Let’s stop child sexual abuse!
By: Diana Bello Aristizabal
In April, the world was shocked by a video showing the Dalai Lama kissing a boy on the mouth and then asking him to suck his tongue during a public event in India. A few days later, a Miami-Dade teacher was arrested on child abuse charges after seeking a romantic relationship with a 13-year-old boy. Sadly, these cases are repeated daily throughout the planet. Now more than ever it’s imperative to raise our voices against this issue.
A voice that has been clouded by the ignorance of some who normalize behaviors such as mouth kissing under the pretext that it is done in an “innocent” manner. This was precisely the explanation given by spokespeople of the spiritual leader after the big number of negative comments he received, among which it surfaces the fact that the adults present, far from putting the minor to safety, laughed at what was happening.
This makes sense in a society that has always been used to accepting with grace or simply with silence the abusive behaviors of adults, especially if they come from relatives, acquaintances, or people with power, as was the widespread case of singer R. Kelly who during decades sexually abused several minors, who gave their testimony in the documentary ‘Surviving R. Kelly’.
That is why, in honor of the victims who have made their stories visible, of those who never spoke and are now adults, of the children who live around the world in fear, and of the parents who fervently want to protect their children, it is necessary to continue educating the population about what abuse really is, how to prevent it and how to deal with it.
This is not a cultural matter.
First, it must be clarified that child sexual abuse is frequent and can occur in any environment without distinction of race, economic status, geographical location, or gender. According to the National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN), 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys have experienced some type of abuse before the age of 18, although many of those cases are never reported.
Other statistics hold that 75% of abuse cases have been committed by family members or close individuals to the victim, while 23% of those who commit the abuse are under 18 years of age.
So, how can we know if we are dealing with a case of sexual abuse or not? According to NCTSN, any interaction between a child and an adult or between two minors in which the victim is used to sexually stimulate the abuser or a bystander with or without physical contact is considered child sexual abuse.
According to the organization, frequently the abuser uses games, tricks or other blackmailing and manipulation tactics to get what they want from children and keep them quiet. Hence the importance that adults in charge of minors have enough knowledge on this issue so that they can identify whether the child in question is being targeted or not and act in a timely manner.
Having sufficient knowledge is also knowing that, although in some cultures it is more common than in others to touch, hug or kiss, the minor’s discomfort in the face of these behaviors cannot be ignored, let alone force the child to consent with lines such as “you don’t love me anymore?”, “give your uncle a kiss” or “don’t be rude and hug your grandfather”, to name a few of the things that for generations children have had to listen to under the complicit gaze of other adults.
“If a child doesn’t want to be touched, kiss or hug someone and we still force them to do so, that is an act of abuse because we are sending the message that his or her body discomfort is not our concern,” says Lina Acosta Sandoval, psychotherapist, expert in human development and author.
According to Acosta, the above applies to all cultures regardless of the way in which a country or community relates to others or shows affection. It should be remembered that minors deserve the same respect as any adult even when they lack the emotional maturity to defend themselves or put a stop to a situation.
“As adults, we are the ones who teach them what is appropriate and what isn’t. It’s highly important to be specific about the private areas of the body that no one should have access to, including the mouth. Nobody should force anything into their mouths, not even food,” Acosta says.
On the other hand, adults should explain that is not embarrassing refusing to do something they don’t feel good about, even if they are in public, making it very clear they will not be labeled as disrespectful or rude for establishing boundaries.
In addition, parents are encouraged to apply the same teaching when in presence of adults who, without having bad intentions, subject children to difficult situations. In this sense, it is totally valid calling a family member out if a minor felt uncomfortable with the way he or she was hugged or approached and establish what is not allowed for the future.
Also, as adults it is our duty to protect them from people, they have openly expressed are not comfortable with. “If they don’t want to go to grandpa’s house, for example, it’s because they feel powerless and insecure with that person. If, despite knowing this, we take them back to the same place, then they might think we don’t believe them and that we chose that adult,” the expert explains.
But protection against child sexual abuse is not limited to only teaching them to set boundaries or to know and take care of their bodies, since nothing is more effective than promoting an open communication at home led by loving parents who consistently engage in the emotional world of their children.
A trick that Lina Acosta shares is to take advantage of bedtime or lunch to ask them what the best and worst part of the day was. “If the child knows that every night his mother comes into his bedroom to just talk and listen, then this ritual will protect the child later on, since he will be used to approach his parents when a problem arises.”
What to do when child sexual abuse happens?
- Believe the minor and listen carefully without pointing fingers
- Keep calm as much as possible
- Thank the child for opening about what happened and give reassurance that he or she will be protected
- Seek professional help immediately. Nationwide, you can call 1-800-422-4453 to find local help.