"I'm a survivor of child sexual abuse": Kumudini's story

"I wish there was someone who could have told me that it wasn’t my fault that this happened to me. I wish I could go back and hug the little girl I was and tell her that she’s precious and loved. That she hadn’t done anything wrong."

I’m a survivor of child sexual abuse. I didn't make the decision to talk about my experience lightly. I kept it hidden—my skeleton in the closet, not to be aired for fear of what society would say.  But I came to realize I was still a part of the problem.

By keeping silent I’ve allowed children to keep being victimized because people refuse to acknowledge the problem, or are uneducated about it.  I am now a parent and I am fiercely protective of my child; to the point of paranoia even. However, through my experience I know it’s better to be paranoid than sorry. Even one incident of sexual abuse is enough to undermine a child’s self image and self worth.

Pedophilia is a psychiatric disorder in which an adult or older teenager has a primary or exclusive sexual attraction to children under the age of 13[1]. Sri Lanka has a very big problem with pedophilia.  It was so bad a few years ago that our little island became a Mecca for pedophiles from around the world. We have an incredibly high rate of child trafficking. Thousands of children are taken every year…to be used[2],[3].

The sexual abuse of a child can ruin his or her childhood and adult life too, if he or she doesn't get help.

Our culture has passed on many positive traits to us Sri Lankans. But one aspect of it, I believe, keeps pedophilia rife in our society. We are taught not to air our problems out. It’s ugly. What will people say? So it’s hidden and the children, who were already victimized by someone’s mental illness, are again victimized by us…society. 

Sexual molestation is even a part of initiation rites of a number of schools in Colombo. It’s so prevalent in some boy’s schools that it’s brushed aside as “a part of growing up” or “it’s all a part of becoming a man”[4], [5].  Well, it’s proven that most abusers had been victimized at some point in their lives. So it’s a vicious cycle of abuse rather than the rites of passage to manhood that keeps molestation within our schools’ traditions.

I was in my mid twenties when I started looking for help. It is incredibly hard to ask for help even when you’re an adult. Children do not know how to ask for help. Especially if they don’t know they are supposed to, even have a right to.

Survivors also have to battle depression and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and, that makes everything harder to do. It’s like having to walk through sticky, deep mud to get out of your house every morning. 

Depression is one of the most common aftereffects of abuse of any kind to those who have been on the receiving end. I battle depression every day and now getting treated for it.

I will not go into detail about what happened to me during the 5 years I was abused. I’d rather not make you live through it.

I will say this though: I was lucky to have not got caught to a sadistic pedophile, I was not hurt physically. And he wasn’t feeling threatened so he didn’t have a need to silence me in any other way than to say “let’s keep this our secret”. 

A lot of little ones are not so lucky. A few years ago a 7-year-old boy was found raped and strangled with his school tie. He was found discarded in a wood shed on the way home from his school.  I believe it was later found to be a teacher from his school who had done the deed. 

I read the story in a news paper and it tore me apart. It was his plight that put me on this path. If by me talking about my fight for sanity I can help protect even one child, it is worth it baring my soul.

The abuse started when I was just 3 and continued until I was over 7 years old.

The salient facts are as follows: I was 3 years old when it started. I was used till I was 7 and half years old. As a convent-schooled child, I’ve had ample admonitions about sin, so I had to a healthy fear of it.

I remember coming to the understanding that I was unclean and that it was all my fault. He was a trusted member of my household and one of my primary caregivers. He took me to Montessori every morning and brought me home every afternoon. He fed me my lunch most of the time. He was my playmate.

I trusted him, and more importantly, so did my parents. I was terrified of getting in trouble, of seeing disgust and disappointment on my parents’ faces, so I never told them of what happened to me. I was suicidal by the age of 9. My teenage years were full of anger. I hated everyone but mostly, I hated myself.  Even now, in my late thirties, I have a problem facing myself in the mirror.

I wish there was someone who could have told me that it wasn’t my fault that this happened to me. I wish I could go back and hug the little girl I was and tell her that she’s precious and loved. That she hadn’t done anything wrong.

The sad thing is I know now that if my parents had known, had I told them at that time, they would have protected me, and been my champions as all parents should be to their children.  I wouldn’t have been so alone. That was the biggest hurt of all. Feeling isolated. 

I didn’t have any friends in school bar one. Bless her heart; she stuck with me though my mood swings and angry outburst. I was a horrible child and worse friend. She’s still one of my best friends.  She still doesn’t know my past though.

My healing started with divine intervention. I was sent a message saying I was not alone. I am not a devout Christian but my relationship with god is very strong. He saved my life. My son and my husband are my cheering squad, and they keep me strong and happy.

It’s my turn now to help save others.  I know I am a stronger person for having survived my childhood. I’m also in a better position to protect my child than most parents purely because I know what to watch for.

So my advice to you parents, guardians, teachers, older siblings…everyone. Our children are our greatest wealth and our future. Every child has the right to expect to be protected, by all of us, and here are some tips and ideas I'd like to share with you in this respect.

Child sexual abuse must stop now and you can help do this.

The biggest mistake we make when devising our nets of protection for our little ones is not considering the danger from within our circles of trusted people.

  • 93% of victims know their abuser.
  • No one gets up one morning and thinks: “..let me try molesting a child today”. Pedophiles can’t help themselves. Most of them know it is wrong and actively try to fight it. Unfortunately they don’t have a support structure either. Most will not get the help they need before it’s too late.
  • Does this mean no one is above suspicion? Unfortunately, yes. Look carefully at all of them.
  • Your biggest indicators of danger will come from your child. Pedophiles have a high degree of self-preservation. They know they have a deep dark secret they need to hide.

Listen to your children. Not just to the words from their mouths. But most particularly from what they don’t say. Look at their behavior and how they treat themselves. Red flags to watch are:

  • Changes in behavior — such as aggression, anger, hostility or hyperactivity — or changes in school performance
  • Frequent absences from school or reluctance to ride the school bus/van
  • Reluctance to leave school activities, as if he or she doesn't want to go home
  • Rebellious or defiant behavior
  • Find it difficult to develop or maintain close personal relationships.
  • Have a strong desire to live in isolation or to “hide out” from life.
  • Endure physical ailments like neck, back, stomach and gynecological problems that persist despite efforts at good self-care.
  • Experience feelings of sadness, fear and anger that often seem unmanageable or overwhelming.
  • Undergo panics, rages, depressions, sleep disorders, or self-mutilation or have suicidal thoughts.
  • Find themselves depending on alcohol, other drugs, or may develop eating disorders to cover feelings of humiliation, shame and low self-esteem.
  • Exhibit signs of trauma like panic attacks, numbing of body areas, and feeling of being disconnected from their bodies.
  • Attempts at running away.
  • Attempts at suicide.

 Talk to your children about sexuality and sexual abuse in age-appropriate terms.

  • Talking openly and directly about sexuality teaches children that it is okay to talk to you when they have questions.
  • Teach children the names of their body parts so that they have the language to ask questions and express concerns about those body parts. Don't use pet names for private parts. Penis, vagina, vulva, anus - there's nothing to be shy about using these terms. 
  • Teach children that some parts of their body are private.
  • Let children know that other people should not be touching or looking at their private parts unless they need to touch them to provide care. If someone does need to touch them in those private areas, a parent of trusted caregiver should be there, too.
  • Tell children that if someone tries to touch those private areas or wants to look at them, OR if someone tries to show the child their own private parts, they should tell a trusted adult as soon as possible.
  • All children should be told that it’s okay to say “no” to touches that make them uncomfortable or if someone is touching them in ways that make them uncomfortable and that they should tell a trusted adult as soon as possible.
  • This can lead to some slightly embarrassing situations, such as a child who then says they don’t want give a relative a hug or kiss! Work with your child to find ways to greet people that don’t involve uncomfortable kinds of touch.
  • Talking openly about sexuality and sexual abuse also teaches children that these things don’t need to hidden away. 
  • Abusers will sometimes tell a child that the abuse is a secret (it happened to me). Let your children know that if someone is touching them or talking to them in ways that make them uncomfortable that it shouldn’t stay a secret. Adults should never tell a child to keep a secret. 
  • Make sure to tell your child that that they will not get into trouble if they tell you this kind of secret.
  • Don’t try to put all this information into one big “talk” about sex.
  • Talking about sexuality and sexual abuse should be routine conversations.

Be involved in your child’s life:

  • Be interested in your child’s activities.
  • Ask your child about the people they go to school with or play with.
  • If your child is involved in sports, go to games and practices. Get to know the other parents and coaches.
  • If your child is involved in afterschool activities or daycare, ask them what they did during the day.
  • Games (for example, Grand Theft Auto) allow the user to engage in sexual violence.
  • Use examples from TV or games that you have watched or played together to start up conversations about sexuality and sexual abuse.

Be available:

  • Make time to spend with your child.
  • Let your child know that they can come to you if they have questions or if someone is talking to them in a way that makes them feel uncomfortable.
  • Be sure to follow up on this! If your child comes to you with concerns or questions, make time to talk to them 

My message to you, my fellow survivors; you are not alone my friends. I know it’s hard but we’ve survived the hardest part. We’re alive. There are no support groups for us…yet.

I am hoping that this will change soon.  I would like to establish a support structure to help not only survivors, but also help families learn about and deal with abuse.

I am working towards this end and asking anyone and any organisation to join me to make this happen. Talking about it makes the power it has over you lessen. And, we help save other little ones from going through what we did.

In the meantime, remember that what happened to you was not your fault. Remember that you are strong because you’ve lived through something terrible and survived to tell the tale.

*This article was contributed to theAsianparent Sri Lanka by Kumudini David. 

(Please read: පුංචි දරුවන්ට අතවර කරන අය ඔබ නොදැනුවත්ව වුනත් ඔබේ ගෙදරම ඉන්න පුළුවන් බව ඔබ දැනසිටියාද?)

References

[1] Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition. American Psychiatric Publishing. 2013. Retrieved July 25, 2013.

[2] UNHCR - 2013 Trafficking in Persons Report - Sri Lanka

[3] Child Rape On The Rise In Sri Lanka

[4] A study on knowledge and prevalence of sexual harassment and abuse among

schoolboys in Colombo District—Sri Lanka Journal of Child Health, 2004

[5] www.mumsincolombo.com/index.php?option=com_k2&view=item&id=17:bullying-a-sri-lankan-perspective&Itemid=583