Parents–key to fighting child sexual abuse

PARENTS – KEY TO FIGHTING CSA

Interview with Vidya Reddy, Tulir, by S. Meera

Tulir – Centre for the Prevention and Healing of Child Sexual Abuse (CPHCSA) – works against child sexual abuse in India. One of the key messages they impart is that cases of child sexual abuse (CSA) exist, but in silence due to the discomfort it generates if acknowledged. Accepting and taking the initiative to respond in a timely and appropriate manner keeping children’s safety in mind is not only a priority, but also a necessity. This will enable children to grow in a safe and enjoyable environment, says Vidya Reddy, who works at Tulir.

Can you tell us about your work done with schools under the Personal Safety Education programme that you conduct?

We don’t do anything in isolation. Personal Safety Education is one of our programmes for schools, but there are multiple ways Tulir can help schools become safe. Whichever aspect is received well, we go with that and then expand the scope organically, depending on response and the needs of each school.

Government schools in Tamil Nadu have been far more receptive to the idea of creating awareness and responding appropriately in their schools. The Director of School Education, in fact, has evolved a reporting system in the schools for such cases. In our experience, private schools in Tamil Nadu should hang their heads in shame. Most private schools are in denial and find several excuses for not creating awareness and establishing systems to enhance child safety. For example, we had been doing CSA workshops annually for a few years in one school. However,  they asked us to take a break one year. The reason – they felt that by doing it every year, they were giving the impression that they had a serious problem of CSA in their school!

Many private schools think that CSA cannot happen in their schools. This is ignoring the reality on the ground. There is no one profile for the perpetrator. They bust every stereotype – they can be educated, married, even have children of their own. Most often, they seek jobs where they can have access to children. Schools are places where abuse or disclosure of an abuse can happen. Schools need to accept that and be prepared for it.

How do you think schools can be equipped to handle and work against child sexual abuse?

They can start with a self-audit for themselves – this way, they can know the situation on the ground and take necessary action to improve the safety levels in their school. Tulir as a facilitator can provide guidelines.

This is just the first step. If nothing else at all, I believe schools need to follow at least these five tenets, which together form a framework to provide children with a safe environment and protect an adult from false allegations:

  1. Take steps to overcome the risks. When hiring a teaching or a non-teaching staff, it is important to look beyond qualifications and experience. If there are gaps in the resume, or if the candidate has hopped schools often, find out why. I think even when recruiting volunteers, this exercise should be followed.

In addition, value interviewing is important as it helps assess their capability to handle awkward situations – for instance, ask how the candidate would react if a student had a crush on him/her.

  1. Then look at your training for teachers to help them understand children’s development issues, not just cognitive and physiological but also psychosexual. I understand you cannot provide training to each and every recruit, but you can have online tutorials and make undergoing that training mandatory for a promotion or a raise.
  2. Code of Conduct – do you have a policy on how the staff should behave with children? Have clear guidelines so staff members are aware of expectations, such as: no staff can be alone with a child, someone else must be present; or if you have to, then you must keep the door open.
  3. Reporting process – every school must have a system for reporting concerns about a child or staff, for instance, having a whistleblower’s clause. Again, the TN government has been proactive in this.
  4. How one manages a reported instance also needs to be thought of. For instance, have a committee that includes an odd number of members and an outside agency to deliberate on what further steps to take. Schools also must consider how they will handle cases of one child abusing another.

Where do you see the challenge in reporting CSA and implementation of the process?

Schools are very aware that they have problems. However, they fear it is a can of worms best not examined too closely. They stonewall and try to play it down.

The second and greater challenge is parents themselves. Ironically, the more educated and well-heeled parents are the ones who usually underplay any kind of safeguarding needed to keep their child safe. Even if the child reports, they want to hush it up and do not bring it to the notice of the authorities concerned. PTAs should demand that their schools implement child protection policies. Any child deserves justice, and being believed is the simplest and most powerful form of justice for a child. More often than not, they are disbelieved and shamed.

Studies show that only 12-24 percent of instances of CSA get disclosed, and only a miniscule of that gets reported to authorities. Parents are the key; they must stop deluding themselves with myths about CSA. Their mindsets have to change, and that can happen only with greater awareness. They must be able to handle uncomfortable topics – for instance, today children are watching pornography because they have easier access. Parents need to acknowledge that and guide their children to process what they see.

POCSO Act (Protection of Children from Sexual Offences) 2012 very correctly makes school management responsible for any incident of CSA in their school, which they may have been aware of but did not act upon. Law is the not the only recourse, but even if it has to be enforced, and if there is a complaint,the success depends on the child not turning hostile. The greatest risk is from parents as well as schools. Also, principals themselves need support to be able to implement and enforce protection policies.

Schools also make the mistake of assuming that having a counsellor is enough. However, are they in tune with this generation? Do they know enough about sexual violence and trauma to be suggesting and taking appropriate steps?

These are some of the issues we at Tulir address through our workshops and by working closely with schools that want to provide a safe environment. Between November 28 and 30, we will be conducting a workshop, ‘Safe Schools: Supporting schools address child sexual abuse, holistically’ under our continuing workshop series – Connecting the Dots. The lead facilitator will be Dr Lois J Engelbrecht, who has helped create systems of prevention and response to sexual abuse of children in the Phillippines, Malaysia, China, India, Saudi Arabia, Ghana and Vietnam.

 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: