Monday, April 11, 2011

CSAAM April 2011 -- The Dilemma of Dealing with CSA

This is my first contribution to the Child Sexual Abuse Awareness Month April 2011.

Working on this project has been more than a little unsettling. Upsetting, even. All these stories pouring in, of children didn’t know what was being done to them, of childrwho didn’t know how to cope with the guilt, the horror, the fear, the shame. I have never had to deal with it myself (and I hope to heaven I never do) but I know two young girls who did.

The first girl faced it as a child of 8 or 9. A male servant in her large joint family setup touched her inappropriately several times. It felt wrong and degrading and she told her mother. This was a different generation, another century, and her mother told the girl that it must have been her fault, because she was sending out the wrong signals. The little girl shut up and learnt to seek safety in numbers.

(All my accounts of this one are always stilted because my frustration and fury at this little girl’s plight are more than I can often handle.)

The other incident happened more recently at a wedding venue. A girl in her mid-teens (dressed up to the nines) absently wandered into a dark room that was not being used for the wedding and found a strange man there who groped her and ran away. I remember this kid stumbling from the room, shocked and lost, and immediately calling out for my mother, crying helplessly, not knowing how to deal with what just happened. We never did find the man responsible but nor did we keep the girl hanging around waiting there to make an identification. And all of us young girls learnt an important lesson about the dangers of dark and empty rooms.

In the larger scale of things, getting groped is a relatively minor matter: the second girl could have been robbed or even kidnapped. But it happened and it changed how all of us viewed weddings. At every wedding or similar large social occasion I know we started staying in groups, our mothers more protective than before. I would obsessively keep counting my cousins at small intervals, something I still do when I’m out with children of any age.

I write about these two instances because it was the reaction of the family/adults that I found important.

The first little girl learnt that she had to take care of herself. She grew up to be an extremely protective mother and aunt. Letting her daughter out into the world was a daily battle for her and one that she won but it was a battle nevertheless.

The second young girl was immediately cocooned by the family, her words believed and she was consoled that the mistake was not hers.

There was another young girl I knew. She complained about inappropriate suggestions and touching by an older male relative and because she was in general a truthful person and because the issue was so serious the adults immediately closed ranks against that male relative and he was told that he was no longer welcome in that family. Over time though this girl was diagnosed with depression. Her version of other events failed to collaborate with what the rest of the family remembered. And there came a day when her family wondered if that complaint of abuse had not been too hastily accepted. Maybe it had happened. But what if it hadn’t and the male relative had been ostracised for no reason at all?

This is my dilemma about handling CSA. This is what allows so many perpetrators to escape and other innocent people to be blamed. The very nature of CSA ensures that its young victims are confused about the nature of the incident. Because of incidents #1 and #2 my first instinct is to believe the child and protect him or her above all else from the very possibility of any more such trauma. But incident #3 reminds me that it is never clear cut, that there is perhaps more to the situation than meets my eye.

I ended up creating an algorithm of sorts to serve me if ever I have to deal with this stuff again:
1. Believe the child and get them away from the person they name as the abuser.
2. Depending on the nature of the incident, get the child checked by a doctor.
3. Try very hard to balance what I know of the alleged abuser’s history and my own instincts where he/she is concerned, with the accusation.
4. Try to remember that a person is innocent till proved guilty.
5. Never, ever leave a child alone in that person’s company or power.

Have you known any situations like the three I’ve written about? How did the people involved deal with them?


Anonymous said...

what if 3 had gone into depression because of the incident? sometimes, even if you get all the support and acknowledgement it can be difficult to shrug it off.
it it happens over a continued amount of time, no matter what, it is difficult to get over. not impossible, but difficult. and reactions manifest in so many different ways.
here is what i wrote years ago, linked again:

Sue said...

Ummon -- Her symptoms had been showing much before the incident could possibly have occurred. Depression impaired her judgement in other matters, as often happens. You know how hard it is for a person to decide anyway if the suggestion or touch was actually offensive... for a young girl who was on the edge, it may have been more difficult. I still don't know if something happened or it didn't.

Anonymous said...

I can actually share my own experience, i grew up in a joint family and we were 6 cousins along with so many other people in a huge house.
My chacha was very friendly with all the kids- i dont know when it began but he used to touch me at wrong places while i was sleeping, i remember i woke up with that feeling once.
i think sometimes mothers just get to know, my mum asked me once did he touch you ( more meant like hug) that day he had just hugged me tightly so i said i did, She looked tensed. Did not say anything though. But i remember next time when he did try and touch me again i moved away from him. He called me but i did not go to him.

he stoppped after that, i dont know if he did this to my other cousins also.
I wonder why i did not share this with my mother, i wish i had done that. i wish my mum had spoken to me about this in detail.
I dont have kids yet but i am very sure however uncomfortable situation is there i would make sure that i discuss this with my children!trust and belief is the only thing that can work here- in this case this is with chacha, i have known a girl who was abused by her father.
so the boundaries need to be defined for a kid. do it with props, stories or anything! but its a fairly important thing.

i know a colleague who was in a wedding and was abused, she went into a shock and was in coma for a year. dont know if anything happened to the person who was responsible for this..

starry eyed said...

I feel this dilemma, too, Sue, which is why I wrote the post I did, about fine lines. While I'd believe (and take action on behalf of) any child who expressed discomfort and distress about touch or suggestions from an adult...I feel uncomfortable about asking leading questions to children as part of the strategy to keep them safe. Or about using adult languaging and imagery while talking to kids about staying safe.

Awareness abt CSA is totally in its infancy in this country...and so if there is a perp...will he/she be held accountable by the legal system, are there pediatricians who are qualified to investigate child abuse cases, do we just ostracise the perp, or bring him to book, how do adult survivors of CSA get qualified and effective help so that they can parent their own kids without fear and many questions and doubts.

dipali said...

It's a very real dilemma, Sue.
However, I'm more inclined to believe that something may have been said or done to the girl in the third case for her to have reacted as she did. If the man in question was innocent, he's suffered a huge loss for no fault of his, which is saddening. Your algorithm makes a lot of sense.
@Starry: It's incredibly difficult to prove and take legal action against many/most kinds of CSA, but, at the very least banishment of the offender from one's home, and/or social ostracism will at least make the child feel safe. The tragedy is that innocent people related to the perpetrator will also suffer, but that is something the perpetrator should think about before abusing an innocent child.

Suchismita said...

I know someone whose cousin touched her every night for 6 long years. He scared her against telling anyone because he was the much loved boy of the family, responsible and dutiful and told her that no one would believe her. This girl grew up and her boyfriend told her to tell her mother about this. She did, and the mother was obviously shocked. But the parents decided not to talk about it because too many years had passed in the meanwhile and talking about it now would have other relatives point at the girl and say she had enjoyed it. Things were hushed and the cousin got away without a word said to him. She was uncomfortable around him for a few months, and then settled down to being comfortable again. She resigned to this, she said.

Sue said...

Anon -- Such awful events... yes, boundaries do need to be set. I'm glad your uncle stopped, at least.

Starry -- Adult language scares the kids, yes. Which is why I explained the concept of physical privacy to Rahul using the words he uses -- in Bengali, not baby words. A friend of mine says her course in counselling has helped her make sense of her own episodes of abuse (decide how she wants to deal with them etc).

Dipali -- It's hard for me to think the girl was mistaken. I hope for everybody's sakes though that she was...

Also, yes, the suffering of those who were neither victim nor abuser can and should be laid squarely at the feet of the abuser.

Suchismita -- That is, sadly, more common than I ever wanted to believe it could be.

Anonymous said...

I was molested by a younger stepbrother when I was 16 (he was 14) -- it sounds weird but my family dynamics were so shitty at that point that I couldn't have talked to anyone about it even if I had been able to. I couldn't even face him about it. This is perhaps even more surprising because I'm generally a confident, gregarious, outgoing young person. The utter shock, nausea, horror and sense of disbelief is as strong as ever whenever I do recall the event, and the extended game of hide, seek and avoidance that followed. I have since talked to many people about it and used to think that I've come to terms with it.

However, I realised very recently that I started gaining obscene amounts of weight right after that event and that although I've believed for quite a few years that I'm over it, I don't think I fully am. It's a question of pattern recognition, really. I finally figured out a few months back that the pattern since then has been that no matter how healthy I try to be or how much I try to lose weight etc (and I am medically obese and need to, for health reasons), to this day, *whenever* I am attracted to a man or have someone of the opposite gender professing their interest in or attraction to me, I *immediately* start gaining obscene amounts of weight again. Every single time. Over the last ten years, bygod. This needs to stop. Maybe now that I've recognised this, I'll be able to break the cycle. I hope so anyway.

Two of my best friends were raped as kids, one of them by an elder cousin, the other by the household help. My brother was molested by a *very* close family member as a child. I know other instances too, and it seems like the horror stories don't end. Going through the CSA awareness month website brought all these flooding back full force and I'm distraught again.

I learnt last year (from my father) that my mother had been raped for years by both her uncle and her cousin when she was a teenager and used to stay with them. The scars those left, I'm sure, have never healed. This finally explained why she had never, when I was a kid, allowed me to stay over at people's places (friends, relatives, etc.) unless she was there with me. Also explains why I know *nothing* of her childhood--she's never talked about ANY of it.

I don't know what to do. I think she might need to talk. And I know that I need, on my own part, to know stories of who my mom is, where she came from, where she grew up so I can tell my kids (don't have any yet) some day about the amazing person that their grandma is.

But at the same time, I don't want to force the issue. I don't want to force her to remember and/or talk about something she's repressed for decades. I am *very* close to her but she's never told me about this, or even hinted at it. But I want to talk to her about this and figure out some way so she is able to share her stories.

What do I do? Someone, please help.

PS If you want to post this to the main CSA Awareness blog, please feel free. I wasn't sure how to do it, myself.

PPS Thank you. Thank all of you.

Sue said...

Anon -- I'm sorry, your comment slipped my attention in my inbox. We have stopped accepting any more survivor accounts on the CSA blog but I will host it personally and the CSA blog will link to it. Thank you for speaking up.