A mature adult finds it overwhelming to face the psychological and social aftermath of sexual abuse. What about a child?
How many people you know have been a victim of sexual abuse in their childhood? How many of you have personally suffered at the hands of a psychopathic abuser? How many among you actually felt the need to actively do something to stop these unspeakable crimes? Is there really a way to stop it? Can we really do something about it?
Let’s find out all the answers with Pranaadhika Sinha Devburman, a well recognized activist from Kolkata with her mission to raise 1 Million voices against child sexual abuse in a short interview with BongRong.
BongRong: How did you come to think of this project, 1 Million Against Child Abuse? Is it a projection of your personal feeling or did you feel this is something society needs?
Pranaadhika: The initial reason was definitely personal because I, myself, am a survivor of abuse and I have been working on this issue since I was 10, and I am 27 now. While the initial reason was personal, I realized the issue is relevant and yet not really tackled in India. Right now, the reason and motivation behind starting this project is that I know there are lot of people who have suffered the same abuse and there are not enough services for that. There is no proper legal structure to address the problems. There is practically nothing available.
We are the 2nd most populated country in the world and yet we have only 5 registered organizations working against Child Sexual Abuse for a population of over billions of people. That by itself means that the ratio of service providers to recipients is barely 1%.
BongRong: With your years of experience in the field, can you tell us what kind of psychological situation a child goes through when they become a victim of sexual abuse?
Pranaadhika: Confusion! 80% or maybe more children are abused by someone that they trust. The confusion is about whether this behavior they are experiencing is appropriate or not? Is it sanctioned by their parents or not? They don’t know. There is secrecy around abuse; there is a lot of threat around abuse- depending on situations. The cycle of abuse which is also called Accommodation Syndrome is a process through which an abuser develops a relationship with a child with the overall objective of abusing them. That process is tailored to cause much confusion in the mind of a child. It will make them feel like what they are going through is something that they want. I want my abuser to behave in a certain way with me. And I am okay with it, how? Because my abuser gives me gifts. I am also scared of telling my family because my abuser has made me promise to keep this a secret. If I tell the secret I am going to lose my abuser and my abuser is my friend. My abuser plays a role in my life that nobody else can play. Maybe my abuser plays a role of a father figure because my parents are divorced. Maybe my abuser is my companion because Ma and Baba are at the office and my abuser is the one who takes care of me. Maybe my abuser is a teacher who will fail me in my tuition class if I don’t do certain things. Do you see how certain situations can create this turmoil?
BongRong: People from our society have this mentality. If my daughter gets molested and we can’t stop that from happening, we could simply move on. Do you want to say something to those people who think this way?
Pranaadhika: Many people feel boys can’t be abused, yet statistics released by the Government of India in 2007 says that 52% boys face sexual abuse as opposed to 48% of girls.
There is always a solution or strategy which can be adopted in order for the abuse and its aftermath to be dealt with; shoving an issue under the carpet will not help. The child needs immediate psychosocial support and needs to be informed that it is “not” their fault that the abuse happened. Silence will lead to a number of feelings of guilt, hurt, and shame in the child and it is of utmost importance to ensure that these feelings are nipped in the bud. If not dealt with, the consequences could be damaging, and even fatal.
BongRong: You have mentioned a troubling lack of available services to attend the issue at hand. What do you think are the reasons behind it?
Pranaadhika: I think it’s a combination of ignorance at some level and discomfort at some level….talking about anything related to sex and sexuality is always handled with hesitation. It’s like, you know it’s true but you are not comfortable talking about it. And here we are talking about Child Abuse – if adults can’t talk about adult abuse, how are they going to talk about child abuse? So we find discomfort, denial, hostility….there are also many social reasons, economic reasons, religious reasons, caste reasons- there are just so many things…
BongRong: With so many dynamic problems at hand, how is your project actually planning to act and produce results?
Pranaadhika: We are dealing with a multitude of people from the socio-economic strata of society. We are working at the grass-roots level. We are working with urbanite population. We are also working separately with the law makers and stake holders within our socio-legal process. These are the people in power, who at the end of this campaign have it in them to say something along the lines of – thanks to this campaign and thanks to the number of people that came forward, we feel that this country needs a certain type of education pertaining to sex and sexuality.
So, we are working on three different levels. Our primary work is awareness advocacy, because as I shared before, there is a lot of ignorance regarding this issue. Also – increasing the comfort around having a dialogue with young people about the existence of abuse. Also, for those who are survivors, we instruct others on how to deal with them and how to ensure they are taken care of; because, people really do not deal with this trauma in as in-depth a fashion as they should. Dealing with trauma after sexual abuse is very important. This trauma can range from anything to everything – your career can be ruined, your self-esteem destroyed, your trust destroyed. It all plays into a person’s mind. Your ability to excel is severely hampered. Our entire process involves bringing forth the effects of abuse and therefore encouraging people to do something about it.
BongRong: What do you exactly want people to do here? How can they help the situation?
Pranaadhika: Doing something means conversations, raising awareness, talking to your family; on a more urban level- taking part in movements to encourage the highest class, which is the ruling decision making class, to do something about this. Pushing people in parliament, pushing people in the HRD ministry, pushing the education minister to acknowledge the fact that child sexual abuse and sexual violence in general need certain improved actions. To tell them that we need laws that tighten the noose around child sexual violence and other sexual abuses- that is our ultimate target. To make that happen, India needs to speak up more loudly against it. We need more people to come forward and raise their voice regarding the issue.
BongRong: As concerned members of our family oriented social structure, we would very much like to know one thing in particular. When should a parent or family member start suspecting that a child is suffering sexual abuse?
Pranaadhika: There are certain signs and symptoms which may suggest that a child is troubled; however it should be noted that they do not always indicate that a child is specifically facing sexual abuse or incest, but could certainly raise red flags in context with him/her enduring some form of abusive behavior. These behaviors could range from peer pressure and bullying, to emotional or physical abuse at the hands of anyone.
Here are some common signs and symptoms which may suggest that a child is disturbed about something.
BongRong: What exactly is motivating you Pranaadhika, to bring forth an issue that society largely chooses to not talk about?
Pranaadhika: Apart from my own experiences with abuse, I have always felt strongly about issues pertaining to violence and our country’s consistent apathy towards it. In a country where it is okay to sexualize women, children, and men in the entertainment industry, it is not okay to speak openly about the prevalence of sexual violence. This contradiction plays into an existing patriarchal and misogyny-laden mindset which will sexualize people but will not work towards ensuring that they are safe from violence.
Something needs to be done, the public and government need to be made accountable for what is happening to our citizens, especially our children, and therefore this, among other things, is motivation enough to start a campaign as a first step towards building a consistent, mass-supported response against sexual violence.
BongRong: Where are you at this point in your goal to gather one million voices? What kind of vibes are you getting from the people of our nation?
Pranaadhika: In terms of the goal, a lot of networks are being built pan-India and registration of the campaign is also in progress in order to assure sustainability. So far close to 900 people have been approached and the 1 Million Faces Against Abuse Campaign has gathered a lot of support. I started the campaign by working with an organization in Lucknow which works with citizens from slum areas; I will be engaging with them over the course of the campaign in order to ensure that the campaign reaches out to people from less privileged backgrounds.
The responses so far have been of interest and enthusiasm, and I hope that these feelings will translate into action and participation.
BongRong: Lets summarize by saying, child abuse is a crime that impacts a child’s life in a way that, if not dealt with properly and immediately, can severely and permanently fracture the very soul of a helpless child. We can’t just brush off everything related to sexual abuse and pretend like nothing happens. Speaking on behalf of the entire BongRong team, let us assure you, we will help you in any way we can and we call out to our readers to speak up as loudly as they can. Thank you for your time Pranaadhika and we wish you all the luck.
Pranaadhika: My humble request to your readers and the people of Kolkata, please have the heart and sense of empathy to just listen. I will ask you to just spend some of your valuable time for the benefit of yourself and your family and make yourself open to discussing, open to acknowledging the facts. And then if you feel inclined to be the part of a solution, there are multiple avenues to explore. The first step of the solution, as it happens with any kind of addiction, is to acknowledge that child sexual abuse happens in our society.