When they speak... do you listen?

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

I have said it before, and I repeat it again: The Internet is a beautiful thing.

Forget the "children of anger" on Twitter, the earth-quaking clap-backs on Facebook and the weave-borrowing-puppy-snatching #SlayQueens of Instagram.

The internet has enabled the searchlight on topics that were hitherto regarding as 'forbidden', and could hardly ever discuss in public.

Case in point: Child Sexual Abuse in Nigeria.

I’m not sure about you… but it seems to me as though there are 'suddenly' stories popping up everyday (in every nook and cranny) of some incidence of Child Sexual Abuse or the other, being discovered in our part of the world. It is almost as though Child Sexual Abuse is a new evil.

But these stories are not 'stories'. Or sudden. They ARE real. And have always been there.

You see, the problem was that growing up, we'd only hear whispers here and there of some creepy uncle who is said to have 'touched' his niece, or some schoolteacher, famed for finding his keys up students’ skirts.


But these whispers always ended as whispers; shot down before they develop into actual facts to be considered. It was a taboo to 'accuse' the elder. The victim never stood a chance.

With the increased use of the internet however, the ‘stories’ seep out daily.

An uncle here. A guardian there. A grandfather too. It is no longer myth: CSA breathes among us. Victims turn to social media for justice, where relevant authorities dilly-dally. Even adults who survived years of abuse have found the courage to share their experience on social media.

(Hence, my thesis: the internet is a good thing)

But these testimonies we get wind of is still nothing compared to the statistics on the incidences of Child Sexual Abuse in Nigeria. A UNICEF Report states that in 2015 alone, one in every four girls, and one in every ten boys in Nigeria had been sexually violated before the age of 18. Thus, there is the need for increased awareness of Child Sexual Abuse in our society; it IS our children who make up these statistics.

Indeed, it is heart-wrenching, hearing testimonies of childhoods stolen, no thanks to Child Sexual Abuse.

It is equally heartbreaking, and almost mind-boggling, that in a lot of these cases, the parents or guardians had no inkling of the evil been perpetuated right under their very noses. How do we kill this demon, if we are not even aware?

It is not so much that victims of Child Sexual Abuse do not let on, when they are being or have been violated. 

The problem however is when they speak, do we listen?

Sometimes, victims are quite vocal about the abuse they have encountered. Other times, they express the ongoing turmoil in non-verbal ways. It has become more than necessary for us to open our minds, and listen with all our senses for signs of Child Sexual Abuse, which may include:

1. Unprecedented changes in the attitude of the child: The child may suddenly become withdrawn or moody. Sometimes, this is wrongly attributed to puberty and general teenage-dourness. It is important to dig beyond the surface and for us to find the cause.

2. Aversion for a certain adult or place: If your child does not like a certain adult or a place, do not dismiss it. Try to find out why, and if possible, err on the side of caution to protect them from continued contact with the place or person.

3. Outright complaints: Although not often the case, in some cases, children would explicitly state that an adult touched them or looked at them a certain way. Never hush or shut down their complaints.

4. ‘Unexplained’ bruises on the body of the child: No bruise should be waived aside, especially not bruises close to the child’s private areas. In the latter case, any such bruises may likely be as a result of Child Sexual Abuse.

In addition to the foregoing, we can avoid incidents of Child Sexual Abuse by engaging in proactive actions to protecting our children, which may include:

Teaching our kids to keep their private parts private: Let our kids be conscious of people touching or looking, and learn how to assertively request that their privacy be respected.

Not every 'uncle' should be "Uncle": It is important to let kids know that only their parents’ immediate siblings are their their uncles and aunties. Humans have been shown to hide behind the guise of family to execute atrocities against children. Let non-nuclear relatives be pointed out as Mister or Miss or Mrs. appropriately.

Avoid unnecessary close contact with adults: As much as possible, do not let kids be used to being carried on the laps, or held too 'affectionately' by adults other than their parents. Even for ‘uncles’ or ‘aunties’, it should not be a habit of the kids sitting on the laps of their relatives of the other gender.  

Enforce an 'open mouth' policy in the home: Let your kids know they have the liberty to speak about EVERYTHING with you, and that their every interaction should be shared with their parents/guardians.

Over and above all, it is important for children to know that the adults placed with the responsibility of protecting them are not just seen to and indeed protect them. In order to earn their trust, they need to know you have their back, and that you can protect them when rubber hits the road.

Do not blow it.



Note: The month of April is marked as Child Sexual Abuse Awareness month, to which end various Organisations have earmarked activities to create this awareness. Action against Child Sexual Abuse Initiative (ACSAI) is one of such organisations, and will hold a walk tagged #YouCanProtectMe in Nigeria’s Federal Capital on May 27 2017, for this purpose.

Remember: every adult has an obligation to ensure that children are not violated. Be a part of the campaign. Use the hashtag: #YouCanProtectMe

Be aware.

Photo Credits: www.pulse.ng

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