Report 2013-14, will present the growth of individuals and their journey from being victims to survivors, from vulnerable children to empowered beings participating in their own safety, from unaware caregivers to endowed individuals creating a safety net. Integral to this journey is the growth of Arpan’s practitioners’ who evolve to become more empathetic and compassionate in their approach through their experience and interaction with beneficiaries and their lived realities. Annual Report 2013 - 2014
According to the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, which was passed in 2012, any person who knows of an instance of child sexual abuse must report it to the police, and can face punitive action for not doing so. While this has been welcomed as a vital step towards addressing the problem of child sexual abuse, recent research shows that compulsory reporting may have complications of its own.
By Shreya Sen | Grist Media – Fri 19 Sep, 2014
One day, as you’re playing with your best friend’s son, a child you’ve known since he was a mere tadpole in your friend’s belly, you notice something’s wrong. The normally hyperactive boy is listless and withdrawn, and won’t respond when you ask him what’s wrong. When you next see him, he’s the same, but this time when no one’s around he tells you something you aren’t prepared for: a member of his family has been touching him inappropriately. You know you have to do something, but what that is is still unclear: do you betray his confidence and tell his parents? Should you attempt to make sure he has access to a counselor and therapy? Or do you pick the uneasy, but possibly necessary, option of going to the police? You ask a lawyer friend about your options and learn that, by law, you are expected to report the incident to the police or risk punitive action.
In 2012, the Indian government passed the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act – an important legal document welcomed by activists as an important step in directing social and judicial focus towards the issue of child sexual abuse. But the one clause in the Act that remains a controversial topic is that of having mandatory reporting of child abuse. As the POCSO Act is the most significant piece of jurisdiction passed in prevention of child sexual abuse, it is important to view this clause and its impact through a critical lens.
Section 19 of the Act requires that an offence under the Act – or the apprehension that an offense under the Act is likely to be committed – be reported to a Special Juvenile Police Unit or the local police. Section 21 of the Act makes the failure to report or record such a case punishable by six months imprisonment or a fine, or both. Although this does not apply to children, the responsibility falls to anyone a child may have confided in or knows that a child may have been sexually abused – whether they’re a social worker, a teacher, a neighbor, a family friend, or a neighbor.
The concept of mandatory reporting originated in the USA, and the first laws on the subject were drafted in 1963. The USA has evolved a strong and well-established culture of mandated reporting (albeit amidst controversy), and it has become an important feature in the child abuse laws of that country. In a way, mandatory reporting facilitates the early reporting of child abuse, and sends a strong message that abuse is not acceptable. However, the act of reporting is a very personal one, and the feelings of the survivor as well as the ethical dilemma of the person reporting the abuse are at its core.
I work for an organization that works towards capacity building and consciousness raising about the issue of child sexual abuse. We felt that since the primary benefactors of our work and of the POCSO Act are survivors of sexual abuse, the most important way of assessing the possible impact of mandatory reporting was to ask them how they felt about it.
Around six months ago, we set about interviewing adult survivors of child sexual abuse – having coped with the trauma of abuse as children, they were perhaps more able to make sense of the abuse and its impact in hindsight, and more able to express their feelings about it with some distance. We used an online form with a qualitative, open-ended set of questions, and called for interviews by posting on relevant discussion forums on various social media platforms. Of course it meant that this restricted the sample group to only people affluent and educated enough to access social media forums and respond to a questionnaire in English. But we felt it gave people the choice and autonomy to come forward to answer these questions, if they felt ready for it, rather than seeking out survivors for personal interviews. We took no personal details, ensuring complete anonymity, and provided our respondents with helplines if they experienced triggers or required counseling. Of our 64 participants, two identified as male and 62 as female.
The results, when they came in, were eye-opening. Twenty-four of the participants – 37.5 percent – said that they agreed that reporting sexual abuse of children should be mandatory, but the remaining 40 stated that they were uncomfortable with the idea.
Of the other findings of our survey, three trends were extremely significant. First, we found that most of the respondents of the survey were not able to disclose the abuse to anyone during the abuse or soon after the abuse. The fear of being stigmatized or experiencing a backlash was particularly strong. Most survivors took time to make sense of what had happened, to find the words to describe the event and to work up the courage to talk to someone about it. Guilt and shame were two significant obstructions to disclosure – while these were apparent in almost all of the respondents’ narratives, eight of the respondents said they were sure the abuse was their fault. Some of the respondents didn’t feel like they had access to a support system, and didn’t believe they could get help even if they asked for it. Others were in denial about what had happened, or had repressed the memories of abuse. If the abuser shared a close relationship with the respondent, or had threatened them, this played a role in their decision to talk about the abuse.
Second, the reactions received after talking about the abuse for the first time had a major impact on the survivors’ healing processes. On a personal level, children reporting abuse have to revisit the trauma and deal with the consequences of their revelations. Only 17 respondents received unambiguous, positive and supportive responses upon disclosure. Some reported that their parents hadn’t done enough to make them feel believed or safe, and others said their complaints were brushed aside. One of the respondents wrote: “I assumed they [my parents] would protect me from it. They brushed it off by explaining how I was misunderstanding what was happening, and it was nothing serious. The reaction made me feel desperate and helpless. I had no more hope from anyone else.” The responses the survivors had received after speaking about their abuse had influenced they way they felt about their abusers and themselves.
The main reason that respondents supported mandatory reporting seemed to primarily be to reclaim control by shifting the blame on to the abuser, when it had been projected on to them instead by a culture of victim-blaming. They also seemed to feel that mandatory reporting would put the onus of ensuring justice for the survivor on the responsible adult stakeholders. A vital aspect for several participants was that even if the adults they confided in did not believe the child or were dismissive of the child’s disclosure, they would have to, by law, report the abuser. They also believed that mandatory reporting would make adults primarily responsible for holding the perpetrator accountable. If children were scared to take action, adults would be forced to do it on their behalf.
But the third aspect of the findings we found noteworthy was that every single one of the respondents, even those who supported mandatory reporting, said they didn’t want the police to be the first level of intervention in cases of child sexual abuse. Most participants described their social environments as being “patriarchal”, “misogynistic” or “insensitive”, and were wary of the stigma and blame that they would have to deal with if their abuse was exposed. For some others, it was more important to move on and focus on healing themselves rather than putting their abusers behind bars.
A Human Rights Watch report titled ‘Breaking the Silence: Child Sexual Abuse in India’ published in 2013 documented cases of child sexual abuse in India in various contexts. The way the justice system functions is a key deterrent to the reporting of abuse, according to the report, which says many survivors who do report abuse are “mistreated a second time by a criminal justice system that often does not want to hear or believe their accounts or take serious action against the perpetrators.” The report also establishes that most police officers lack the skill, training and sensitivity to handle cases of sexual violence.
Interestingly, all participants in our survey stated categorically that if a child disclosed a case of ongoing or past abuse to them, they would not report the abuse without the child’s consent. Most said they would consider reporting the abuse if that was the only way to stop it, but it would be a last resort, only after other forms of help, such as including the family, contacting NGOs and talking to therapists had failed. One respondent said: “If a child reported abuse to me, my immediate instinctive response would be to look for at least one adult in its proximity a) to whom it may be comfortable talking about it b) who would have an active hand in altering the circumstances under which the child faces abuse […] I would want to report it to the police and thereby make it public only after ascertaining the child had enough of a distance and dissociation from it. If that distance isn’t possible, at the cost of the abuser probably staying at large, I wouldn’t be too easy about reporting charges. What followed would probably scar the child equally if not more than the abuse.”
This may largely have to do with perceptions: in most cases, the respondents were not speaking about dealing with the police from personal experience. It’s clear that there’s plenty of work to be done not just to sensitize police, but also to spread awareness about the training police undergo and the work they do to aid survivors. The POCSO Act does provide for child-friendly investigations, but the lack of awareness about the conditions of the Act and fear of the police system is a clear deterrent to reporting.
There’s also the legal process to worry about: the gamut of lawyers, interrogations and court appearances that can easily traumatize survivors. One of the respondents wrote about how her parents went to register a complaint upon her disclosure and how she was made to identify her abuser from amongst a number of suspects. She recalled how she was not only petrified at having to see her abuser again, but she was also dealing with extreme anxiety at the possibility of identifying the wrong person and getting him arrested.
From the narratives of our respondents, the understanding that each case of abuse takes place in its own specific context was re-affirmed. Reporting abuse cannot be made mandatory as a blanket law without taking into account these specificities. The decision to report is contextual and almost entirely based on the environment, both immediate and social, of the survivor. Our approach has to extend to a more holistic and targeted approach towards prevention and intervention – legal action is not enough. Police, doctors, teachers, parents and other responsible stakeholders, need to be sensitized. Safety education programs need to be conducted for children, and alongside the law, there has to be a greater emphasis on therapeutic intervention with survivors and their trusted adults.
Mandatory reporting of sexual abuse shouldn’t prevent survivors from seeking help, and it shouldn’t make it difficult for them to disclose their abuse to a trusted adult. In the end, it’s important to remember that the focus must be on the child and what is best for them.
Shreya Sen works as a researcher with Arpan, an NGO that works towards the prevention of child sexual abuse through training and capacity building and providing therapeutic intervention for survivors. This article is part of their research on how survivors of child sexual abuse perceive mandatory reporting.
How often do we sit with the children in our family and talk to them about Child Sexual Abuse? Pooja Taparia’s Arpan will tell you how important it is to do so. Overcoming all challenges, this team has been successful in creating awareness about this horrendous crime gripping our society rapidly. Read further to know more about Arpan and how you can help.
Garima (name changed), an 8-year old girl was sexually abused by her father’s employee. Confused, scared and clueless, she didn’t know what was happening to her, what she should do and who she should talk to about it as the person who abused her was someone she knew and trusted.
Then she attended a session on Personal Safety Skills by Arpan- Towards Freedom from Child Sexual Abuse and realized that the way that acquaintance had touched her was wrong. She gathered the courage and told her father about it. He instantly took action about the employee, comforted his daughter and ensured an open line of communication between them.
This is one of the many cases of child sexual abuse that the country witnesses on a daily basis. While this one ended on a positive note, sadly, in most places, the horrendous act is still rarely talked about in the open. The young victim is either not listened to, not believed or is expected to keep quiet because the culprit is mostly known to the family. To save the family’s “image” in the society, often the incident is suppressed and so is a kid’s childhood. What follows after the abuse is a lifetime of consequences that include lack of trust, lack of self-confidence and disgust towards the society.
As per a study conducted by Ministry of Women and Child Development on Child Sexual Abuse in 2007, 53.22% children faced one or more forms of sexual abuse. 21.90% faced severe forms of sexual abuse and 50.76% other forms of sexual abuse. 50% abusers were persons who were familiar and known to the child.
So, what should a child do in such a situation? When they are most vulnerable, whom should they contact for support? That is when Arpan comes into the picture. Started by Pooja Taparia in 2006, Arpan, a Mumbai-based organization aims to address the issue of child sexual abuse (CSA) which generally goes unnoticed or unreported.
Pooja Tapria started Arpan with an objective to put an end to the horrifying reality of Child Sexual Abuse in India.
Arpan organizes Personal Safety Education Programmes in schools to empower children, teachers, parents and other caretakers on the issue of Child Sexual Abuse. Through its various counselling and therapy sessions, it helps child and adult survivors to recover from the trauma. It also conducts regular workshops and training for practitioners and experts and helps them to effectively deal with the issue of CSA.
How can you help Arpan?
They are currently running a fundraiser on Milaap to help them with their various activities. You could contribute here:
Every second child in India is exposed to some form of sexual abuse. 20% children are severely sexually abused. And we are a country with 400 million children. Imagine the millions of children who are sexually abused every day!
‘Arpan’ is a registered NGO based in Mumbai and the largest in the world working on the issue of Child Sexual Abuse (CSA) with a team of dedicated and skilled professionals since the year 2006.
Personal Safety Education (PSE) is Arpan’s key project and aims at providing children personal safety skills required to prevent the risk of sexual abuse. Survivors of sexual abuse are given counseling support to facilitate the healing process.
‘Arpan’ works with schools and NGO’s to make systemic level changes within the current infrastructure. The Personal Safety Education (PSE) project is currently conducted within schools, shelter homes, institutional and NGO set-ups.
So far Arpan has directly taught over 27,000 children personal safety skills and empowered over 20,000 parents and 1500 teachers with knowledge and skills to address child sexual abuse. More than 1500 children have also been helped through counselling to overcome any negative outcomes of experiencing sexual abuse and or inappropriate behaviour.
Child sexual abuse has a long lasting negative impact on the survivor. Our children deserve a joyous childhood. Help Arpan prevent child sexual abuse and heal those who’ve been affected by it. You can help make a safe haven for the future of India.
Since the year 2006, Arpan has carefully recorded and documented incidents of Child Sexual Abuse as reported in some of the leading newspapers of Mumbai. This study is an analysis of the trends and patterns found in such newspaper reports between the years of 2007 and 2011.
‘Fewer cases of sexual abuse of boys reported’ Times of India 21st July, 2014 MUMBAI: If the media is a mirror to society, how well does Mumbai's media reflect the prevalence of child sexual abuse in the world around us? An analysis of news reports from 2007 to 2011 shows that a very small proportion of boys facing abuse was reflected in mainstream media. An even lower figure of female abusers was reported. Much coverage on child sexual abuse focused on metropolitan cities. Non-contact forms of abuse, such as showing a child pornography or flashing, were under-represented in the media.
These are some findings of a recent report by NGO Arpan, which analyzed media reportage on child sex abuse.
While the analysis focused on media here, not surprisingly 51% of cases reported were from the city itself. However, of the remaining reports, an overwhelming majority was from other metropolitan cities, while only 4% was from the rest of Maharashtra. "This points to a trend where issues of cosmopolitan/metropolitan cities get greater prominence over occurrences in smaller cities, towns and villages," the report said.
In 10% cases, the report said that either the victim or perpetrator are in some way identified, such as the name of the school to which the child belongs and standard the child is studying in, as well as the victim's address. "Though the press is prohibited from reporting certain details, specifically names of child victims, offenders and witnesses or any other details that have the probability of revealing the victim's identity; this is not followed strictly in all cases. The restriction on publication of identifying details of child sex abuse victims exist to protect the victims' identity and as this may discourage other victims to come forward and report," the study said.
Of the reports, only 8% were of boys who were sexually abused. "This is because of fewer cases of sexual abuse of boys coming out in the open. This is not surprising as sexual abuse of boys is often underreported, under-recognized, and under-treated," the report said.
The study showed that most news reports are triggered by incidents and do not tackle the wider issues and why it occurs. The report called for more analysis within mainstream media on issues of prevention when it comes to child sex abuse.
The recent gang rape of two young female cousins in Uttar Pradesh has highlighted the shocking rates of sexual abuse and incest suffered by Indian children. Amrit Dhillon reports.
Sexual abuse and incest often go unreported in India. Photo: Getty Images
It took three questions to expose the ignorance, or denial, of Indians about child sexual abuse. InSatyamev Jayate (Truth Alone Prevails), the first television program to discuss the issue, the host, Bollywood star Aamir Khan, asked the audience: How widespread do you think it is? Where are children safest? Who are the perpetrators?
The studio audience at the 2012 program gave wrong answers to all three, estimating that around 2 per cent to 10 per cent of children might be sexually abused, saying children were safest in their homes, and that the abusers must be strangers.
The truth, as Khan pointed out before interviewing survivors, was that 53 per cent of all children in India have suffered some form of sexual abuse according to the latest available figures from a 2007 government survey. What was shocking was the survey showed that children are most at risk at home and the culprits are usually male relatives or trusted family friends. Indeed, it found that 31 per cent of sexual assaults were committed by the victim's uncle or male neighbour.
The gasps of incredulity from the audience on hearing these facts were followed by tears as they listened in horror to Khan asking twentysomething Cindrella Prakash to relate how a family friend had regularly assaulted her, starting when she was 12.
''My mother was having dialysis. Those were the days when he knew he would find me alone. I was scared to tell my parents because I thought they might stay at home to protect me instead of going to the hospital for dialysis and my mother would die,'' she told Khan.
His next guest was Harish Iyer, 35, who was sexually abused from the age of 7 to 18 by a close male relative who sodomised him. He invited his friends to abuse Iyer too.
''I distrusted all men. I used to hate standing with my back to people in school in case there was blood on my shorts,'' said Iyer. When he was 12, Iyer plucked up the courage to tell his mother that he was bleeding from his anus. Though loving and close to him, she brushed it aside. ''It's the mangoes you've been eating, they can cause heat in your body,'' she said.
The 2007 survey showed that 53 per cent of the of 12,500 children interviewed had been sexually abused in ways that ranged from severe - rape or fondling - to milder forms such as forcible kissing.
Shockingly, despite widespread media coverage when the survey was released, public reaction to the results faded quickly, and the response from authorities was almost non-existent. According to many who work in the field of child abuse in India, most Indians continued to think that they love and indulge their children, that most families are happy, and that such perversions as child sex abuse, including incest, belong to the sex-obsessed West.
In devoting an episode of his series to incest, Khan broke new ground. His intention was to shatter both the delusion that it doesn't affect Indian families and the code of silence around the terrible problem.
''India has 470 million children. If 53 per cent of the 12,500 children interviewed were sexually abused, then this is the greatest silent epidemic in the country,'' says Suchismita Bose, director of The Foundation, a Mumbai NGO.
Child sex abuse is not peculiar to India. As in other countries, in India it is found in every social class and while it also affects boys, it is primarily girls who are the victims.
Yet, the figures available for India are appallingly high. Anuja Gupta, director of RAHI (Recovering and Healing from Incest), a Delhi support centre for victims, says that while the 2007 survey may not be as rigorous as some studies, it revealed that the problem of incest was widespread.
''From the 2007 figures, I'm not sure you can say that one in two Indian children suffers sexual abuse. One in two of the children in the sample were abused. Unlike in the West where rigorous and conclusive data collected over a long period is available, we don't have that. But yes, in my 18 years' experience, I have met very few women who have not been abused in some way,'' says Gupta,
Experts believe that in India, certain cultural and social factors might play a part in making abuse easier and speaking out about it harder.
These factors include a taboo on talking about sex and sexuality; entrenched patriarchy and misogyny in large parts of society which serve to make women powerless and vulnerable; the belief inculcated in children that elders are right and must be obeyed; and stigmatisation of the victim and family by their entire social circle.
Khan's TV program opened the floodgates. At the government-funded Childline India Foundation, which runs a 24-hour helpline in Delhi and other cities, Heenu Singh, head of the northern region, saw a spike in the number of calls after the program was aired. ''Children realised they were not alone, that others too had been abused,'' she says.
Singh remembers a case from that time which exemplifies the complex factors that come into play if children are able to tell an adult that they are being abused. The young woman who called the helpline said her father had been having intercourse with her for five years.
Finally, she told her mother. The mother protected her two younger daughters by sending them to live with her parents. But she left the eldest at home. ''She told her daughter to tolerate it, until she got married and could leave,'' says Singh.
The situation became more distressing after the young woman decided, after much agonising, to report her father to the police.
''The father was arrested and the victim taken to a residential home. Her mother is struggling to support her two other daughters. Both sides of the family have abandoned them. No one will want to marry these three sisters. That's why children take so long to speak out. The consequences are so catastrophic for everyone,'' says Singh.
The cultural inhibition against talking about sex and sexuality is something that everyone working with survivors singles out as being particularly harmful. Indians are uncomfortable talking about sexuality. Sex education in schools is frowned on, with opponents calling it ''indecent''. Menstruation is a forbidden topic.
''We need open conversations about sex so that children understand what is normal sexual contact and what is abnormal, but we can't do that while sex is shrouded in shame and mysticism,'' says Vidya Reddy, director of Tulir, one of the country's largest groups working to prevent abuse and to counsel victims.
''Some girls don't even realise they are being sexually exploited because they have no knowledge or experience. More conversations would also enable parents to detect abuse by being more aware,'' says Reddy.
Pooja Taparia, a graphic designer by profession, set up the organisation Arpan in Mumbai in 2006 after watching a play on child sex abuse and discovering that only two NGOs were working in this field.
Arpan has worked with 66,000 children. Taparia says the reluctance to talk about sex and private body parts has not changed. The standard cry of family members, when young children inadvertently touch or expose their genitals, is ''shame, shame!''
When this inhibition about talking about sex is added to the shame and guilt that victims already feel, it is a miracle that any child in India ever speaks out.
''Very early on, children realise that sexuality is stigmatised. If body parts are treated as something dirty, an abused child is going to be unwilling to raise the topic. No one even uses the right vocabulary for body parts, preferring euphemisms like 'man point' or 'pee pee' for penis,'' says Taparia.
Despite the advances made by educated and affluent women, the vast majority of Indian women are subservient. They are not the decision-makers or breadwinners and must defer to the men in their lives.
Consequently, if a mother discovers that her husband, cousin, male relative or family friend is abusing her child, she is often not confident enough to speak out. Doing so can leave her and her children destitute.
''One of my cases was an orphan living with her grandparents,'' says Taparia.
''Her grandfather had sex with her for years and later invited his neighbour to rape her too. The grandmother knew but kept quiet, fearing the financial cataclysm if the breadwinner was put behind bars.''
Alongside lack of economic independence, the fear of destroying the family name holds many women back. Girls and women are taught that they must protect the family name no matter what. In Indian society, people are not individuals but part of a collective unit and any ''shame'' that attaches to one person stains the entire family.
Gupta says the very size of the extended Indian family also provides more opportunities for abuse to happen. The extended family in India can include a father's fifth cousin; he is not regarded as a distant relative but very much an integral part of the family.
''Family is paramount. Life revolves around relatives. Holidays are spent with relatives. So, with male cousins, grandfathers and their brothers, brothers in law, and uncles, there are more opportunities for potential abusers, particularly as all relatives are regarded as close,'' Gupta says.
Some of the worst abuse happens in residential care facilities where inspections are infrequent. Some facilities are not even registered. On May 29, The Times of India reported the arrest of Ajit Dabholkar, who ran an illegal shelter just 60 kilometres from Mumbai.
The children at the shelter, some as young as 11, reported being forced to have sex with Dabholkar and with one another. The abuse came to light when one girl visited her home in early May. She told the police that if they resisted, they were forced to eat dog excreta and locked up.
Perhaps the most powerful deterrent in speaking out about abuse is the cruelty of Indian society. Victims know that they and their loved ones will be shunned like diseased street dogs.
The parents of a 16-year-old girl in Kerala experienced this from the day their ordeal began. In 1996, their daughter was raped for 40 days by 42 men who drove her from place to place. The case involved top politicians and dragged on for years. Last year, 35 of the accused were finally convicted.
But in all those years, it was not the accused but the girl and her parents who were ostracised. Every few months, when their identity became known, they were forced to move out by hissing, disdainful neighbours.
Very gradually, the culture of silence is being broken. In April, actress Kalki Koechlin said publicly that she had been abused as a child. As it happens, Koechlin has recently separated from her husband, film director Anurag Kashyap, who also revealed that he was abused for 11 years.
Last year, Anoushka Shankar, musician and daughter of the legendary Indian sitar player Ravi Shankar, admitted she had been subjected to groping as a little girl by a man her parents trusted. Such admissions were unthinkable till very recently, and suggest there is some progress in breaking down the taboo around sexual abuse and incest.
In recent years, many NGOs have been set up to help victims by , for example, conducting workshops in schools and raising public awareness. Many have also lobbied the government for better policies.
This lobbying, added to the slight increase in society's willingness to talk about the issue, has led to the formation of a new law dealing specifically with child sex abuse. The 2012 Protection of Children from Sexual Offences law provides protection to all children under the age of 18 from sexual abuse.
The new law is different from those that already existed to deal with sexual abuse in that it deals specifically with children. Penalties range from three to 10-year jail sentences.
Singh says high-profile cases such as the 2012 Delhi gang rape, in which a young woman was raped so savagely that she died of her injuries, have also added to the push towards breaking the silence around incest.
''After the Delhi gang rape, rape is now openly discussed. I hope child sex abuse will be given similar treatment. Only when the silence is broken can we start confronting the conditions that allow it to happen.'' .