Satyamev Jayate Episode 2: Child Sexual Abuse

I am glad they took up the subject of Child Sexual Abuse today on Satyamev Jayate. However, today’s episode left me vaguely dissatisfied. The uncompromising truth seeking of the previous episode seemed missing. It was good to see adult victims of child sexual abuse, but obviously, they were no longer children, and their having come to terms with their history, or been permanently scarred was more about adults with a history of child sexual abuse than children. The child’s perspective, which was possible, was missing. Not necessarily through interviewing children, but even by showing the all encompassing scope of the problem. For example, the show seems to consider parents or teachers as safe people. Newspapers tell us that it is not so. At other times, a child’s protector may be socially handicapped to help. For example a mother in an abusive family. Then there is Child Sexual Abuse perpetrated by older children. Consider the abduction, rape, imprisonment and starvation of the girl from Malad last year.

While I don’t want to sound fatalistic, some amount of darkness becomes inevitable when you have 53% of children who have suffered from sexual abuse at some point. The show failed to explore the magnitude of the problem in my view. There were a lot of black and white stereotypes, which are not necessarily true with Child Sexual Abuse. For example:

  • Child Sexual Abusers can also be “safe” people like parents, teachers or school principal, though the clear talk that a doctor shouldn’t be touching them privately without parent present was welcome.
  • The impression that a Child Sexual Abuser is an adult – is not necessarily true. They can also be school bullies or older children
  • The impression that Child Sexual Abuse happens with children staying with their families is the tip of the iceberg. Boarding schools, trafficked children for begging, slavery, prostitution, for example, or the role of traditions or religions – temple girls, pedophilia by religious figures, cultural sanction to using boys for sexual abuse among some communities… Those are kids let down by every protector you could imagine. There are many things that people can resist in the world around them if they know to look for and confront them.

I did not like the idea of labeling parts of the child’s own body as dangerous. Such thinking is also at the root of a lot of sexual inhibitions in adults – the idea that a part of their body is dirty, dangerous, forbidden, etc…. It is the abuser’s action that is dangerous and this must be clear to children. For example, a person who has touched them inappropriately continuing to rub their arms when asked to stop is not safe either. Also the fear factor that comes with danger leads to paralysis. Would have been more useful to assert that the child’s body is their own and they have the right to grant or refuse touch. If a touch makes them uncomfortable, they have the right to forbid it and draw attention, escape, confide in their “bodyguard” etc. This would also help children confront other abuse like hitting, for example. A more empowering way of looking at it by putting the power of rights over their body squarely in the hands of the child, would go a long way in helping combat the helplessness of being in a potentially (or actually) abusive situation.

Other grey areas like what happens in an ambiguous situation? Where an adult’s touch may have an innocent intent, but feels invasive to the child? It is important to clarify the need to ask the adult to back off anyway and make it clear that their affection (or whatever) is not perceived by the child in the way they intend. Failing that, there is a whole playground for perverts to claim innocence and bank on the child’s inability to detail the situation as abusive.

There should have been more attention to pre-verbal children or children with mental or physical disabilities that make them unable to narrate their experience to ask for help. The need to monitor them closely, because they cannot tell. Including one of the parents staying home to take care of the child in the absence of absolutely trustworthy support or occasionally monitoring the child’s environment in their absence through say a hidden camera or wiring them for sound, if needed.

There also was relatively less attention to older children. Statistics say that the incidence of Child Sexual Abuse is highest among children 10 years and older, peaking around 15 years. Do we consider these to be “adult” and “consenting” like the pedophiles that the sexual danger that comes with visible physical maturity was ignored altogether?

There was data from only one study used. There are statistics on the NCRB website, for example, lots of research on Child Sexual Abuse in other countries and such. This should have been used to create a fuller picture.

There should have been a better look at the lack of laws. What are laws in other countries, details of the proposed bill, etc. Successful prosecutions or failures from other countries or India, for example would bring the realities to the front.

All in all, I got the feel of push button activism from this episode. Here is a possible problem, if you encounter it, push this button. Send an SMS to get a law that will bring about justice. Nirvana. The Hindi filmi happy ending feel, when the reality is far more grim. While I absolutely adore Harrish Iyer and loved seeing his mom, and the faces of the victims brought realism, the overwhelming takeaway from the show was people rather than information. It seemed to lack the meticulous research and diversity of the previous episode on Female Foeticide.

All this said, the show is still something I am grateful for, because it is most certainly better than nothing. If people start thinking of these things, it is a beginning, and hopefully they will also join the dots on their own.