Beyond Ese/Yunusa Saga: How Parents Can Protect Their Children From Sexual Abuse.
The story of abduction of 14 year-old Ese Oruru by Yunusa Dahiru has already gone viral. It has also been revealed that the teenager is five months pregnant. While it is necessary that Nigerians get to know the level of crime and absurdities permeating the country and give the girl and her parents justice, our focus here is to examine the roles of parents towards their teenage girls. There are measures and practices that when put to play in our homes will definitely curb crimes like this. Without prejudice to the on-going investigations, reports, contradictions and accusations from various quarters, let us review the situation with the Vanguard Newspaper report.
The Ese Story
The Vanguard report reads: ABUJA — 14-year-old Ese Rita Oruru, the Delta State-born girl-child, resident in Bayelsa, who was abducted by Yunusa Dahiru, alias Yellow, but rescued by the Police in Kano, has been discovered to be about five months pregnant, very reliable sources have told Vanguard. Ese Rita Oruru, arrived Yenagoa yesterday and she is presently quartered at the police officers mess Yenagoa. She came in company of her mother, Mrs Rose Oruru and securirity escorts who drove them quietly to the Offciers Mess. Yunusa Yellow and Ese Oruru This came as Dahiru Bala, the biological father of Yunusa, declared, yesterday, that his son never cohabited with Ese Oruru because of embedded contraption highly offensive to his religion. This is as some prominent Nigerians, including Dr. Joe Okei-Odumakin, former Lagos State Police Commissioner, Abubakar Tsav; Second Republic politician and lawyer, Guy Ikokwu and women NGOs, said the law should take its course on the matter and expressed anger over the teenager’s pregnancy.
It was gathered that the white Hijab she wore on her arrival from Kano on Tuesday was used to cover the pregnancy, even though her physical condition and looks created suspicion. Vanguard was told that it was the condition the Police authorities discovered about Ese that informed the IGP, Solomon Arase’s directive that she should be handed over to the Gender and Child Protection Unit. A similar directive was given to a team from the Medical Department of the Force to carry out a comprehensive medical examination on the girl at the Police Medical Facility in Area 1, Garki, Abuja. Upon certifying her medical status and emotional state, Vanguard gathered that the Inspector-General of Police, feeling uncomfortable with the transport arrangement of the mother that they returned by road, cancelled the arrangement and directed that both Ese and her mother be flown to Yenagoa. Meanwhile, the IGP has directed the Bayelsa State Police Command to take over investigation of the case since, according to sources, the offence was committed in Bayelsa, which is the place of residence of the abductor, Yunusa Dahiru.
Consequently, Vanguard was told that Yunusa would be moved to Yenagoa to face interrogation and prosecution for kidnapping and child abuse as well as violence against a girl-child. The Inspector-General of Police had earlier vowed that Yunusa and all other actors in the seven-month-old abduction saga would be brought to justice. He said it was the only way the nation would make a clear statement in unison that any individual who violated the sanctity of the rights of children shall be dealt with in accordance with extant laws of the country. The IGP spoke as Mrs. Rose Oruru, Ese’s mother, thanked all Nigerians, the Nigerian Police Force and well wishers, who assisted in one way or the other to ensure her daughter was brought back alive and safe, saying she could not say much for now. Speaking through the Force Public Relations Officer, ACP Olabisi Kolawole at Force Headquarters, shortly before Ese’s mother, Mrs Rose Oruru, was led to take custody of her daughter, the IGP said: “Aside prosecution of the actors directly involved in this case, the Inspector General of Police has also ordered an in-house administrative inquiry designed to review the professional conduct of officers responsible for the initial investigation of this case. Any officer indicted of professional dereliction will be firmly dealt with accordingly.” My son never cohabited with Ese — Yunusa’s father
Meanwhile, Dahiru Bala, the biological father of Yunusa Yellow, declared yesterday that his son never cohabited with Ese Oruru because of embedded contraption highly offensive to his religion”. Yunusa’s Father Dahiru in an exclusive interview with Vanguard at his country home, Kauyen Tofa in Kura local government area of kano State, said: “There was no marriage between my son and Ese Oruru due to contradiction and illegality involved. “The love relationship between my son and Ese was built on ignorance of their religious backgrounds which made it difficult for anyone to support their marriage proposal.” Dahiru Bala, 55, disclosed that traditional authorities were fully briefed about an impending illegality when his son, Yunusa, who he said was 25, informed him of his decision to elope with her lover. “I promptly reported the matter to the village head and on their arrival, they were taken to his home, who in turn reported to the District Head at Kura, headquarters of Kura local government area. “Yunusa was a house help to Oruru’s family for 10 years and when he told me of his love relationship with Ese, I opposed it because we already have a proposal for him in the village. “Sequel to the request of Ese, she was converted to Islam on the order of the District Head before he was taken to the Emir’s palace for his final say.” The farmer said that on arrival at the Emir’s palace, a senior counsellor who took the brief, summoned the Sharia Commission to take custody of Ese Oruru till the following day when the emir would be available. Shedding more light on the Yunusa/Ese Oruru love saga, Dahiru Bala disclosed that the emir, who subsequently met with them, ordered the Sharia commission to liaise with the Assistant Inspector General of Police, Zone 1 to return her home with immediate effect. According to Yunusa’s father, “the much anticipated return of Ese Oruru to Bayelsa was truncated by her when she broke down in the AIG’s office and raised safety questions to her life back home. Subsequently, the move was halted to pave way for investigation”.
The suspect’s father, who was surrounded by his village men during the encounter, said “the last we heard of Ese Oruru was that she was in custody of Sharia commission, who kept her in the home of the District Head at Kura.” She should be allowed to deliver the baby—Tsav Reacting to the development, retired Police Commissioner, Alhaji Abubakar Tsav said: “There is a difference between elopement and abduction. If the suspect is of age, he should be prosecuted. If I were in the position of the parents, I would allow her to deliver after which she should be allowed to make her choice.” Pregnancy unfortunate, inevitable —Joe Odumakin President of the Women Arise for Change Initiative and the Campaign for Democracy, Dr Joe Okei-Odumakin said “it is the most unfortunate aspect of the Ese Oruru saga and it is inevitable. But the fact remains that there are more dangers than one can imagine for a 14 year old to become a mother in such a manner as this.” She, however, added that those found culpable of the act, no matter how highly placed, should be brought to book. She said: “There are no two ways about this, a crime has been committed by the man, Yunusa alias Yellow, who abducted the teenage girl all the way from Bayelsa State to Kano State for a forced marriage and conversion of religion. The Nigerian law does not recognise such illegality with an under-aged and nothing should be spared at ensuring that the main culprit and everyone involved, no matter how highly placed, are brought to book.” The law should take its course – Ikokwu Second Republic politician and lawyer, Chief Guy Ikokwu said: ‘’The law should take its course as the molestation and abuse of children and infants is rampant in our society. It should not take the intervention of a monarch, the IGP or the governor or president for police officers trained in crime prevention to do their normal work. Ese Oruru’s father has given glory to God as what happened was not Christian or Islamic like the Chibok episode.Asked his opinion on Ese’s pregnancy and what the parents should do, he said: ‘’The pregnancy is a family matter. It is for the family to decide.
The abduction is a criminal matter but the pregnancy is a family issue. Under the law, we cannot advice the girl to go and commit an abortion. The girl may die in the process. It is for the family to decide.’’ The issue is an embarrassment to Nigeria— Dr Junaid Mohammed “The issue of the elopement of Ese is an embarrassment to this nation and without mincing words, Yunusa shows irresponsibility and the law should take its course on him. Also, the Emir of Kano should be investigated by the police because the statement he gave is not enough to exonerate him in the whole issue. “As far as I am concerned, this issue has nothing to do with religion but a fundamental issue that must be tackled head on and I am calling on the Bayelsa State governor to look into the girl’s issue and help her out.” Funmi Falana, Executive Director, Women Empowerment and Legal Advocacy, WELA, said: “it is unfortunate that the young girl has become a victim of violence against girl child in the society. “Her situation or experience could be likened to a rape because she was not properly married and her consents were not sought, which is contrary to the law. “As it is now, the man should be arrested and prosecuted and not allowed to go scot free. The punishment is seven years jail sentence. “As to the predicament of the girl, she should not be allowed to bear that child and the accompanied pains because she is not biologically fit for it. If allowed to bear the pregnancy, she may have VVF. A case of a girl raped in Agege was handled by us, the girl was operated upon. “However, if she carried the pregancy eventually, she should be delivered through cessarian session. She should be adequately taken care of.” Another woman lawyer based in Benue, Mrs Patience Joseph, who is the coordinator of Nigeria Women Against Poverty, NWAP, said, “The issue is still strange to me. This is because, I can’t imagine how the little girl started fraternizing with the alleged abductor, under the nose of her parents to the extent she was ‘shipped’ out of Bayelsa. “However, this is not the issue on ground now.
The only solution is for the state (government) to first determine the condition of the girl, the blood sample of the abductor, and make adequate medical findings to determine if he is responsible and also determine if she will be medically fit to carry the pregnancy. “After this, the issue has become a crime against the man, no matter what the circumstances in which he met the young girl. “In Islam under which guise he may hide for instance, it is condition precedent that the consent of the proposed lady must be sought and that of the parent before a valid marriage can be consummated alongside the payment of dowry. “In this situation none of these conditions are met apart from engaging the little girl in family way prematurely. So, he must be made to account for his deeds according to the law. “One cannot recommend the abortion of the foetus which is illegal, except on medical conditions, supported by proper directive from a qualified medical personnel.” Neighbours, relations and friends besiege Orurus’ Opolo residence Meanwhile, neighbours, relations and friends of the Orurus including newsmen had besieged their Opolo residence awaiting the arrival their receive when news filtered in that they were at the Mess. A resident who pleaded anonymity said “we are waiting the mother and daughter to be sure that they are back.” At the police officers Mess, journalists were denied access to the girl by security operatives who claimed they were acting on instruction from above. But a police confided in Vanguard saying: “there is a directive that the girl should be accommodated at the Mess for three days because of the trauma she has passed through.” As at the time of filing this report journalists were still keeping vigil at the mess.
-Vanguard (This is one of the most current report preceding this post).
What parents should do to avert situations like this and other sexual crimes against Nigerian children
There is an acute need to protect our children from sexual abuse. There is need to have an enduring template enshrined in our consciousness in view of the horrors of child sexual abuse. Parents must be better equipped to teach our children about child safety or to identify the warning signs of sexual abuse in children. This has become very necessary to avoid “history repeating itself”. There are two extremes – one, we can, out of anxiety “avoid the subject altogether and keep our fingers crossed” and two, – “ become very overprotective and try to wrap our children in so much cotton wool that they are not given the skills to protect themselves.” This echoes the voice of survivors of sexual abuse – Pandora’s Project that offers support and resources for survivors of rape and sexual abuse. This post is based on the group’s educative publication, written by Katy under the caption “Some Tips on How to Protect Your Child from Sexual Abuse.
The unfortunate truth about sexual abuse
It could happen to any child – including yours. This is very unfortunately, as any child is at risk of sexual abuse. Hoping, denying, pretending that this can’t happen to your child is not lowering your child’s risk of being sexually abused, and it does not prepare them to get help quickly and effectively if the worst does happen. The reality of CSA is a terrifying concept – but it’s something that every parent needs to face because knowledge is power.
The facts about sexual abuse
The stark reality of the statistics is that approximately 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys are sexually abused before the age of 18 and it can affect any child regardless of age, gender, family income, culture, race, religion, physical appearance, sexuality, intellect, disability etc.
Most sexual abuse (85%) is perpetrated by someone within the child’s social sphere – for example, a relative, a family friend, a teacher, youth worker, religious leader, neighbor, security guard, neighbourhood shop owner, etc. Despite the stereotypical image of the abuser propagated by the media, abusers usually do not look like monsters and it is relatively rare for them to be strangers.
The majority of children never report the abuse, and often this is because they are afraid of their parents’ reactions, because they fear getting in trouble, or because they don’t know how to tell. The child who keeps the abuse secret is more likely to experience severe physical and emotional consequences, both in childhood and later in life.
Children from a young as three years old can be taught skills that lower their vulnerability of sexual abuse and which also increase their ability to tell if something does happen. You, as the parent, play the most vital role in educating your child about their safety and about what’s right and wrong. Similarly, you have a big role to play in identifying risk factors and signs in order to aid prevention and detection of abuse.
What is child sexual abuse (CSA)?
“Sexual abuse is when a child or young person is pressurized, forced or tricked into taking part in any kind of sexual activity with an adult or young person” (NSPCC)
- CSA can involve many activities including:
- Fondling / touching / kissing of genitals or other areas of the body.
- Penetration with penis, digit, or object.
- Exposing genitals or sexual material to a child.
- Talking to a child inappropriately, graphically, and explicitly about sex.
- Asking a child to touch their own genitals or another person’s.
- Non-forced sex with an underage child.
Myths about CSA
“The great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie – deliberate, contrived and dishonest – but the myth – persistent, persuasive and unrealistic” (JFK)
There are so many myths around child sexual abuse that it’s difficult to know where to start. On the whole, many of us believe these myths because it’s comforting! If we believe that we can identify a paedophile from across the street then we can keep our children away from them. If we believe that CSA only happens within “problem families” then we can be secure in that knowledge that our children are safe because we’re “a normal family”.
It’s important to identify the myths so that you can reject them as unhelpful and look to the more useful and viable information that really can make a difference. ALL of these statements are incorrect and should be rejected:
- Myth: Only pretty little girls are sexually abused.
- Myth: All molesters look like dirty old men. You can just tell.
- Myth: Mostly child abusers are strangers.
- Myth: Only men really rape children.
- Myth: My child would tell me if anything like this happened to them.
- Myth: This could never happen to my child.
- Myth: Sexual abusers are monsters and just look evil.
- Myth: Teaching about CSA scares children, so its best to keep quiet.
- Myth: If my child had been abused, I would just know.
- Myth: Only homosexual men hurt little boys.
- Myth: It can’t happen in my family.
- Myth: Sexual abuse is a family matter and should be dealt with as such.
What a parent can do
Teach your children the proper names for parts of the body:
Even as adults, many of us get embarrassed about naming areas of our body – and more often than not, we may refer to our genitals as out “private parts” or “down there” or “the lady area” or “thing” (usually for boys)! We all have our own pet names for these areas. But what’s wrong with teaching children the proper names for their body parts? By teaching a child the proper names for their body parts, they will be in a position to name what’s happening to them should someone touch them in an abusive way. By using the proper terms, everybody will be in a position to know exactly what they are referring to, and minimizing the chance of misinterpretation. For example, it’s far less confusing if a child is able to say “He touched my vagina with his penis” than if she said, “He touched my private part with his thing”!
By not referring to the sexual organs at all, or by referring to them as their “private parts”, this can have implications for what a child thinks is okay and not okay to talk about. Teaching them in an open way from a very young age about correct biological labels will help children to feel that it’s not taboo or embarrassing to talk about their sexual organs if there is a need to – and obviously in an abusive situation, this can be the difference between telling and not telling about abuse.
Safe Touch / Unsafe Touch
The number one fundamental rule is to teach children that there body belongs to them! They had a right to decide what they do with their body, and who touches their body, and how someone touches their body. They need to be afforded the same rights as we are.
Teach your child to respect their bodies by teaching them to respect other people’s bodies. Children need to be told not to do something to anyone else that that person doesn’t want. For example, if they are jumping up and down on you, you can say “I don’t want you to jump up and down on me. Please stop.” Similarly if they are tickling a sibling, that sibling should be able to say “Stop it” – and ensure your child respects this. Modeling and absolute rules make this easier for children to understand.
Respect their wishes – and let them know that no one, not even you, has the right to touch them without their consent. Ask your child before touching them, for example, “Would you like me to help you with your shoes?”. Don’t just assume it’s okay. Ask them for a goodnight kiss – don’t demand one! Don’t make them kiss any relative they don’t want to – and teach them to say politely “I don’t feel like kissing right now”.
- Talk to them about “What is GOOD touch?”
Good touch is touch that feels safe – or touch that makes us feel warm and make us smile. It is a touch that makes us feel cared for. Try to explain to children that some good touch actually hurts – like cleaning a cut – but that it’s good because it makes them get well and better.
- Talk to them about “What is BAD touch?”
Bad touch is touch which hurts their body of feelings. For example, if someone kicks you or pushes you.
- Talk to them about “What is UNWANTED touch?”
Unwanted touch may be touch which would usually be good touch, but something which you do not want right now. For example, being swung in the air may usually be fun, but after a big meal, they might not want it.
- Talk to them about “What is SEXUAL ABUSE touch?”
Calling it sexual abuse touch makes it clear that this is a totally different type of touch – and it does not confuse the issue by using incorrect terminology. Sexual abuse touch is touch that makes the child feel scared, anxious or uncertain on any part of their body that would normally be covered if they wore a swimming costume – or touching someone else on any part of the body that would normally be covered if they wore a swimming costume. Explain to them that this touch may feel “nice” or exciting, but that it may also feel strange. If they are asked not to tell anyone about this touch then that is sexual abuse touch. Make it clear that sexual abuse touch can also happen if they are touched with their clothes on – i.e. if someone rubs them over their pants.
When you touch your child, ask them to tell you what type of touch it is. Ask questions like “Right now, would it be okay if an adult touched you on the hand?” and “Right now, would it be okay if an adult touched you on your tummy?”. Try to encourage them to explain their answers.
From an early age, children are taught allegiance to adults and to “Do as you’re told!”, and certainly very young children can find it difficult to differentiate between rules they have to follow, and rules they don’t have to follow.
Teach your child that they have the right to say NO! As the majority of child abuse is based on coercion rather than force, teaching your child to say NO! Children will need to practice how to say “NO!” in this way, and so it’s a good idea to practice this with them. You can make a game of it…..it doesn’t have to be frightening for them, but it could help to give them the confidence to say “NO!” if someone tries to abuse them.
Obviously there are times that children are not permitted to say “no” and this is where the difficulty and confusion can occur. Make it clear to children that they have the right to say “no” to anyone who wants to touch their vagina, penis, breasts, buttocks – or anywhere that is normally covered if you put a swimming costume on. Make it clear that they have the right to say “NO!” loudly even if this is an adult and that they will not get into trouble. Tell children to trust their feelings and if something doesn’t feel okay – then say “NO!”
There may be times when someone may need to touch their body – i.e. a doctor during an examination – but make it clear that this is only okay if you are with them and if you say it is okay directly to them. You can explain that this is safe touch because it is to do with health.
You could play the “OK NO! game” with them where you come up with some scenario’s and ask them if it is okay to say “NO!” in these situations. Ask them to explain their answers. For example:
Is it okay to say NO if your mum asks you tidy your room?
Is it okay to say NO if your dad asks you to brush your teeth?
Is it okay to say NO if your uncle asks you to sit on his lap and you don’t want to?
Is it okay to say NO if your teacher touches your penis?
Is it okay to say NO if an adult pats you on the head?
Is it okay to say NO if an adult tickles your vagina, even if it feels nice?
Is it okay to say NO if an adult asks you to do something you feel is wrong?
Is it okay to say NO if an adult asks you to keep a secret from your parents?
Is it okay to say NO if an adult tells you to put your seatbelt on?
Is it okay to say NO if your sister asks you to touch her vagina?
Is it okay to say NO if your teacher asks you to pull down your pants to smack you if you’ve been bad.
Making this into a game and checking it out with them regularly can help – and they can practice saying “NO!” at the same time. For older children, you may want to change this into the “WHAT IF…?” game – whereby you can make the scenarios more complex to reflect the situations they may be confronted with.
Teach your children about “bad” secrets
“No one keeps a secret so well as a child” (Victor Hugo)
The majority of abusers teach their victims to keep what’s happening to them a secret. From young children, we teach our children not to tell tales, to maintain trusts that are afforded to us and not to not air our dirty laundry in public. It’s no wonder that children find it confusing!
Teach your child that any secret which makes them feel uneasy is a bad secret and its okay to break it. Any secret that makes them feel bad or sad or frightened is a bad secret and its okay to break it. Tell your child that any secret that they can’t tell you is a bad secret and its okay to break it. Be consistent! Children do not have to keep any promise that makes them feel bad inside.
Teach your child the difference between a secret and a surprise: A surprise is something you will be allowed to tell at a later stage; a secret is something you’re asked to never tell.
Watch out for warning signs in adults
Children display signs that all is not well, but there are signs which are displayed from the abusers themselves. Try to remember that abusers typically do not look how you would expect an abuser to look. Contrary to popular media stereotypes, they do not look like monsters, or the type of face that stares out of you from a mug shot. Abusers are good at gaining trust; that’s how they operate. Therefore, they can seem to be the nicest people, the most helpful, the most thoughtful, the most loving. Of course, don’t go around suspecting someone may be an abuser because they are nice and good! But the point is not to rule them out if you have suspicions because they display characteristics that you don’t feel are the typical monster-like features of a paedophile.
- Watch for adults who:
Refuse children privacy or invade their privacy.
Insist on physical affection even when the child looks uncomfortable.
Insist on “special time” alone from other adults and children.
Spend a lot of time with children instead of adults.
Buy children expensive gifts for no apparent reason.
Appear to put a lot of effort into getting close to children.
Have had previous allegations against them before.
Make you feel uneasy, even if you can’t put your finger on why.
Your child or other children seem afraid of.
Your child or other children do not want to be alone with.
- Question people who are trusted to look after your children and monitor.
Ask any organizations about criminal background checks and professional recommendations / references.
Ask about training of staff / policies if suspected abuse.
If a child seems uncomfortable, or resistant to being with a particular adult, ask them why. Be persistent.
If an adult is taking a child on an outing, make sure to get specifics of it. Ensure they know that you are the type of parent that asks questions!
Always make a point of asking your child about their day. Use open questions, and be persistent if they seem reluctant to give answers.
Think about whether activities would be preferable in a group. Ask why something it one-to-one.
“Molesters Do Not Wear an Ugly Mask. They Wear A Shield of Trust.”
– Patty Rase Hopson
Stranger – Danger
Although the vast majority of risks to your child do not come from strangers, it is vital that you teach your children about stranger danger. Some remarkably simple techniques can help your child to keep themselves safe!
Help your child to identify a stranger. When you are out and about – ask your child “Are they a stranger?”. Make it clear that just because you may know the persons face, they could still be a stranger (i.e. lady who works in the shop!).
Tell your child never to talk to strangers unless they are with an adult they trust and never to go anywhere with a stranger. Identify trusted adults.
If a stranger approaches them and asks them to go somewhere with them – teach your child to MAKE A FUSS. Tell them to make a noise, runaway to somewhere where there are a lot of people, scream etc.
Tell someone as soon as possible!
Yell, Run, Tell!
Teach your child their own address and phone number. Make sure they have another number of another trusted adult written down somewhere that they can keep with them.
Make sure they know how to dial the emergency services and what to say.
Have a “safe” word if you are unable to pick your child up. Make sure your child knows not to go with the adult if the safe word isn’t known.
Teach your child the buddy system – like to walk in pairs or groups.
It’s a very scary statistic, but 1 in 5 children have been sexually solicited on the internet, and 1 in 2 have been exposed to sexually explicit material on the internet. Children of today are generally very computer literate, often more so that we are, and although the internet can be a valuable resource, it can also be a dangerous hunting ground for paedophiles to make contact with children and teens.
Use a filter to block inappropriate material. Cookies can be disabled. For info on how to block certain content, please contact your ISP. Keep the computer in a shared family area and be around to monitor use. Bookmark approved sites for young children and tell them to stick to these areas. Spend time teaching your child how to use the internet. Make a contract with your child about their internet use. Limit the amount of time that your child is permitted to spend online. Block your child from being able to enter private un-moderated chat rooms. NEVER agree to meet anyone from a chat room. Monitor your credit card and phone bills for unfamiliar account charges. Report any obscene or threatening messages to your ISP. Tell children NEVER to give out any personal information online, name, address, age, phone number, email, IM address, school, location, or photographs. If your child has a new online “friend,” insist on being “introduced” online to that friend. If your child becomes secretive about online use, question why.
If the worst should happen?
Let me get one thing clear. No matter what a wonderful parent you are, and no matter how well you have prepared your child for the risk of abuse – and equipped them in terms of child safety – sometimes child sexual abuse will happen anyway. You cannot be with your children ALL OF THE TIME. Its impossible. All you can do is lessen the risks – and, if the worst should happen, be in a position where you are able to identify the abuse as quickly as possible. Its a widely accepted belief among mental health experts that, on average, the longer the abuse continues, the worse the potential consequences for the physical and mental well-being of the victim. Similarly, the way that you react and deal with your child’s abuse, can have an enormous impact upon their recovery.
Recognizing the signs of CSA
Please remember that children will only show some of these signs. Also these signs do not have to mean that your child has been abused. These are indications of possible abuse, but they are not fact. Its important to be aware, without jumping to invalid and unsubstantiated conclusions. A child who is being sexually abused may show the following:
- Behaviour changes:
– Being excessively clinging or uncharacteristically crying when you try to leave them.
– Having difficulty sleeping; not wanting to go so bed; having nightmares or night-terrors; fear of the dark.
– Returning to previously immature behaviors i.e. sucking thumb, bed-wetting, needing teddy, soiling etc.
– Problems at school i.e. discipline issues, poor attention, change in working performance etc.
– Fear of a specific person or place. Isolating themselves.
– Being “too perfect” and too well behaved; quiet; desperate to please; over-achieving.
– Radical mood swings.
– Being evasive when asked questions, or having memory loss.
- Health Issues:
– A change in eating habits i.e. eating too much / too little; purging; becoming a fussy eater.
– Self-destructive behavior i.e. head-banging, self harm, alcohol use, drugs, genital mutilation.
– Genital discomfort, bleeding, irritation, redness, thrush, itching, discharge, odour.
– Persistent urinary tract infections.
– General ill-health complaints i.e. chronic headache, stomach cramps, sore throat etc.
– Depression / anxiety / suicidal ideation.
- Inappropriate sexual development / behavior:
– Excessive genital touching or masturbating in public.
– Non-age appropriate language i.e sexually graphic.
– Being sexually precocious and sexually suggestive.
– Hides secondary sexual characteristics i.e. covers up, wears baggy clothes, straps breasts.
– Attempts to be unattractive i.e. stops wearing make-up, stops washing, puts on weight.
– Fear of undressing or refusal to undress in gym class
– Initiate inappropriate sexual contact with other children.
What should I do if I suspect?
As hard as it may be, try to stay calm. Children look to their parents to know what to do, and if they see you freaking out, this is likely to increase their fear and uncertainty also.
IF you suspect – no matter how vague your suspicion – GET HELP! Don’t try to deal with this all by yourself because dealing with this in secrecy only exacerbates feelings of shame in your child. Of course, treat it with the sensitivity it deserves, but involve the expert’s right from the start.
The first step, even before you talk to your child, is to report your suspicions to your local child protection team – and let them investigate it. Of course your instinct may be to try to talk to your child yourself and get an admission from them – but in doing this you run the risk of eliciting a unsubstantiated disclosure which could make prosecution impossible. Furthermore, many children may be especially fearful of making the initial disclosure to a parent for fear of upsetting you, or making you angry, or disappointing you, and so they may be more likely to disclose to a professional. Your job at this time is to be the loving parent….letting them know that you still love them, that they are special, that you’re not angry etc.
- Listen to your child and to what they say they need:
At this time, trust your child to know how they want you to help. The tendency of most parents is to want to make it all better…to “fix” what’s been done to them – and unfortunately, this is not something that can be fixed. Children can learn to come to terms with the hurt they’ve experienced, but they have to do so at their own pace. Let them talk to you as much or as little as they want to. Don’t try to steam-roller them into disclosing all of the gory details to you unless they want to – and be sensitive to the fact that some children may prefer to talk to another trusted relative or a mental health professional. This is not a rejection of you. Make it clear that you are there to listen whenever or however they need.
- Reassure your child:
Your child may have a lot of fears about what would happen if anyone found out about the abuse. Their abuser may have told them that no one would believe them, or that they would get in trouble, or that mummy wouldn’t love them anymore. Make it cleat from the beginning that you believe them. Make it clear that no matter what happened, this was not their fault. Reassure them that they have done the right thing in telling, and that you are very proud of them for being so brave. Let them know that you love them and always will.
- Do not confront the perpetrator:
No matter how much you may want to, do not confront the perpetrator. Leave this for the professionals. Your energy, at this time, has to go into making your child feel safe and loved – and expending energy on the pep is going to limit your ability to do that. The child may have very mixed feelings about their abuser, especially if the abuser is a family member, and so seeing you get mad at them may make the child feel guilty and retract what’s happened. Confronting the abuser could also be dangerous for you because desperate people will do desperate things. And lastly, you could inadvertently warn them about any evidence against them.
- GET HELP FOR YOURSELF:
The abuse of a child is one of the worst things that a parent can ever have to deal with. Its important that you get help for yourself because without it you are unlikely to be able to support your child in the way they need. There are support organizations for parents of abused children, and also your social services should be able to put you in contact with people who can help.
Sexual abuse is an unfortunate reality we have to face squarely as parents. Please, after reading this, practice the tips and don’t forget to SHARE with friends across platforms and groups. Thank you.