Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Child Sexual Abuse

Talking about it leaves you slightly sick in the stomach. It’s like coming across a badly mangled dog on a highway that has been run over by a passing vehicle. You immediately look away pretending not to have noticed. And yet it registers somewhere in your psyche and makes you want to throw up whenever the sight comes back to haunt your memory. Sexual abuse of any kind is tormenting enough. Be it a look, a touch or more. But when it happens to a child, the aftermath is all the more devastating.
I suspect just as we have more people than any other country, the instances of child sexual abuse are also that much more. I am sure our cities have more children living on the streets than anywhere else and they are preyed on constantly by the adults around them.

The most sheltered of environment is no deterrent for the pervert who picks on children as victims. Most families hide the shameful secret of a relative or friend who has messed around with their child or at least tried to. So imagine the fate of those children who don’t have anyone to look after them.

The plight of young boys is as bad if not worse than girls. We are always more careful about the girls in our family. There are greater restrictions around them. With boys, our conditioning is that they can manage. Even to acknowledge something like this can happen to them is difficult to accept for us. And most abuse victims tend to internalise the guilt of the abuser. They fall into the trap of believing it is their fault. With boys, this tends to happen much more. Men feel more ashamed to talk about themselves as victims. So the chances of the crime against young boys going undetected are much more.

We had this neighbour when I was a young and he pretended to be very fond of children. If he came across a group of us playing in the street outside, he would pick one of us and hug that child tightly and go on mumbling ‘should I bite your cheek.’ All of us felt uncomfortable with him but the entire neighbourhood thought of him as this guy who was really fond of children. If any adults were around, they would just laugh at our discomfiture. Then we had this class teacher in Class IV in the missionary school I went to. This was a co-educational school and his way of punishing us for not doing our homework was to make us turn our back to the class, force us to pull down our pants and briefs and deliver five or six blows on our bare butts with a ruler. The caning didn’t hurt as much as the humiliation.

The girls had to lift their skirts to get the same treatment. The only concession given to them was they didn’t have to pull their underpants down like the boys. There were also days when he felt affectionate towards us. So one by one, we had to go and sit on his lap while he kissed our cheeks and moaned how much he loved us. I can’t figure out after years what felt worse. His love or his punishment. All I know is that for years I blocked out the memory of that painful year as the rest of my classmates must have. I changed my school in Class VIII and that too helped me to forget. But I know today if I came across him anywhere I will physically assault him. I wish him dead.

One thing that makes me absolutely furious is this soft pop psychology approach about how the abuser abuses because he has been abused himself as a child and needs counselling rather than punishment. It makes no sense whatsoever. Abuser are usually highly intelligent people who manage to prey on the victims by cleverly side stepping the boundaries and norms laid down by society. If they are devious enough to work through all that, they should work through their issues as well and ensure they are not contaminating others with their sickness.

There is a lot more that can be said about this subject. One of the first plays I wrote and directed, ‘Shadows on the Wall’ dealt with this subject and I remember how stressed the actors would get during rehearsals. It was an all women cast and I think they had to deal with their own set of painful memories. After all, all the women in this country have been abused in some way or the other; at the very least by a look or a touch or what passes off as ‘eve teasing.’

‘I am’ directed by Onir supposedly deals with this subject. His last film was a total rip off from an Almadover classic. I hope he has not borrowed this one from ‘Bad Education.’

Will let you know after watching the film next week.


  1. We all have our similar secret stories and do not wish to talk about it.....

  2. This is so true. Now as we are aware and can talk about it, is it not possible to educate children in the school about how to safeguard themselves from the teachers of this kind?

  3. while completely agreeing with all that is said above, would like to add that even the most sheltered girls have had some or the other experience of this kind, usually at a very young are -- 5 or 6! And yes, they do internalize the guilt of the predator even if it is something they don't understand. I know of some who have grown up as dysfunctional people marked for life by a single incident, unable to talk it out till much later (20 years or so), scared to engage with the world, hiding behind self-erected barriers and incapable of holding on to either a job or a relationship ...

  4. My school also had a PT coach who was similar to the teacher mentioned. Thank god he was expelled after an incident that got publicized.

  5. Thank you for sharing your experiences, Vijay. We can't do enough to bring this out into the open.