April 23, 2009

Urging mental health professionals to understand the subtler nuances of child sexual abuse cases….

When I say victims, I mean all players in the case related to the victim also. The parent, the family, in cases of incest- the non offending parent and their psyche all deserve equal mention and emphasis to be tackled in a therapy setting.

They need and deserve to gather their wits around them and reconstruct their violated boundaries, gather confidence and their self sense of self worth before tackling the reins of normal life. The family and caretakers require equal help on how to talk and behave with the survivors so that there is every chance he/she gets a chance to thrive and get on with their lives. Or else the gains of a therapy session are lost once the child is home.

While child sexual abuse is a definite scourge of human race, and it is ARPAN dream to make the world a safe place from sexual abuse for children, the alarming rate of reporting in the media today talks of a diametrically opposite reality that is staring at us in the face.
Like creepy nightmares you shudder when you read everyday of “yet another case of incest…” in our “culturally rich and diverse” INDIA….
But ask therapists who have worked in closed clinics how many cases come to them and always have since years ago where adult survivors talk of violated childhoods.

This is not new and happened even in the old joint family setups where more efforts were made at hushing up the matter rather than dealing with it; and helping to reassure that child that it was not his/her fault but the fault of the adult. And then the child who still has to get on with life and while s/he limps back to normalcy with a scar on their soul because they think they have done something wrong!! A paradox where the victim gets re victimised!

The intervention from an understanding professional would take the child victim far and help them thrive instead of living their life in the shadows for no fault of theirs. The intervention needs to be clear yet subtle in a climate of understanding and empathy for the child where efforts are made to win the trust of the child and build a firm rapport so the child feels safe. This can happen only when the intervention is consistent and supportive. When adults who are survivors of childhood sexual abuse are in psychotherapy, they realize the quality of life they have compromised on for no fault of their own. There is rage then and appropriate anger which is dealt with, through specific techniques. The therapeutic environment needs to become a firm ground which the child/adult can rely upon to help them elevate to a state where they can thrive and reclaim their selves..

Vision vs reality: Having said all this, the stark reality also is to keep up with this long procedure against the odds of time. There are enough issues that need mental health intervention in today’s life and this causes a dearth of professionals who feel capable to deal with such cases which needs huge chunks of time especially when there are investigative procedures to deal with, if it is under litigation.

Arpan is an Ngo which works on the issue of child sexual abuse by spreading awareness through programs for stakeholders in a child’s life and healing services too. A pioneer effort has been made to develop training sessions for social workers and counselors to understand the theory of trauma and get equipped to deal with cases when they arise.

Treating offenders, if they are open and receptive to getting counseling is another aspect of prevention of sexual abuse. To acknowledge that the offender also needs counseling help besides punitive procedures is still a novel concept and takes courage and thorough knowledge of its nuances to accept it, but we at ARPAN, believe it is an important step that holds the key to checking many cases of abuse although admittedly it is a monumental task and re offending is not ruled out. However attempts have to be made to understand their psyche better which ARPAN aims to do as another key area of work.

Understanding it in totality with all its nuances and working at it, is an uphill task a small handful of us are still valiantly trying against many odds to make the world a safer place for children….. we know we will make a dent, albeit through small steps.

Pushpa Venkatraman

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