An important article on child sexual abuse

How to protect your child from being sexually abused — Malaysian Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Association

JUNE 13 — Child abuse is widespread and under reported.

Every day the safety and well-being of some children across the country are threatened by various inhumane acts by their carers. However, societies and cultures have differing views on how children should be raised and handled and the general acceptance of the occurrence of abuse of children remains low.

In the aftermath of the exposure of Richard Huckle as a paedophile (a person who has fantasies, urges or behaviours involving sexual activity with children) in Malaysia, there have been several reports and widespread media coverage pertaining to the sexual abuse of children – a heinous act that needs the joint co-operation of ALL parties concerned for any intervention to be successful. It is not surprising that when a case like this occurs, a lot of media attention is given. However, the sad truth is, when the attention dies down, things go back to status quo.

In light of the case of Richard Huckle, there have been many calls for stricter laws to protect our children. The reality is:

1. The abuse of children occurs in several forms, viz., physical, sexual and emotional
abuse. Neglect is also a form of child abuse. 2. Laws and programs to safeguard our children are already in existence in Malaysia.

Society has a role to protect all of its children. Effective intervention and prevention of such monstrous acts are NOT the sole responsibility of any single agency or professional group. As a growing nation that is increasingly becoming conscious of such atrocious acts right in our backyards, a sense of shared community concern and appropriate alertness and awareness is the responsibility of one & all.

The Malaysian Child & Adolescent Psychiatric Association (MYCAPS) would like to provide pointers on how to better protect our children:

1. Anyone can be an abuser of children. Perpetrators of child sexual abuse can come from all walks of life, regardless of age, race, educational, socioeconomic or family background. Most paedophiles are males but female perpetrators have been reported. Children need to be protected by their parents and those adults who have a responsibility over them.

2. Organisations that run homes for children should ensure that proper safeguards, procedures and monitoring are in place to ensure the safety of the children under their care. Security screening of all workers in the facility should be done routinely before employment to exclude those who might abuse children.

3. Parents can best protect their children by education. Parents and nursery teachers should teach children about ‘good’ touch and ‘bad’ touch and also instruct children to inform their parents or teachers when they are touched in ways that make them feel uncomfortable. ‘Bad’ touch involves touching parts of the body that are normally covered, e.g. private parts. Children should be taught basic rules on keeping safe e.g. not to follow a stranger or accept food from someone they do not know.

4. Parents must also be vigilant by monitoring their children’s whereabouts and knowing the people their children are with, as well as being on the lookout for any CHANGE in their children’s emotional or behavioural states.

5. Children should be told that they must inform their parents or an adult they can trust whenever they feel uncomfortable or unhappy about what they are asked to do or what is being done to them by another adult. They must also be taught that it is OK to break the promise not to tell a secret when the secret is about a bad thing being done to them.

6. Watch out for warning signs. Child victims of sexual abuse often communicate their distress non-verbally in the form of changes in mood e.g. crying for no apparent reason, becoming more clingy, increased irritability, sleep problems e.g. frequent nightmares, crying in the middle of the night; and sexualised behaviour e.g. self-stimulation or increased interest in adult private parts. Although these are not definite signs of sexual abuse, the presence of these symptoms should ring alarm bells and alert parents to get their children consulted professionally.

7. Parental support is crucial to reduce negative consequences. Child victims of sexual abuse should be assured of proper safety and protection once the abuse is discovered. Child victims should always be told that it is NOT THEIR FAULT that the abuse happened, whether or not they consented to the acts. The child should NOT BE BLAMED under whatever circumstances. Parents need to provide positive support and help the child return to daily routine as soon as possible.

8. Some victims of child sexual abuse may need psychological or psychiatric treatment. With support from family and caregivers, the majority of child victims of sexual abuse are able to return to normal family life and schooling. A small number may however require further interventions by mental health professionals for a longer period of time.

MYCAPS hopes all the authorities concerned will carry out their duties and responsibilities appropriately. The association hopes the children and their families will be given the space to come to terms with what has happened and be allowed to heal.

DR TOH CHIN LEE

President Malaysian Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Association (MYCAPS)

* This is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail Online.

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