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

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