Features Saturday, March 21, 2015 - 05:30
Dhanya Rajendran| The News Minute| October 21, 2014| 7.30 pm IST (Blog) It was many years ago that I first saw Dutch citizen Wilhuem outside a court in Chennai. He was a frail looking man and could have easily passed off as someone’s doting grandfather. But Wilhuem was no doting grandfather. He was a notorious child sexual offender and a repeat offender. Later in Bangalore, I once met a young mother and her daughter. The child’s grandfather and uncle had repeatedly raped the child, but no one was willing to believe the mother. The mother was threatened and thrown out of the house. An organization took up her cause; I don’t know where she or the child is anymore. As a reporter, I learnt something from these two stories. A child sexual offender need not look ‘evil’ or feed any stereotype that we have in our minds. A child sexual offender can be someone in our own family, someone we have grown up with, someone so closely related to us that we may never guess their intentions. Cut to present, a visual of agitated parents outside a Bangalore school where a child was allegedly raped is being beamed across television channels, I understand and mirror their concerns. My three year old son will join school next year, is he going to be safe there? Should I insist on more CCTV cameras in schools? Is it my duty to ensure that every staff member in the school goes through a stringent check? Yes, perhaps it is. But as a journalist and as a mother, I know that no matter how many CCTV cameras are installed, or background checks done, crime against humans will not stop. When a 6-year-old child was raped inside a Bangalore school two months ago, there were massive protests, and under pressure the police department issued guidelines to ensure more protection. The latest case of assault has happened in a school that had followed some of the guidelines; at least it had installed CCTV cameras. Did that stop someone from assaulting a child? No, it did not. There are two things we need to learn here. One, these measures may help to create some fear in the mind of criminals, but there is really no foolproof way to ensure crime doesn’t occur. As parents, we cannot sit back and put the onus on the school alone. Once the CCTV cameras are installed, we cannot live in a bubble that everything is fine. Asking for these ‘safety measures’ is part of a knee jerk reaction, and they can do nothing as long as we do not accept that child sexual abuse is prevalent, and that abuse could even be happening at home. It is important to communicate to the child on a daily basis. My son would never answer questions about how his day at the play school or time at the park was. Once he told me something that made me uncomfortable as a parent and concerned about his safety. But he never volunteered this information. I said I would tell him a secret, if he told me one. Sharing a secret with my son helped me get across to him and get information about his day, maybe something else will help you. As parents it is also vital to know that in cases of child sexual abuse (CSA), two-thirds of penetrative acts bear no physical signs of injury or trauma. Also depending on how the culprit misleads or coaxes the child before or after abusing, at times children may not even know that they were sexually abused. In simple terms, the abuser may be someone our child knows and many times there is no violence involved. I have met a child whose father used to rape her; he used to call the act a gift for something good she did. A study by the Union Women and Child Development ministry in 13 states found that 53.22% children reported having faced one or more forms of sexual abuse, of which 50% abuses were from persons known to the child or in a position of trust and responsibility. Read- Two thirds of child sexual abuse victims bear no physical injuries There has been much debate on schools doing background checks, with almost everyone shouting loudly that it is the responsibility of schools to ensure that they hire people who are not ‘psychos’ or ‘child sexual offenders’. In the case of the Bangalore school in the July rape incident, they hired someone who had a complaint against him in a previous school. It is this negligence that is criminal. Let us be realistic here- with no proper criminal history recorded in databases, it is not possible for schools to correctly verify a person’s antecedents. Moreover, child sexual offenders do not walk around with a label and there are always first time offenders. Many organizations working against child sexual abuse have been advocating a police list, not on public domain, but accessible on demand to schools, that records people with a history. The July incident saw massive protests in Bangalore, to the extent that a nervous police force arrested the wrong person for the crime. The anger against a criminal who inflicted the worst sort of perverse crime is understandable, but investigation should ensure minimum trauma to the survivor and family. A police force working under undue pressure is of no solace to any society. It is important that the police, schools, parents, teachers and students are sensitized about life skills and personal safety. How many of us devote even minimum time for these measures in our schools or homes? When both these Bangalore cases were reported on The News Minute, many people asked us why we were not naming the school. The law does not allow it and it puts the survivor at the risk of getting identified. There was much anger on the school where the first incident happened as the school had deliberately tried to hide the crime. There should definitely be criminal action against the school, but naming the school repeatedly does not do any justice to the survivor or other children studying there. I would not want people to ask my son, “Oh, you study in the school where a child was raped?” Those protesting on the roads and social media for the child should perhaps keep the welfare of the child and other children in mind.
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