Let’s Protect those Innocent Smiles by Sneha Pai
By Volunteer Sneha Pai, FHI Bangalore
It hurts me so much flipping the pages of the newspaper and finding at least one article reporting sexual assault or rape every day. And I get more disheartened when I find out that a young and innocent life has yet again been disgraced! Like a lot of us here, I too cannot resist myself from imagining the horror and trauma the young life has gone or will be going through, and it frustrates me further that despite being a part of a better-informed section of the society I cannot do much about this intractable and recurring crime. Not finding much hope in the way this utmost critical issue is being handled currently in the society or probably being made to wait for a stricter law to come into place, I constantly find myself thinking of ways to equip the vulnerable section of the society with resources that might help them stay safe and alert, or probably even fight their perpetrators.
Although I am quite flummoxed on how and where to begin what I want to do, as a volunteer associated with Fly Higher – FHI, I want to:
Raise awareness amongst the minors to IDENTIFY sexual abuse
Quite often and sadly in a lot of cases, children are oblivious to the concept of sexual abuse. And living in a society that hesitates openly discussing the topic of sex only complicates this issue further. I think Fly Higher World has provided us with an excellent platform through their Learning and Development Digital campaign and the Mentorship program through which we can initiate the topic of child sexual abuse and familiarize children about what categorizes as sexual assault, rape, and what can be termed as friendly and acceptable behavior. Introducing the topic will encourage them to ask further questions and confidently report any instances of unwelcome behavior.
In addition to these, Fly Higher World is also considering creating wide public awareness in the form of social media campaigns which I am definitely looking forward to. Our motive must be to reach more and more children, parents, teachers, caregivers, and all other key stakeholders who are involved in raising children, to be able to have an open conversation about sexual abuse.
Make the minors aware of their rights and resources
Identifying abuse but fearing reporting it, or being unsure as to who to report it to is yet another challenge. We must shed some light on how inappropriate behavior must be instantly responded with and reported. Most importantly, the child must be explained that they are entitled to say a ‘NO’ if they feel that their dignity is being compromised even in the smallest of the actions. Children must be familiarized with the term ‘consent’ and the repercussions of someone acting against it. Additionally, Fly Higher World can urge the schools to appoint a committee (if they already do not have one) who the child can directly seek help from if faced with abuse.
In some cases, the minor might assume that an action could be brushed off as something casual and might not want to take it too seriously. Doing so might only encourage the predator to exploit their victim further. To avoid such misinterpretations, it is advisable for the appointed committee to hold interactive sessions with the children frequently and promote open discussions which might make it easy for them to share discomfort of any kind (if any).
Emphasizing creating awareness and reaching out are strong steps that will definitely improve society’s approach towards sexual misconduct and also gender inequality.
Equip minors with self-defense skills
I cannot emphasize enough this point. Children from a very young age must be taught self-defense as a safeguarding method. Although it would be the duty of the Government to mandate this practice in schools, we could start a campaign to sponsor the schools to train their students in self-defense. Or, we can consider requesting trained (in self-defense) volunteers if any at Fly Higher World to visit the schools or conduct online sessions to share their knowledge and strategies of self-defense.
Additionally, in our talks with the children, we must remind them to stay alert at all times, stay mindful of their surroundings and situations, guard their personal space and belongings, be reachable and stay in touch with a caregiver at all times while stepping outdoors.
Respond to child sexual abuse
Even as we are devising means to create awareness, we must also promote ways to effectively respond to victims of child sexual abuse. Often, sexual abuse could have severe consequences on the victims which include bouts of anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress, and suicidal thoughts. All these feelings will hugely impact a well-growing and well-functioning generation. Hence, empathy can play a huge role in how this problem is being regarded in society.
As a volunteer/mentor, who is empathetic towards a victim of sexual abuse, I will be encouraging a child (who has been a victim) to disclose the discomfort instead of dismissing it. And when we come together as a society that is expressing empathy, our collective efforts in expressing strong disapproval of such behavior might urge the Government to mend the laws and raise awareness at a larger level hopefully signaling the perpetrators to watch out.
Not discriminate between genders
A very important point to also keep in mind is that sexual assault doesn’t differentiate gender and hence it is much necessary to have this conversation with minor boys as well.
Raise responsible adults
As much as we are protecting a child from abusers, let us not fail in identifying someone who is harboring thoughts of abuse (unintentionally or otherwise). In hindsight, had we already raised children who did not grow up as assaulters, the reality would have been far from different. We must talk to a child about taking consent, drawing physical boundaries, interpreting body language, and taking a step back if someone is signaling hesitance, about holding back strong desires, expressing feelings the appropriate away, about hormonal changes in the body, and most importantly being considerate and empathetic.
Children go through a myriad of emotions at every phase of growing up and may fail to identify or misread the intentions of certain behaviors or actions towards them. Speaking up about it might not be easy for all because of:
Fear of being blamed
Unavailability of a trusted confidante or many other reasons
So, it’s an opportunity, rather a huge responsibility for us to educate and warn the future generation about one of the most abominable crimes our society is plagued with today, and get more people involved and sensitized towards this issue. Let us all with our fullest efforts to try and protect those innocent smiles.