Child Sexual Abuse (CSA) is more common than most people acknowledge. Contrary to common belief, both boys and girls are subject to it with many surveys pointing out that boys tend to get abused slightly more than the girls.
What many people find it difficult to accept is that the perpetrator is a known person. The person is known to the child and to the family members. Often this happens to be a relative too who might either be staying in the home or is a regular visitor.
“I don’t like that uncle”
“I don’t like it when that aunty comes to our home”
“Mama/chacha/uncle is a creepy guy”
When children express such ideas, the first thing that the parent does is admonish them.
“You cannot talk about elders like that”
“Is this what we have taught you? To disrespect elders?”
“He is so loving, how can you talk like this?”
“I don’t want to hear such things from you again”
This may also be followed by punishments for having spoken ‘lies”. Parents are often in denial when the child shares something negative with them about a family member. The child is never heard or supported. When repeated attempts to communicate with the elders in the family is met with stiff resistance, the child learns to shut up. On top of this, the abuser keeps warning the child not to talk about their ‘relationship’ and what happened between them to others. The child does not know where to turn to. Whom to trust or believe. He/She lives in a state of horror not knowing how to make sense of what is happening.
Often CSA does not start off as a full-blown sexual assault. The abuser tests the waters to see how the child responds, how others in the house respond. Lack of objection from others emboldens them to venture further.
When the child, even a very young one comes and shares negative views about other adults it is vital that the parent listens to them instead of suppressing their voice.
“Grandma is a horrible person”
“That uncle is lousy”
Such sentences from children should not be ignored. “What makes you say so?”, “What did they do?” gives the child a platform to express her views and feel the parents are willing to listen to her/him. Many families have views that we should not talk negatively about people. This blanket ban on negative comments about people is never healthy if we want to stop any form of abuse.
All big problems begin as small problems. The forest fire would have started with a spark somewhere. If we can tackle the issues when they are still small and solvable, we may not have to face a bigger problem. Ignoring a problem as small may not make the problem go away. It may come roaring back and become unsolvable.
When you don’t listen to the whispers, you will have to hear the screams.