Abusing a child sexually goes beyond having carnal knowledge of the child to include deliberately exposing the child to the genitals of an adult, touching a child’s private parts for sexual pleasure, encouraging a child to listen to sexual conversations, making the child to touch someone else’s genitals, wrongly watching a child undress, encouraging a child to watch pornography, among others.
But, even though the trauma, discomfort and psychological imbalance such children live with after such an abuse could be enormous, findings have shown that not every parent could decipher that something had gone wrong, until things possibly get out of hand.
And the perpetrators of this act range from neighbours to parents, relatives and acquaintances, which sometimes make it difficult to notice on time. According to the Coordinator of the Lagos State Domestic and Sexual Violence Response Team, Titilola Vivour-Adeniyi, the perpetrators are usually people that are familiar with the family or with the boy in particular.
She said, “What the statistics have shown at the moment is that it is mostly acquaintances and people that are supposed to be trusted, like aunties, neighbours, fathers and religious leaders that usually abuse that trust. And children are vulnerable.
“It means we need to be mindful of the people we are leaving our children with.”
However, there are tips that can help parents and guardians to know if their male child is being or has been abused:
Itching genitals: Experts say one of the obvious symptoms that a male child is being abused is that such a child tends to scratch the genitals frequently. According to them, given the fragile nature of the penis of a young boy at that tender age, any rough handling could lead to pains and itching. In fact, some tend to have bruises on the penis, which is covered by very light skin that could tear when handled roughly. Thus, parents are advised to be vigilant and ask questions when their boys scratch their private parts frequently.
Unusual sexual awareness: Ordinarily, there is a limit to what a child is expected to know. But there are instances where some children know more than they should. According to Vivour-Adeniyi, children that have been abused tend to have their sexuality awakened at a very early age, say about three to four years old.
“At that young age, the child could be fondling himself or trying to fondle another child. It may not necessarily be sexual abuse, but it’s an indication that something is wrong,” she said.
She noted further that some children could be dramatic about it. She explained that if it is a child that loves to express himself via arts and there is a lot of sexual undertone in the child’s drawing, it is an indicator that something had gone wrong. “Like if you say draw a man or a woman and what the child draws is the private part, it tells you that it is what the child has been seeing and it is already registered in the child’s subconscious, which is what he knew how to draw,” she said.
Behavioural change: It is also not uncommon for children who have been abused to imbibe new, strange behaviours or sometimes derail from the good behaviours they have been known for. In some cases, such children become recluse. Sometimes, this could have been learnt from their abusers, and sometimes it could be a rebellious act to protest what they had been going through, especially when their abusers often threaten them not to tell anyone or risk being killed. Thus, parents are often advised to look out for strange behaviours.
“A child that used to socialise with others may suddenly be withdrawn, and that could be an indicator that the child is being abused,” Vivour-Adeniyi said.
Derailed academic performance: The domestic and sexual violence expert also noted that sexual abuse is enough for a child to lose concentration in school, thus, parents should pay attention to the performance of their children in school. Even though it’s not an absolute indicator of abuse, she said it is also not impossible. She added, “If you notice that a child that used to be doing well academically, all of a sudden, is struggling and performing woefully. It does not mean the child has been abused but it is an indicator that something is wrong and it may be sexual abuse.” She also pointed out that if a child does not want to go back home after school, it could be an indicator.
Aggression: Experts have also warned that children that are being abused sexually tend to be violent, especially towards their peers. Vivour-Adeniyi said, “If a child that was normal and well-behaved starts exhibiting aggression and anger, which is abnormal, and you cannot really explain why the child is angry, that could be his way of rebelling and trying to cry out for help so that people would notice that something was wrong. So, aggression is a usual sign if the child is, all of a sudden, exhibiting aggressive tendencies.
Hesitation to associate with others: While children may not be able to communicate their pains clearly, they tend to be hesitant to associate with others. It has also been found that when such a child is suddenly reluctant to move close to a person he had always been close to or if the child runs for cover when such a person enters, parents are advised to pay attention and ask questions. But the expert says instead of forcing the child to go and say hello or play with that person, parents should find time to ask the child the reason behind such action.
“If a child suddenly does not want to greet an aunty or a neighbour, you need to find out why the child does not want to approach that person unlike before,” she said.
Nightmare and renewed bedwetting: Perhaps, one of the ways to know that a child is going through some emotional abuse is if the child starts having nightmares or the child resumes bedwetting after having stopped earlier. Experts say the trauma resulting from the abuse could trigger these acts.
Meanwhile, one arduous task some parents tend to contend with is getting the child to talk. For this, Vivour-Adeniyi said the solution was for parents to be close to their children, take them through sex education and be open to answer their questions constructively without saying too much.
She said, “As parents, we need to be vigilant and chat with them. We appreciate that everybody is busy, but we need to spend time with them. Ask them questions to know if there is something they want to talk to you about. That also affords you the opportunity to know if they are hiding something from you.
“Tell them about their private parts and let their children know their boundaries. There is what we call age appropriate education; and it’s talking to them as early as they can understand. While bathing them, you can use that opportunity to talk to them.
“Tell them not to allow anybody to touch them there and if anybody does, they should tell either the mum or dad. Also, let them know that the difference in their physique as compared to that of females does not mean the other gender is inferior.”
She stressed that if parents refuse to educate them about their sexuality, they would hear it from somewhere else, like from friends or an abuser.
“So, it is better for them to hear it from you, so that if something comes up that is consistent with the signals you have given them, chances are they would be willing and more eager to speak to you about it, but if you have been silent about it and they are hearing it from somebody else, they may not tell you, and that is why we cannot overemphasise bonding,” she added.
Knowing that abuse could happen anywhere, children caregivers have also counselled that parents who take their children to crèche should do due diligence to ascertain that the crèche is registered with the government and ensure that the crèche has child protection policy to ensure that abuse, even if it happens, would be properly addressed.
“In the past, people rarely reported such, given the stigma, but in Lagos State, we have the political will to fight it, and the governor (Akinwunmi Ambode) ensures that this issue continues to remain at the forefront,” Vivour-Adeniyi added. SHARE THIS STORY USING ANY OF THE BUTTON BELOW ⬇ PLACE YOUR TEXT ADVERT BELOW ⬇⬇⬇