From Stigma To Support, Speaking Up Against Sexual Abuse

From Stigma To Support, Speaking Up Against Sexual Abuse

More than 1.62 lakhs cases of crime against children were registered in 2022, an increase of 8.7% over 2021 according to the NCRB.

Priya Parikh Aarti Singh PariharUpdated: Friday, March 08, 2024, 12:32 PM IST
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We have all heard the story of ‘Pinky’. A playful eight-yearold who lived in the neighbourhood, everyone knew her as a shy but affectionate child. She was always smiling and happy in her own world. All this was before the ‘incident’ wherein Pinky suffered from sexual abuse and her world around her changed completely.

No one ever got to know the the details of the incident, other than some rumors and except that we helplessly saw the transformation of a budding, sweet little child to one withdrawn in her own shell, who never again came out to play in the park.

Her family kept the incident a secret and did not seek justice or formal help, out of fear of societal reaction/ rejection. As a result, Pinky suffered twice one from the crime and another (much longer) from the ingrained bias in our minds, treating a sexual abuse victim as if she has lost her dignity just because an abuser has committed a crime violating her physical self.

Unreported Cases of Sexual Abuse

The focus somehow shifts away from the perpetrator to victim shaming when it’s a sexual abuse crime. In 2021, 53,874 cases were reported under POCSO (Protection of Children under Sexual Offence Act), according to data released by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB).

More than 1.62 lakhs cases of crime against children were registered in 2022, an increase of 8.7% over 2021 according to the NCRB. And these are the numbers where parents were strong enough to approach the police. However, there are many unreported cases like that of Pinky.

Societal Stigma and Victim Blaming

Even wellmeaning families fear social backlash or boycott of the victim and keep such ‘incidents’ under covers. There is another aspect, a fear of sexual abuse restricts girls’ freedom and education/ career choices and in many places, parents feel safer to get the girl married off in early age and be free from their responsibility. This mindset is a vicious cycle against women empowerment and gender equality in society.

The solution for reported crime has been well thought of after the Nirbhaya case in 2012. The law, regulations, judgments and guidelines are written to safeguard and protect women against sexual assaults. However, there is a need to change the mindset of society.

Change In Mindset Regarding Sexual Abuse

Sexual assault, sexual abuse or sexual harassment is still seen as a crime damaging one’s reputation: victims are forced to face guilt and trauma, for no fault of their own. The need of the hour is that we, as a society should do our part, by not increasing the pain of a sexual abuse victim further by marginalizing them. So what is the way forward? A change in mindset and strengthening of support groups should be part of the solution. Spreading awareness that a crime is a crime and should be treated so, and if it involves sexual assault, it is not the fault of the victim.

Supporting And Empowering Women To Speak Up

Secondly, the role of support groups – both formal and informal (such as close family, teachers, counsellors, etc) – needs to be strengthened while justice takes its course. The primary unit for changing the required mindset should be the family. They should be made to understand that the victim is not responsible for losing her dignity and it is not her fault that she was sexually assaulted. This advice must come from law enforcement agency’s counsellors, and extended families, friends and neighbourhood should be suitably counselled too.

Initiative To Prevent And Support Women Facing Sexual Abuse

A support group with the help of NGOs can be created as per the needs. Second unit is schools / educational institutes, wherein certified professionals should be invited for talks / seminars on this topic. Teachers / professors must be sensitised and trained to deal with cases / victims of sexual assault. Lastly, it is very important to initiate dialogue on this very sensitive but extremely important issue because if each one of us contributes to spreading awareness and changing our own mindsets, we may save another Pinky in the future from twice becoming a victim.

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