April 25, 2011

CSA Awareness Month

Excerpts from the interview of Arpan's Founder-CEO with Ms.Chandni Parekh, Social Psychologist

- What words should adults use in helping children identify touches? Is it okay to say 'good touch/bad touch'?

No. Safe touch and Unsafe touch is best to use as children who get sexually abused will retain the word ‘bad’ in their heads and apply to themselves in the future which can result in them thinking that something bad happened to them and that they are bad too. Cognitive distortions can happen so it’s best to say safe and unsafe touch.

- At what age should parents talk to their child about personal safety or sexual abuse?

As an infant itself parents can begin talking to them about personal safety. Even at 1 yr we teach children to stay away from fire, not to touch electrical points, etc. so it can begin at a very early age itself. Its not necessary to talk to children about ‘sexual abuse’ but personal safety as a broader topic which involves everything about children keeping themselves safe and so including safety from sexual abuse as well but without teaching what sexual abuse is. That can be taught later and age appropriately.

- How do you suggest schools educate students about child sexual abuse?

Arpan has developed a Personal Safety Education (PSE) program for schools to incorporate into their curriculum and implement with age 6 yrs – 10 yr children.
PSE is a comprehensive program that not only introduces personal safety messages to children, but also identifies parents and teachers as important stakeholders in a child’s life and aims at building their capacities in protecting children from sexual abuse.
Over the years Arpan has conducted capability building sessions for teachers and counsellors of schools like: The Cathedral & John Connon School- Colaba, Goenka Group of Schools(In western Suburbs & Thane), Greenlawns High School- Worli, St. Thomas School, Goregaon, Canossa High School- Mahim and more in and outside Mumbai.

Arpan has facilitated incorporation of PSE into Life Skills Program curriculum (for Primary School) at 5 schools under the Bombay Cambridge Gurukul (BCG) Group. This process involved training of the teachers in conducting PSE classes themselves with children and also helping the schools to come up with protocols & strategies to deal with sexual abuse cases that are reported by students. We have directly taught over 4000 children so far.

In a review exercise conducted in one of the schools with two grades, it was observed that 30 children were able to say ‘No’ to attempted and ongoing abuse after the skills they learnt in the PSE program. This data was taken one year after completion of PSE program with the children.

Schools should take up this program and build it into their curriculum so that children get the personal safety messages regularly.

- If a student reports abuse to a teacher or counsellor, what should be the next few steps that the school should take?

With the consent of the child the parents should be informed and depending on who the abuser is. Action should be taken to first make the abuse stop. If it’s a parent who is the offender then the non-offending parent should be called in. Whatever is practically possible should be done to make the abuse stop. If the case is of incest and that too if it’s a parent it can get very tricky to handle. The major role will then be played by the non-offending parent on how assertively can he or she make sure the child is not abused again.

The next step will be through either the school counselor or an external counselor. The child is assessed on the impact of abuse and accordingly counseling is done for the child as well as the family members.

It’s not easy for the child definitely but even family members need support specially in cases of incest where betrayal is felt very strongly.
If the abuse has happened in the past then too the counselor should check for residual impact and address it through counseling sessions.

If the abuser is a stranger or a known person its easier (comparatively to incest) to make sure the abuse stops and that person doesn’t have access to the child. In any case counseling must be done to make sure the child is not showing any symptoms as a result of the abuse.

- What techniques do you think could be employed in counselling children who've been or are being abused?

First of all the abuse must stop.
Next is to create an environment of safety first. The child must be able to feel supported and safe and secure.

Help the child grieve the loss of a lover (abuser). This is very specific to cases where abuse has been going on for a long period of time and where the child has accommodated the abuse and the abuser and the child is liking both. Stopping the abuse can be then quite distressing for the child because the child associates sex with love. Children also experience pleasure like adults. Human bodies naturally respond to sexual touches. Even a baby does. So children over a period of time start enjoying the abuse because they are feeling pleasure which is absolutely natural. Only they are not aware that this is inappropriate behavior. Children will miss the sex and sexual touching.

This is also applicable where the child might not like the abuser but is liking the abuse.
The effects of abuse can be very varying depending on
• Age
• Gender
• Type of abuse
• Duration of abuse
• Who the offender is
• Degree of violence used
• Mental health of child before abuse
• Coping mechanisms
• Social support

Understanding the above, a plan should be made to counsel the child beginning with teaching appropriate behaviours, appropriate relationships and sexuality, addressing the feelings of the child, creating a comforting and supportive environment and involving family members to help with creating the comfort and support. In the event of there being no family, the guardians or caretakers need to be given adequate information to play the supportive role for the child.

There are various mainstream and alternate therapies that counselors use to address trauma. Depending on the counselors skills in various therapies different methodologies can be used.

Mainstream therapies include Trauma model, Traumagenic dynamics (Finkelhor and Browne), EMDR, Somatic experiencing, etc.

Alternate therapies include, dance movement therapy, arts based therapy, play therapy, etc. Group therapy is also done. In our experience while group work is powerful individual counseling and therapy is extremely vital in processing trauma and changing belief systems of the individual which bring about significant change. Alternate therapies have also good impact. Depending on the age of the child, adult and the impact of abuse and the counselors own skills, the kind of therapy can be decided.

It’s comparatively much easier to heal child survivors than adult survivors as more the time passes after the abuse more the impact is seen. Lot of cognitive behaviours get manifested. With adults large part of the therapeutic work should be planned around building self esteem, self love and self acceptance. That addresses the shame and guilt in the adult which is the most difficult to get rid of. However we have seen changes take place and its extremely heartening to see significant shifts come in an individual’s life as a result of the therapeutic process.

If you want more details on the healing processes please write to me on pooja@arpan.org.in

Special note:
For Parents - Please do not make your own assessment of whether your child is ok or not after being sexually abused. Only a trained counselor will be able to judge impact. Please take your child for counseling and let the counselor judge whether your child needs counseling or not and if the child does then please take him/or her for it without fail. You’ll be doing your child a huge favour.

For friends of survivors – Be supportive to your friend and encourage your friend slowly to go in for counseling.

For adult survivors – You don’t need to fight this battle alone or only with a friend. Seek help from a counselor. Believe me when I say, it’s a liberating process from being survivors into becoming thrivers. Please reach out. We are there to help and support you. You could write to support@arpan.org.in and or call 98190.86444.

- Can you share names of counsellors that you might recommend to schools or parents for cases of sexual abuse?

Arpan itself addresses cases of sexual abuse since this is our area of work. We take on cases of both children and adults. We can be contacted on support@arpan.org.in and or 98190.86444.

We have dealt with over 250 cases so far.

We also have a database of counselors who can handle cases of sexual abuse. Anybody can get in touch with us for contact details. Complete confidentiality is maintained with us.

- Do you have any recommendations for how we can keep kids on the streets and in children's homes safe?

Children wherever should be taught personal safety skills. If they are empowered with these skills chances of abuse can become less. However one can’t say it’ll stop completely despite children having these skills. Wherever there will be huge amounts of trust and or authority children might give in.
In children’s homes caretakers and other staff in those homes should be made aware about child sexual abuse and skills are given to them also on handling disclosure and addressing cases of sexual abuse within the home. They can also be trained on teaching personal safety skills regularly to children.
The streets are open ground. It’s very difficult to protect children on streets. They themselves will be the best at protecting themselves by running away from the situation.

- What has been your experience with schools and other NGOs? Are most schools open and willing to have sessions on PS/CSA? Do you have any comments on the work done by other NGOs in this field? Is there any message for schools or other NGOs?

Schools have been welcoming the idea of teaching children personal safety skills. Though in the beginning they had their reservations but now with the growing no. of cases of sexual abuse being reported schools are realizing that this is an important issues to address. So far all the schools we have gone to have said yes to either training their teachers and the teachers implementing the personal safety education program or us teaching the children directly. Some of the schools we have worked with are mentioned above.

Even NGOs are calling us for training their staff. We have trained staff of many NGOs like Childline, Prerana, Mobile Creches, Aakanksha, Doorstep School, World Vision, REAP, Saathi, CCDT, and many others. Some of them have taken up a campaign on spreading awareness on CSA post our training. It’s helped their staff address the issue of CSA in their environments and respond appropriately to cases that come up.

My message to schools is to continue to see the importance in empowering your children with personal safety skills and make it a top priority in your life skill curriculum. If you don’t have a life skill curriculum put one in place and teach children personal safety skills. Preventing a child from sexual abuse is literally like saving a life. The impact as we all know can be so damaging that it can take years to deal with it.

My message to NGOs is keep training your staff regularly on the issue of CSA so that the old staff remembers the intricacies of the issue again and the new staff is freshly trained to be able to deal with the issue. In your own areas of work take up the issue and do whatever you can to spread awareness with all your stake holders. If you run schools, teach the children and parents. If you run a shelter home, teach the children and staff. If you work with adults address the issue with them. If statistics are correct then with every second child or adult it could have been a past experience. Create awareness and help the survivors heal.

Both to schools and NGOs – Put certain child protection policies in your organizations and ensure it is implemented. Work towards how you can make your own environments safe for children.

- How would you like the media to contribute to the work you do?

Publish articles on child sexual abuse so that more and more people become aware about it. Today the biggest challenge we face is overcoming people’s denial and disbelief on the issue. The more they hear and read about it the more acceptable and open they will become to learning and finding out more so that they can protect their children.

Media has been playing a huge role in this and should continue to. Media can also publish articles on the kind of work organizations like Arpan are doing and the impact we are making so that people can access our services and get help either for counseling or on understanding how to teach children personal safety skills.

- Is there any video or film addressing issues of child sexual abuse that you like?

‘Children we Sacrifice’ by Gracy Poore made many years ago has been a good resource of information and of experiences of adult survivors.
Animated films by Stairway Foundation, ‘Daughter’, ‘Good Boy’ and ‘Silent Leaves Falling’ are very good films that we always use in our trainings. They bring out the issues of incest, paedophilia, child trafficking and internet pornography in a very good way.

- Awareness, advocacy and service delivery (working with victims and/or abusers) - can you throw some light on how we have fared in each area?

Arpan’s been working on all these areas Prevention and Healing for almost 5 years now and I feel very proud that we have worked hard and worked well. We have reached out to 13,000 children and adults directly with our prevention and healing work as well as indirectly with over 4000 children and adults by training teachers.

We have also been advocating for bringing in child sexual offences as laws that are missing in India. We have been involved in drafting the laws with a core group of Lawyers and NGO professionals we have been hosting and sending our recommendations regularly to the relevant ministries and govt. officials.

Advocacy, Direct services as well as Research have been our areas so that we are able to address the issue of CSA more holistically.

With our prevention work we have seen children being able to report abuse after our programs, saying ‘NO’ to attempted abuse and running away from the situation, children teaching their siblings and their other friends about these skills. We see an average increase of approx. 25% in the knowledge, attitude and skills in both children and teachers post our trainings with them. (We map this by conducting pre and post tests.)

Parents feel much empowered and these are somethings they have shared with us.
“It was a very good experience both for parents & students, it has helped the parents since the child is now aware of the concepts which are at times difficult to discuss. It definitely has increased the confidence & self-esteem of children.”
“I think this education is very important for every parent, so that they can share and understand their child's problem better.”

Our healing work with survivors has seen significant changes in thoughts, beliefs and behaviours as a result of our counseling. Our most challenging work has been with rescued minors who’ve been very violated but it’s heartening to see the changes in them as a result of our regular and intensive interventions with them with counseling as well as psychiatric support.

Themes of change that have taken place with this group of girls are:
1. Reduction in anxiety symptoms,
2. lot of bodily physiological symptoms of severe anxiety have reduced,
3. greater empathy,
4. greater self awareness,
5. more assertiveness
6. transition from self harm to reduced or no self harm,
7. better learning and implementation of life skills
8. to take time before speaking/ reacting etc),
9. increase in internal motivation to change

are some of the changes we are seeing…

“I have been angry ever since my childhood. I used to shout and hit. Initially I would not approach the counselor who came for us. I would look at her angrily. I could not trust her. I would hurt myself a lot. I would slit my hands. Now I don't do that. I have learned to take care of myself”- rescued minor undergoing counseling at Arpan

“I can see a change in me being able to contain my feelings at work and also not needing to cry so easily. I learnt a lot about trauma and how it could have affected my thinking patterns.. Also learnt so much about myself and my relations. I wish I could come twice a week for counseling.” - adult survivor of child sexual abuse, age 29 yrs undergoing counseling at Arpan

We’ve also been regularly working towards building capacities of mental health professionals through trainings on mainstream and alternative therapies. Its resulted in significant changes in skills of these professionals.
- Does paucity of funds hinder your work?

Raising funds is challenging but has never been a hindrance. Whatever we have planned we have always been able to achieve. Our work has been doubling every year and support is coming for it. Important thing is to do good work and present it properly. People are always happy to support good work creating measurable impact.

- Would you like to add anything else?

About Arpan
Arpan is a registered NGO based in Mumbai working on the issue of child sexual abuse with a team of dedicated and skilled professionals since the year 2006.

Our Mission is to empower individuals, families, communities and society with prevention and intervention skills to reduce the occurrence of child sexual abuse and heal its psychological, social, sexual and physical consequences

Our Activities include:


- Parents, teachers, NGO professionals, caretakers and student professionals with prevention and intervention skills to help prevent CSA through awareness and training

- Children and adolescents with personal safety skills to protect themselves from CSA through teaching in classroom setups in schools

- Mental health professionals with therapeutic skills to deal with CSA cases effectively through regular trainings and workshops

- Child, adult survivors and rescued minors to heal from trauma caused by CSA through counseling and other therapeutic activities like dance, yoga

- Sex offenders with therapeutic assistance to prevent re offence through counseling

Advocating with:

- Policy Makers for specific laws on CSA to prevent and reduce the occurrence of CSA.

- School and Educational systems to incorporate personal safety skills into their curriculum to empower children and adolescents

- Pooja Taparia, Founder – CEO, Arpan

April 24, 2011


Times of India


Childhood is the time to revel in the innocence of the age, with no adult concerns clouding the mind. But there's a big bad monster in this happy story of childhood. The monster that is CSA (Child Sexual Abuse). "The problem is that many parents are uneasy talking about it and this can damage the child," says socialite Kalyani Chawla.

Statistics show that boys are as vulnerable as girls to abuse. A 2006 study by TULIR, showed that 48 per cent of boys reported having been abused while the abuse amongst the girls surveyed was 39 per cent. Designer Rina Dhaka shares, " Children are soft targets. It's essential to create the right home environment, where you keep a dialogue open and build your child's trust."

However, amidst all this gloom, there may be some cause for cheer. The comprehensive law being tabled in the Rajya Sabha to deal with sexual offences against children, called the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Bill, 2011, might be soon passed as a legislation." The bill defines clearly what constitutes CSA, and the proposed law aims at protecting children against penetrative sexual assault, sexual harassment, pornography and also provides for the establishment of much-needed special courts for the speedy trial of CSA cases. The bill proposes stiffer punishment for offenders, going up to 10 years of imprisonment.

"Finally, we can look forward to a law that covers the entire range of offending sexual behaviours that constitute CSA," says Anuja Gupta, executive director of RAHI Foundation.

The other good news is that this generation of parents too is getting more aware about the real and immediate threat children face from sexual predators. Wardha Nadiadwala has security cameras installed in the kids' room to ensure they are monitored at all times. She says, "I never leave them alone." Mona Siddiqui made sure that her daughter Hana, now aged four, got lessons early on. Says she, "I've also shown her what kind of hugging and stroking is okay, and what is not." Anchor, model and actor Pooja Bedi began talking about this to her daughter Alia, now 13, when she was six. "I told her that she was to come and tell me if she was touched in places she was not comfortable with. I did the same with my son," she shares.

Actor Raveena Tandon says, "Parents should constantly monitor their child and be alert for any signs which point to abuse, and reassure the child that it is not their fault if something does happen." Parents also need to be 'nosy'. Says actor Renuka Shahane, "I always ask my two sons about how their day went if I haven't been home."

"We need to keep the lines of communication open with our children, trust the child and create a sense of security in the child," advises Bedi.

Tips for parents
- Teach your children about good/safe touch and bad/unsafe touch.
- Build a strong emotional bond with your children.
- Build open channels of communication with your children.
- Know the people your child spends time with.
- Avoid leaving your child unsupervised.
- Keep tabs on your children's activities.

Statistics on Child Sexual Abuse in India
- More than 53 per cent children report facing one or more forms of sexual abuse.
- Almost 22 per cent children faced severe sexual abuse, 6 per cent of the respondents were sexually assaulted.
- Fifty per cent of sexual offenders were known to the victim or were in positions of trust (family member, close relative, friend or neighbour).
- Children in the 5-12 years group faced higher levels of abuse, which go largely unreported.
- Boys are equally at risk as girls.
- The severest sexual abuse occurred in age group of 11-16 years.

April 20, 2011



Panchayat lets rapist walk free, minor victim dies

LUCKNOW: In a preposterous edict, a village panchayat in Ghaziabad ordered the rapist of a five-year-old girl to be slapped a few times even as the traumatised child died of excessive loss of blood.

Shanti (name changed), the only daughter of Mangu Giri and Sunita, was brutally assaulted by one Om Pal (24) in Shahpur village in Ghaziabad late on Sunday while they bought grocery from a neighbourhood market.

As the couple returned home, they heard the screams of their daughter and rushed in, only to find her in the grips of Om Pal, who also happens to be their distant relative. The shocked parents shouted for help and Om was caught with the help of neighbours.

Next, the Shahpur village panchayat sat in judgment and asked the accused to apologise to Shanti's parents. ''The panchayat also declared the accused to be slapped a few times for his crime. But Om Pal's parents told me they had already thrashed him,'' said Mangu to the police on Tuesday.

The panchayat also ordered Mangu, a labourer at a brick kiln, not to take his profusely bleeding daughter to hospital as it would needlessly involve the police. Mangu and Sunita were forced to keep Shanti at home and tried household remedies which were of no use.

April 19, 2011




For 15-year-old Ipsita Pal, end of school barely translated into the excitement most teenagers feel before entering college. Instead, she suffered from mood swings and scored badly in her ICSE preliminary exams.

Pal comes across as a reserved teenager, but is surprisingly candid about that “crazy, confusing phase where little made sense.”
“I was in love with my best friend - a girl. I don’t think I can even articulate what was going on in my head then,” Pal says in a rush.

“I had always seen my girlfriends gushing about liking guys. Love gave them such a high. But I felt none of that. I was ashamed and terrified because everything around you points towards liking the opposite sex,” explains Pal.

She adds that she was afraid of approaching a teacher because they never discussed similar dilemmas.
“If things went wrong, I would have been left with an added embarrassment - that of a teacher knowing about my feelings.”
Over months, Pal lost her appetite, sleep and her friends, too.

“The friend I loved moved to another city to pursuer college, and I had irrational fears about approaching other girls…what if I developed feelings for them too?”
Pal’s parents took her to two counsellors suspecting exam anxiety or, at most, depression.

“Neither took any time to speak to me, and put me on medication right away. It only reinforced the guilt I felt. I started believing that my feelings were unnatural, shameful and something I had to ‘cure’.”

Dr Zirak Marker was the third psychologist Pal visited.
“When a teenager approaches you with confusion about his/her sexuality, one has to be very careful about not disclosing too much or too little. Sexuality develops over a long period of time.”
Instead of concentrating on whether Pal was a lesbian or not, Dr Marker took time to understand her and took her off medication.

“You cannot reinforce an idea in a teenager’s mind - about heterosexuality or homosexuality.” In due course, Pal’s parents were taken into confidence. “Unlike most parents, Pal’s parents assured her that they loved her just the same - whether she loves a boy or a girl.

Dealing with confusion about one’s sexuality in school is difficult to begin with. Most signs around reinforce that heterosexual attraction and feelings for the opposite sex are ‘normal’ and anything that doesn’t conform to this notion is ‘abnormal’.

Worse, homophobia and bullying in schools makes it impossible for an adolescent to think his/her feelings through, says Mansi Hasan, child psychologist.

“The issue in school children today isn’t just about whether they can make sense of their sexual identities or not. It is also about the homophobia they see all around them. The word ‘gay’ is used as an abuse,” says Hasan.

Recently, the principal of an international school in the city approached Hasan to conduct a sex education workshop mainly because homosexual exploration was on the rise amongst boys and girls.

“Even 3-4 years ago, we didn’t include homosexuality in our workshops, but now we do touch upon it. In this school’s case, a fifth-grader made other boys uncomfortable by touching them inappropriately. When we conducted the workshop, we found his classmates to be severely homophobic.”

Hasan also started speaking to the boy separately and realised he himself was quite confused about his reasons for exploring his classmates.

“It is too early to ‘decide’ or explore whether the boy is homosexual or not - that is something the child will have to decide for himself. At this age, what is important is to create a safe atmosphere for the child. The boy, for instance, was bullied and mocked for “being gay”. Thanks to the information available online and on TV, even children as young as him do understand these concepts to some extent. He has started playing out the mockery to find out what it really meant,” explains Hasan.

Two years ago, when Mohit Prabhu was 13 years old, his mother took him to a psychologist because he, in an unusually frank chat, told his school counsellor that he often got aroused while playing with a male friend at home.

“For a long time, I had to help Mohit accept that arousal, whether with a boy or a girl, is something that he cannot ‘control’. After a year or two, he tried going around with girls but told me that he didn’t feel the same around them. I have not yet had a frank chat with him discussing his homosexuality, but he is more comfortable with how he feels. His parents, however, are still in denial.” The best way forward, says psychiatrist Dr Harish Shetty, is to let nature takes its course - and parents must be prepared for whatever their child chooses.

Dr Marker cites an instance of a boy who came to him because he had realised he was homosexual and was anxious about what “his future held for him”.
“His parents accompanied him, but after five to six sessions, his mother started approaching me secretly, demanding I stop asking him to accept the situation and concentrate on “curing” him instead.

"Sex education workshops are best done keeping parents in the loop too. It is futile if you work towards making a child comfortable, and do little to make his home environment conducive to his feelings,” says Dr Marker.

Dr Shetty says asks students to write their queries on paper anonymously. “Children are getting bolder and experience feelings more complex than we can imagine. Sex education workshops mustn’t be about moral judgements - once you let a child know that his feelings - homosexual or heretosexual - will be respected, h/she’ll not look for information from dubious sources.