It might be worth a thought that progress would never have happened if not for tragedy.
It’s not enough anymore to demand more of yourself just for the sake of a better relationship, to allow your children freedom for the sake of learning, or to fight for a cause just because. No. Instead what we’re looking for is a life-altering shove—something to push us over the edge so that while we hang upside down from the bungee cord we start to think, “OK, I need to do something about this.”
Why does it take extremes to deliver change?
As we launch #CanWeTalkAboutThis, it’s imperative to understand how deep some of the issues run. Bold posters and provocative pictures should not be mistaken for childish attention and questionable morality.
We’re shouting this loudly because too many times, nobody hears us.
Fifty-three percent of children in India are victims of child sexual abuse¹. Given that’s more than one in two, you probably already know someone who’s been abused. But because nobody talks about sex, the chances are higher you’ll never know who that someone is.
Child abuse can carry on for years without an adult ever knowing. Even with supportive parents, victims of sexual abuse say they couldn’t confide in them.
“Why couldn’t my child just tell me?” parents say.
But I’d like to ask: “With what words?”
If we never talk about sexuality in our homes—we never say the words sex, masturbation, or vagina—how will our child tell us where an abuser forced himself on her, or what he did in front of her.
With what language will our son say, “Hey Dad, somebody touched my penis”?
Even writing those words comes unnaturally. If we attach so much stigma to just the sound of sexual words, imagine how much shame a child feels when those words are being acted upon him against his will.
We make assumptions:
Girls are abused more (in reality, 53% of victims are boys²)
Strangers are dangerous (overwhelming majority of perpetrators are people known to the victim)
Children are unaware of what’s happening to them (in fact, victims always know abuse is wrong)
But a common theme used by child sexual abuse perpetrators is secrecy. They make the abuse out as a mystery; a special game they’re playing with the child or a secret no one should know about.
It seems to me that as bystanders—as keepers of sexual silence—we’re doing the exact same thing.
We always hope children will talk to us about something like this, says Anuja Gupta, founder of Rahi, a non-profit for child sexual abuse victims. But how can we, when as adults we are so tongue-tied about it? Have we made ourselves worthy of hearing their words? Will we listen to them without blaming, without judging, without shaming?
Sex is natural. And pretending nobody does it isolates every single person—because in the end, almost everybody will do it.
We’re not asking families to talk about sex all the time or in extensive detail. But we are asking that you don’t keep completely quiet. Sometimes it’s OK to let the nude scene play on TV without changing the channel. And it might not be so bad to laugh at a dirty joke. Say the words, even if they sound awkward at first. Lighten the burden of sexual language.
If our children have the words to explain it with, they may not need to scream so loud.
¹,² Ministry of Women & Child Development, Government of India, 2007. http://wcd.nic.in/childabuse.pdf