Behind Closed Doors: The Consequences of Child Sexual Abuse

The conversation is difficult but needed more than ever now.

In a country where everything related to sex is considered a taboo and swept under the mat as swiftly as possible, it’s very easy to propagate a culture where rates of child sexual abuse increase since almost all of these cases go unreported or worse, unnoticed.

While it is hard to pinpoint the exact causes of this form of abuse, the real shock lies in the knowledge that more often than not, this abuse is inflicted on adolescents by someone from within their circle whether it be their own parent(s), relatives or someone they trust. This rampant social issue has come to the forefront thanks to different people coming forward with their stories in an attempt to raise awareness, drama serials depicting these stories to encourage open communication within families and other mediums which have made it a little easier for our society to accept the fact that these cases exist around us and need to be talked about rather than hushed for the sake of someone’s delicate sensibilities.

Research conducted by Trickett and Putnam in 1998 showed how girls are more prone to sexual abuse as compared to boys.

They emphasized that the victim is often chosen based on their behavior; abusers are likely to pick on children with inhibited temperaments, disabilities, physical and emotional weakness, choosing those who either have trouble communicating their feelings of mistrust and discomfort, are shy, and are less likely to be believed by others.

The constant abuse further causes them to withdraw from the world and invokes great anxiety and fear; the feelings of mistrust and general wariness of everyone around further makes them incapable of reaching out for help, thus continuing the cycle.

The consequences of sexual abuse are severe in their intensity and can often be misattributed by adults to other common development problems. Sleeplessness, sharp decline in appetite, low self-esteem, anxiety, depression, cautiousness, and increased delinquency are some of the known effects of child sexual abuse (Trickett et al., 2001). Adults within the child’s sphere often attribute these symptoms to stress caused by school, peer relations etc. and fail to link this to abuse which is even more damaging in its ramifications for the child.

The statistics for this in Pakistan are alarming; over five hundred cases have emerged in Islamabad alone in the past five years – one is only left to imagine what the numbers would be for the country as a whole.

Poverty and financial/marital instability within families are regarded as the top causes which lead to abusers turning to drugs and alcohol and in turn inflicting their anger and resentment on children. Most abusers not only deny responsibility and are likely to blame the children for being sexually provocative but also know how to emotionally manipulate the child with threats that are likely to silence the victim.

To combat child sexual abuse it is first important that we, as a society, recognize it’s causes, effects and the factors which might help us not only stop sexual abuse but also prevent it in the future. This author hopes that the government includes an awareness program in educational institutes, especially at an elementary level where children are taught the strategies needed to report abuse within a cultural context but also to establish a safe haven for the survivors so that they do not come into contact with their abusers.

One can only hope that we as a society recognize the evils in our midst and come to learn to have open, effective communication about them instead of shying away out of sheer, hypocritical prudence – it is only through this that we can ensure a safer, brighter future for our country’s children.

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