Child Molestation: Devastated Psychological Health—Speak up and Prevent Abuse!
The crime of committing sexual acts with children up to the age of 18 — including touching and exposure of genitalia, taking of pornographic pictures, rape, and inducement of sexual acts with the molester or with other children without his/her consent — defines the cruel term ‘child molestation’ (Frederick, 2010). For reasons such as poverty, social injustice and lack of awareness of parents regarding child sexual abuse, child molestation is becoming increasingly prevalent in Pakistan. This ultimately has deleterious effects on a child’s psychological health as it makes them suffer from social isolation, fragmented trust, guilt, shame, PTSD, personality disorders, depression, and so on.
So why this cruel act?
Poverty is one of the reasons which coerces parents into giving away their daughters (children) as compromise when discharging of duties becomes difficult (Khan, n.d.). Secondly, there is lack of sexual education and parental attention towards the fact that our children can be subjected to sexual abuse even in our own homes by people we trust. Furthermore, children shy away from speaking to their parents when they have gone through sexual abuse, as the discussion of this sensitive matter is discouraged in our society. Moreover, mental torment, social injustices and police brutality faced by sufferers in hospitals and courts further makes victims step back on reporting their abuse (Sluggett, 2002).
Deleterious psychological health: the cruel act of molestation leaves greater impact on all aspects of a child’s life persisting till adulthood. It begins with:
Emotional isolation — children feel emotionally secluded when the molester intimidates the child to keep their abuse a secret. This load of secrecy makes the child feel dissimilar from others.
Betrayed trust — these children have had their trust fragmented, especially if his or her abuser was a family member.
Self-blame and guilt — children often misinterpret the reason behind their abuse as their own fault, or as a penalty for disobedience due to which they were sexually abused, i.e. penalized in such a disrespectful manner (Anonymous, 2006).
Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) — these sexually-abused children later develop PTSD which invokes fear, helplessness, and persistent evasion of all things connected to the trauma. In a recent study, women who reported childhood sexual abuse were five times more likely to be diagnosed with PTSD as compared to non-victims (Yuan, N.P., Koss, M.P., & Stone, M., 2006).
Extreme experiences of childhood sexual victimization are also exhibited as Borderline or Paranoid Personality Disorder, which presents itself through a persistent pattern of suspicion in every relationship, instability in goals and mood, and other harmful impulsive behaviors like substance abuse, unsafe sex, etc.
Another tragic effect which is more likely to be seen in these victims is depression and suicide which, as per a study, are about 52% compared to 27% in non-victims (Yuan, N.P., Koss, M.P., & Stone, M., 2006). Moreover, these victims also exhibit additional signs of psychological distress such as anxiety, poor self-esteem, attention deficit, eating disorders (Hall, M., & Hall, J., 2011).
Victims should be helped to overcome these psychological disturbances! Here comes a time when our children need our appropriate response. Parents need to listen, respect, and agree to what their child is saying.
Stay calm and show appreciation to your child: “I am glad that you shared this with me, but don’t get stressed because it’s not your fault and nothing is wrong from your side.” Assure your child humbly: “I will tackle the situation and then everything will be fine.” This will relieve the child from internalized shame and guilt.
Next, report to the police and get the molester behind bars. Help the victimized child learn coping strategies (exercising, eating soothing foods in moderation, speaking out and ventilating to a counselor) to cope with the tough days where anxiety, depression and other feelings seem overpowering. Moreover, encourage children to keep a diary to record their feelings. Help them to join support groups. Encourage them to learn relaxation techniques such as deep breathing or meditation (Anonymous, 2008).
Time to protect our children from this cruel act — prevent abuse!
To stop this exploitative chain, we as healthcare providers and citizens must not undermine the significance of sexual awareness sessions. My question to our society is this: when we teach our child about different body parts, then why do we feel shame in telling the names of our private body parts? Why do we tag these parts with different childish names which only reflect shame towards these parts?
This should be initiated by educating parents with respect to the knowledge that we are living in a country where child abuse rates are already high and the consequences it comes with are disastrous. This is the time when we need to teach our children how to differentiate between ‘good touch’ and ‘bad touch’, the names of different private body parts, when and who has the right to touch them. Next, we need to make our society (especially children) aware about the three main steps to follow if they encounter the molester, i.e. “Stop/No, Go and Tell.”
Say No to one whom you feel is touching you where he/she is not allowed to, then run away from that place and go to the one you feel is the most reliable and safest person — that could be your mother, father, sister, brother, your close friend or teacher — and speak up about the whole incident. Alongside this, we should also make our children learn life-protection skills such as taekwondo. Moreover, we should now plan for the installation of proper security systems at a community level.
Teachings should be given at school-level and community level by way of information from healthcare providers. Media should now discuss this issue openly and empower our children. We as citizens have a duty to report to responsible agencies any knowledge of potential victims or offenders in our neighborhood or workplace. In conclusion, measures taken to protect children in a society via effective media will help protect our children from the lifelong effects of child molestation. Break the silence on violence!
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