In Mexico most child sexual abusers are at home. Not long ago, when someone said the word “rapist”, I drew in my mind the image of (1) a stranger; (2) a pervert; (3) a man hidden in the shadows of an alley waiting for his next victim. Probably this has to do with how rapists are, too often, characterized in soap operas, television series and films as “very bad” or sinister men, often socially marginalized from society (“Eye for eye”, with Kiefer Sutherland, “The Lovely Bones”, with Stanley Tucci, “Irreversible”, with Monica Bellucci). The statistics, however, helped me develop a more comprehensive and objective perception on sexual abusers.
The National Report on Violence and Health in Mexico, printed by the civil organization IPAS Health, revealed that even though “a significant number of sexual abuse and rape cases are perpetrated by one or more strangers in various places, such as the streets, parks or public transportation”, it turns out that “the majority of sexual violence cases […] happen at home, and they are committed by family members (parents, step-parents, brothers, uncles, cousins), men known to the family, like neighbors or people of ‘trust’ (friends or relatives)”. Subsequently, 70% of sexual offenders are family members who abuse women and children at home; the father in the 7.2% of the cases; the stepfather in 8.2%; any other family member (uncles, cousins, close friends, neighbors, and so on) in the 55.1%; and the boyfriend in 3.4%, according to the report (1).
On the other hand, findings generated by the Program of Assistance for Victims and Survivors of Sexual Assault, coordinated by the Faculty of Psychology at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), based on the monitoring of 100 cases of child sexual abuse, revealed that 95% of the offenders were known by the victim; among them, the father or the elder brother were the aggressors in 19% of the cases, and cousins or uncles in 34% of the cases (2). “It happened to me when I was 5 years old. He was my mother’s brother, watch out! “, one of my Facebook’s contacts confessed recently. Both the adoptive daughters of a close friend, aged 10 and 8, were sexually abused by their stepfather and uncle, respectively.
Among public figures, Eve Ensler, creator of “The vagina monologues” and Dylan Farrow, the adopted daughter of the lionized filmmaker Woody Allen, had the courage to confess they were abused by they fathers.
In conclusion, sexual abusers are among us, within our families and friends, disguised as respectable people, and they are not sick persons, they are healthy sons of the system from which they have decided to adopt abuse and impunity as a currency: patriarchy.
THE SILENCE OF THE VICTIMS OUT OF FEAR AND SHAME, THE DENIAL OF MOTHERS, AND ALL KIND OF THREATS FROM THE OFFENDERS, ARE THE MAIN PROTECTORS OF THE SEXUAL ABUSER
Carolina Malebrán, Phd. Psychologist, highlights: “There are several myths among the discussion on child sexual abuse, such as: “my children have never been and will never be abused”. This myth, explains the expert, “is the first problem that we find while trying to detect possible child sexual abuse, since we are closed to listening or watching the signs that our children could be sending us regarding this subject” (3).
In a society where anything related to sexuality is shameful and victims of sexual abuse are re-victimized by being stigmatized and systematically held responsible for the attack they suffered, the obvious reaction is silence.
In its Protocol for the Attention of Child and Adolescent Victims of Commercial Sexual Exploitation, the DIF (National System for Family’s Integral Development), (4) explains: “Most of the children who are being sexually abused do not tell anyone because they believe people will think they’re lying. Sometimes they don’t even know the adequate vocabulary to talk about the subject and therefore they cannot express themselves properly”. To aggravate the situation, according to the expert in public health, M.P.H. Amy Scholten, frequently sexual abusers convince their victims that the aggression must be kept secret (5).
According to the Organization “Stop it now” for the prevention of child sexual abuse, physical signs of sexual abuse are not common (6). However, explains Scholten, we must pay attention at:
– Difficulty to walk or sit down.
– Redness, pain, bleeding or bruising on the external part of the genital or anal areas.
– Unusual secretion coming out of the vagina or anus.
– Frequent and inexplicable urinary tract infections or sore throats.
The National Sex Offenders Public Website of the United States Department of Justice (7) highlights the following behaviors as warning signs of possible sexual child abuse:
– Unexplainable nightmares or problems to sleep.
– Seems to be distracted (or) distant at different times.
– Sudden change in eating habits.
– Sudden eating disorders (she/he is not hungry or is very hungry).
– Problems swallowing.
– Sudden changes in mood: anger, fear, insecurity or shyness.
– Wants to start conversations on sexual issues.
– Develops an unusual or sudden fear regarding certain places or people.
– Refuses to talk about a secret shared with an adult or older children.
– Writes, draws, plays or dreams of frightening or sexual images.
– Speaks about a new older friend.
– Suddenly has money, toys or other gifts without any reason.
– She/he thinks she/he or her/his body is repulsive, dirty or bad.
– She/he shows sexual knowledge, language or behavior similar to that of an adult.
– She/he shows a seductive behavior or interest in sexual matters inappropriate to her/his age.
– She/he refuses to go to a certain place or to stay with a specific person.
– She/he suffers sudden sleeping disorders: nightmares, wets the bed, afraid to sleep alone, needs a light kept on during the night, among others.
– Experiences new fears and needs to be more comforted than before.
– Returns to an immature baby’s behavior.
– Lowers grades at school; social behavior changes.
– Suddenly afraid to take her/his clothes off, or wears extra layers of clothing.
TAKE IT SERIOUSLY!
When detecting that a kid has been sexually abused, reacting properly is extremely important in order to provide a real support. The specialist Amy Scholten recommends taking the following measures:
– Keep calm. If you show anger or disgust, the kid might take it personally.
– Do not panic or loose your temper. This it is a very difficult experience and the child needs help and support.
– Take seriously what the girl or the boy says. It is very unusual that a child lies about sexual abuse.
– Listen carefully and sympathetically to the kid and answer questions honestly.
– Be positive. Child abuse is never the child’s fault.
– Calm the child by explaining it’s not her/his fault.
– Tell your kid you are proud of her/him for talking about it. Give her/him lots of love, comfort and consolation.
– Respect the kid’s privacy. Don’t pressure her/him to talk about the abuse. The kid will talk about it when she/he feels ready to do so.
– Never discuss the abuse in front of people who don’t need to know about it.
– Take the kid for a medical examination in case there is physical injury, damage or disease as result from the abuse.
– Get assistance from a variety of information sources, such as: the child’s pediatrician, counselor or teacher, the police, and/or a social worker from the childhood protection service.
– Let the child talk about the abuse. She/he will not forget it.
– Do not confront the kid with the offender. This could cause her/him more stress and damage.
Psychologist Angelica Marín Díaz, expert in child’s human rights protection, presents clear guidelines about how to deal with the issue of sexual abuse within the family (8):
– Insert the issue of sexual abuse among family’s safety instructions.
– The issue of sexual abuse must not be treated as an isolated subject, but within a natural context where the kid must be attentive. In a general way, when speaking about sexual abuse, one must insert it into the general family’s safety rules, along with recommendations on how to cross the street or not talking to strangers.
The more self-confident and self-valued kids feel, the better they know what they want. For example, it is more possible that they will seek for help if they feel they are been looked by someone in a strange way. Self-confidence can be developed with small phrases, like: “I’m proud you did it!”, “I care about what you say”, “I care about how you feel”; that way they acknowledge their word is valuable, and also that they are those human beings being fully considered by someone they love.
– Assertiveness, spoken thought.
Spoken thought must be accompanied by assertiveness; this means kids need to learn to say what they are thinking. It means for them to say, for example, I don’t like how that person approaches me. Then pay full attention to what the kid has to say. It has been observed that a child who speaks about what she/he thinks or feels, is more self-protected than shy and inhibited kids.
– Teach them to recognize their own bodies and the boundaries with others.
It’s like having a hula-hula permanently around the waist, which demarcates a personal distance with others. It is a personal distance that we often keep in normal situations with others. Children should feel safe in this space, because this will allow them to recognize their feelings of discomfort more clearly: “that person came up to me or greeted me in a way I don’t like.”
– Talk about sexual abuse without scaring the kid
It is important to explain kids that it is correct to say NO to any close relative or family friend. Kids need to understand that not just because someone is an adult or a relative, they have to obey him/her blindly. They need to know clearly when to obey and when not to do so. We keep saying to kids not to talk to strangers, but we also have to protect them from familiar adults. Regarding this matter, for example, if someone tries to touch their bodies or makes them feel uncomfortable, tell the kids to come and tell you, or let you know as soon as you meet again, in case you are a mother or father who works all day.
OTHER IMPORTANT MEASURES INCLUDE (8):
– Teach kids that respect does not mean blind obedience to adults or to any authority. Teach them to think critically. For example, do not tell them, “Always do what the teacher or babysitter tells you”.
– Encourage the creation of professional prevention programs at your local school.
– Meet the people who spend time with your daughter/son, especially caregivers.
– Maintain frequent and open communication with your daughter/son without preconceptions.
– Make it clear for the girl/boy that no one has the right to touch any part of their body without their consent.
– Build trust environments where girls and boys feel they are being listened to.
– Encourage them to turn to an adult they trust whenever they feel confused about the way other people approach them or ask them for something.
– Explain them the difference between adequate touching that makes them feel good, and touching they receive as unpleasant and uncomfortable.
– Explain that no one should force the kid to show affection in ways different from those taught by the family.
– Start workshops regarding body care, recognition of private body parts, responsible sexual behavior, knowledge of sexual and reproductive rights, infatuation, unwanted pregnancy, and safe sex.
– Explain them there are good and bad secrets. Good secrets have to do with nice things and bad secrets have to do with things that harm you. For example: when someone touches your body secretly, that is a bad secret, and you must quickly tell it to an adult or a trustworthy person.
– Make sure the girl or boy knows how to say NO if someone tries to touch them making them feel uncomfortable with inappropriate caresses.
– Explain them clearly that they must never open the door to strangers, go to anybody’s home or hang around with others without permission from their parents. Meet all friends and people with whom the child spends time.
Keep in mind that sex offenders are also public figures, disguised as all kind of “respectable men”: priests, teachers, renowned entrepreneurs, legislators and politicians, among others, such as Marcial Maciel, Jean Succar Kuri, and this public officer from the conservative party (PAN), Hermes Yahir Chacón Flores, who was just found holding over 74 thousand images of children in sexual situations. Let’s not forget these faces! http://www.sinembargo.mx/06-10-2014/1136379
Oh, by the way, have you listened to, observed, empowered and informed your kids today?
Photos: Saint Hoax, Princest Diaries. (http://www.sainthoax.com/princestdiaries.html)
(1) Gasman et al. “Informe Nacional sobre la Violencia y la Salud en México”. See at: (http://www.svri.org/nacional.pdf).
(2) Quoted at “Educación de la sexualidad y prevención del abuso sexual infantil”. Secretaría de Educación Pública. See at: (http://www2.sepdf.gob.mx/info_dgsei/archivos/DGSEI_Educacion_de_la_sexualidad_y-prevencion_del_abuso_sexual_infantil.pdf).
(3) Malebrán, Carolina. “Cómo detectar abuso sexual en niñas y niños”. See at: http://www.educarchile.cl/ech/pro/app/detalle?id=214490
(4) Protocolo de atención a víctimas de la explotación sexual comercial. DIF Nacional. See at http://www.dif.gob.mx/diftransparencia/media/Protocolo1AtnVictimasExplotacSexComerc.pdf
(5) Scholten, Amy. “Abuso Sexual Infantil: Conozca los Signos de Advertencia”. See at: (http://www.med.nyu.edu/content?ChunkIID=125711).
(6) Stop It Now!, “Warning Signs in Children and Adolescents of Possible Child Sexual Abuse.” See at: (http://www.stopitnow.org/warning_signs_child_behavior).
(7) “Conozca las señales de advertencia. Reconocimiento del abuso sexual”. Web Pública Nacional de Delincuentes Sexuales del Departamento de Justicia de los Estados Unidos. See at: (http://www.nsopw.gov/es/Education/RecognizingSexualAbuse).