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Child sexual abuse: What can parents do?

Child sexual abuse can be traumatic not just for the child, but for the family as well.
Dr. Preeti Jacob

Prevention is better than cure. As parents, teachers or caregivers, we must teach children to protect themselves from any form of abuse. But the sad reality is that despite it all, children do get abused.

Several research papers tell us that child sexual abuse (CSA) has a significant short and long-term impact on the mental health of children and adolescents. Treatment for a survivor of CSA includes individual therapy for the child, treatment for any comorbidity (depression, anxiety disorders or post-traumatic stress disorder) that might already be present or develop in the aftermath of the abuse ( Browne & Finkelhor, 1986; Conte & Scheurman, 1987; Kendall-Tackett, Williams, & Finkelhor, 1993).

However, not enough attention is paid to the family, especially the non-offending parent(s)1. Research suggests that the response and support from the non-offending parent(s), especially at the time of child’s disclosure, has a significant impact on the way the child adjusts post disclosure (Adams-Tucker, 1981; Conte & Schuerman, 1987; Everson et al 1989). Particularly when the abuser is from the family, the parent is likely to go through significant grief or distress. Often, the parents are even blamed for not taking adequate care of the child and protecting the child from abuse. There may be a feeling of being an incompetent parent, loss of trust in the world, loss of trust in a partner, financial instability and a sense of helplessness.

In cases of incest, if the father is the perpetrator, mothers experience a whole gamut of emotions ranging from disbelief to anger, shock, grief and at times, even care and concern for him. In the Indian context, mothers often talk of the stigma of such an experience, and its impact on the family—especially with respect to their place and standing in society.

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