Childhood sexual abuse: be prepared.

It is time we face the fact that the sexual abuse of children is not an  occasional deviant  act, but a devastating commonplace fact of everyday life” Florence Rush The Best-Kept Secret

Sexual abuse of children happens. It is common and widespread. Like last year, a bunch of volunteers have been spreading information about childhood sexual abuse this month. I hope you follow  @csaawareness  on twitter and their website. On the website you will find interviews with experts in the field of sexual abuse, as well as links to posts by other bloggers on the issue.

child sexual awareness moenth
image from


Some Characteristics of CSA

Lack of consent

Children cannot grant consent about sex, not because they are ignorant, but because there is no equality between them and an adult, and consent for sex can truly only be given between people on equal footing.


Any sexual contact between a child and an adult is exploitative in nature, Children are manipulated or coerced into sexual behavior by adults who are stronger, more resourceful, and more knowledgeable. They may buy the child

gifts, may persuade the child that all parents teach their children about sex, may threaten the child with punishment or more.


Children are often found to be ambivalent about what’s happening to them, many don’t understand whats happening. Most know that it is not good, but since they are in a vulnerable position they cannot do anything about it. The sexual acts might be physically pleasurable, and this adds to their confusion, to which they react with ambivalence or by pretending it is not happening.


Children are forced to participate, this can be physical force or more commonly by manipulating children’s emotions and beliefs. They can be threatened, or promised rewards.

“….killing an animal in front of the child and telling her that the same fate awaits her if she does not cooperate, threatening to abuse other siblings in the family, or suggesting that the family will be broken up if the child tells anyone.”


This is related to force, in that the child is also convinced that if he or she speaks up about it, something horrible will happen. eg. Family will break up, mom will leave us, no one will believe you etc.

Sexual abuse accommodation syndrome

is something seen in children who have been abused, they develop a group of beliefs and behaviors described as secrecy; helplessness; entrapment and accommodation; delayed, unconvincing disclosure; and retraction

Whats this information for?

The reason I just described these is to give you an idea how difficult it is for the child to come out of such a situation. This is also why it is very important for parents to start talking boundaries with their children very early. Most experts agree that as early as the age of 3, one can tell a child that the parts covered by her underwear or if she is taught names of her private parts, those, are private and no one should touch them, and if someone does, they should tell their parents, or another caregiver immediately.

This talk at 3 years, of course wont happen if parents are otherwise not open to talking about sex. If you cannot talk to your partner about sex, boundaries and what is acceptable and what is not, it is unlikely you will be able to do this with your child.

If both parents are caregivers, it makes sense to have early talks about sex and boundaries with both parents present.

The house also needs to be a safe space for the child, if when the child complains about other things, or stands up for herself in other occasions but parents respond with anger or ridicule, she will not be comfortable talking about something so sensitive.


  • Teach your kid to say no, early on
  • Teach her what other people are not allowed to do
  • Prepare with your partner/spouse before you have a child
  • Be supportive and a trustworthy parent in everything, not just talking about abuse.

I dont want to repeat what various bloggers have already said, and here are some for further reading:

If you are a survivor of abuse and want to talk about it, I would love to listen, as would others. If you are a parent who would like some more info or help with talking to your child about this, write to me or the good folks at CSA Awareness month.

The Cathartist replies to Pervocracy on Consent culture

Molly, the author of Pervocracy a fantastic blog about sex, BDSM, and feminism, featured Consent Culture recently. She talks about how consent is the standard/default behavior we need to work towards. The post is thought provoking. While we know that consent is a great way to equalize the sex equation, we still havent found ways on how to get consent into daily lives. She suggests some ways this can be done.

The Cathartist, a friend and editor of Gaysi: the Gay Desi responds to some of the suggestions and ideas put forward in the post.


A consent culture is one in which the prevailing narrative of sex–in fact, of human interaction–is centered around mutual consent. It is a culture with an abhorrence of forcing anyone into anything, a respect for the absolute necessity of bodily autonomy, a culture that believes that a person is always the best judge of their own wants and needs.

I am totally down with the necessity of absolute consent when speaking in context of sex. However, when the blogger (from now on, P) talks about asking my partner, “Is it okay to hug you?”, I am not so sure about such absolutes. In a separate context, I also don’t believe that every person is always the best judge of their own wants and needs. I’ll illustrate why, further down the article.

I don’t want to limit it to sex. A consent culture is one in which mutual consent is part of social life as well. Don’t want to talk to someone? You don’t have to. Don’t want a hug? That’s okay, no hug then. Don’t want to try the fish? That’s fine. (As someone with weird food aversions, I have a special hatred for “just taste a little!”) Don’t want to be tickled or noogied? Then it’s not funny to chase you down and do it anyway.

I can think of plenty of situations when a close friend or parent saw I needed a hug and gave me one. I felt comforted in the knowledge that they knew when I was down and out even without me having to express it in so many words. A few years ago, I got into a fight with a friend because I refused to eat the carrots that our host had prepared so lovingly. He thought I was being rude. Look, I have food aversions, but I see why people say, ‘try just a little’. It  actually feels irrational to dislike food that you’ve never eaten before. Especially when the person offering is so convinced of its deliciousness or perhaps have cooked it themselves. I am not saying you should ABSOLUTELY try it. I am just saying, it’s okay for them to be a little persuasive and it’s okay for you to say, “no”. No one says, “Yes, please. I’d like a tickle now.” It’s one of those weird human sensations that makes you giggle and laugh hysterically but you want to resist every time someone tries.
I wouldn’t want a stranger tickling me. But if my sister did, I’d be okay with it. Much of my disagreement with this article is that EVERYONE (strangers, lovers, friends, colleagues, parents, children, neighbours) is considered “the other” who must grant or request consent. We share different levels of intimacy with different people. And in the specific relationship between parents and children, I do wish my parents had forced me to train for a few sports. And I am grateful that they forced me to learn music and dance. As a 5 or 6 year old, a child may have no idea if he or she wants to grow up to be a pianist or if they would enjoy tennis. They might share a classmate’s chocolate milk and decide that they want to have it every day, all the time. That is the child’s wish. Should my parents concede to it? Should parents negotiate with the children? Maybe.

Consent has its place, no doubt. Establishing personal boundaries and space is important. But there are no absolutes as P’s description of consent culture outlines.

5. Ask before touching people. Say “do you want a hug?” and if they say no then don’t hug them–and also don’t give them any shit about not being friendly or affectionate. Don’t make a big deal out of it, just make it part of your touching-people procedure. If they say “you don’t need to ask!” nod and smile and keep on asking.

See, this is a fine example of the need to make distinctions between the different circles of people in your life. Different cultures world over have different boundaries in the context of physical intimacy. Just today, I was asked by yet another American about Indian men who hold hands. She found it strange, she said, that heterosexual men share that level of physical intimacy.

I am sure, my very young cousins would look at me quizzically if I asked, if I could hug them. I would also not expect that they ask me, before they slathered my face with a lot of kisses. I think P touches on this slightly, when she talks about renegotiating sex in the context of long-term relationships. But even among friends, sometimes, the best part of knowing someone for a long time, is the unspoken communication. Knowing when to keep quiet and knowing when to give advice. Knowing when to hug and knowing when not to. It is okay to take that for granted.

I would find it very caring and considerate if a new partner would ask me “Is it okay to do this?” or “Does it hurt when we do this?”. But I would find it annoying if s/he asked me that EVERYTIME. There are situations, where such consent is unnecessary.

11. Bring consent out of the bedroom.  I think part of the reason we have trouble drawing the line “it’s not okay to force someone into sexual activity” is that in many ways, forcing people to do things is part of our culture in general. Cut that shit out of your life. If someone doesn’t want to go to a party, try a new food, get up and dance, make small talk at the lunchtable–that’s their right. Stop the “aww c’mon” and “just this once” and the games where you playfully force someone to play along. Accept that no means no–all the time.

I am sure, I would’nt have tried half the things in my life, if I hadn’t been persuaded by a parent or friend or sibling. Like that time I went on a roller coaster. Or that time I went to a live concert on New Years’ Eve. I am not saying I have liked all my experiences. But I know for sure, that I dislike it for a certain reason. For example, Sushi. I don’t understand its wide spread appeal and I’ll never eat it again. But I tried, only because I was coaxed.

Beyond what’s necessary for their health and education (and even that touches iffy territory), I don’t believe in doing this to kids, either. The size and social-authority advantages an adult has over kids shouldn’t be used to force them to play games or accept hugs or go down the big slide. That sets a bad, scary precedent about the sort of thing it’s okay to use your advantages over someone for.

As a parent, it is a lot more easier to use one blanket rule because there is no grey; just black and white. “You ALWAYS ask for permission.” “You ALWAYS say no to a stranger”. This consent rule is exactly the same. It is okay to ask children to try new things. As children they are vulnerable and they look to parents to tell them what’s best for them. Of course, this depends on the situation. It is NOT okay to force children to accept hugs or wear clothes that they are not comfortable in. But it is okay to force kids to try their hand at Ludo or read a page of a story book. Sometimes, this “forcing” should be done through negotiations. My parents negotiated hair cuts (which I absolutely hated) by buying me a book for every time I had to do it.

My sister does not take enough care of herself when she’s in staying away from home. As a result, her health had suffered some consequences. When she visits, I push her to go visit a doc, spend some time on personal grooming. She’s about 23 and she has never done her brows. That’s her personal wish and I respect that. But I do insist on some hard-core heel sloughing and scrubbing and a real pedicure. And I know she wouldn’t have done it if I hadn’t insisted (out of sheer laziness). Am I taking personal liberties? Yes. But I come from a good place and I don’t believe I am doing her any harm.


For more of  The Cathartist, try  The guide to understanding lesbians Part 1, and part 2, a hilarious exchange she Broom, the co-founder of Gaysi, had with a prominent men’s magazine.

Childhood sexual abuse awareness month- april 2011

Child sexual awareness month

A bunch of concerned bloggers are spreading awareness about various aspects of Childhood sexual abuse using blogs and twitter. I am really happy to see so much concern, as well as the positive response they are getting. click on the image above to find out more, and follow them on twitter because they are tweeting fantastic info about how to deal with/identify/talk to your kids about sexual abuse.

follow CSAawareness on twitter.

From their site.

Child Sexual Abuse is a topic which is rarely discussed in India thanks to the social stigma and cultural taboos associated with it. Nonetheless, research does show that over 53 per cent of our children, across SECs, geographical locations and age groups report some degree of sexual abuse.
The CSAAM April 2011 is an effort by a group of bloggers, both parents and non parents, to bring this topic to the fore, to generate discussion and awareness and remove the shroud of silence that covers it.

Accidental Eveteasing and Other Mythical Beasts

This post is in reply to the letter “Locutus83” Sent to Blank Noise [Click here to Read it] asking some very honest and fundamental questions. I loved his honesty, openness and willingness to be wrong. This is also, partially, in response to the general riff raff and chit chat I have come across on various sites related to eve-teasing and street sexual harassment. And as Locust asks, have included a “guide to being a gentleman” as I cant think of anyone better suited than I to write such a guide.

Defining Eveteasing: Eveteasing is not a set of pre-defined actions. It is whatever makes women feel unsafe, powerless, predated upon and unwelcome. How you look, where you look, how long you look, what you do etc can serve as guidelines, but are not what marks eveteaing. However, terms are useful and necessary for awareness and education etc because discreet actions can be measured and evaluated.So also sexual thoughts are not eveteasing, nor are they wrong. Sexual thoughts are not disrespectful, they are natural, normal and in my opinion respectful. However, any sexual gratification that happens at the expense of another persons dignity, space and well being is inherently wrong, be it a thought or action.

How do women know? Women know because from childhood they have been preyed upon, its not sixth sense, its conditioning. From very young, girls are instructed by their parents, relatives and teachers to behave modestly, dress sensibly and mind their own business, and in the process hammering into their minds that being eveteased is their fault and it’s their responsibility to evade eveteasing. Men, on the other hand, have a free run, on the rare chance some girl stares back, snaps, or threatens to hit you with a chappal, it is laughed off and considered a small thing. So also, from childhood they are used to stares, looks, comments, whistles and so conditioned to detect and evade such behaviour.

Do they enjoy it? No woman, ever, under any circumstance whatsoever, enjoys being eveteased. This is not a matter of semantics, but a serious and fundamental issue. Eveteasing makes a woman feel helpless, powerless and dehumanized, NO ONE enjoys this. No sane person would expect women to enjoy rape (many insane people think they do), same way, no action, behavior or words that prey upon women can make them feel good.

Do women want us to stop looking? Blank noise and women in general do not want to stop men from looking, or staring, or making compliments, they want to stop harassment. This is not moral policing, not “neutering” of men, but of making them aware that preying on women is disgusting, illegal and will get their bottoms kicked.

Is it person dependant? Refer para. 3 What makes a statement/action eveteasing is essentially the attitude. So it doesn’t matter if a compliment comes from a poor man or rich, if respectful, appropriate, will be taken well. Guys who stand around the corner in groups and say “tamatar kya bhaav hai?” to passing women are not complimenting their breasts, they are being assholes.

Accidental Eveteasing. This seems to be the underlying question Locust and many others seem to have. In case the title of the article was not clear enough, and the first few points didn’t clear this misunderstanding, let me be very clear. You can no more eve tease someone by accident than you can mistakenly end up with your penis inside a cadaver. Comments do-not tumble out of your mouth and eyes dont automatically get glued to breasts.

But, occasionally, very rarely your look might be mistaken for lechery, this is not the norm but the exception. In such a situation, be honest, apologize, and look elsewhere. Women dont consider all men to be sexually deviant predators, they dont walk around looking for an excuse to use their pepper sprays. Mistakes happen, owe up and move on.

Guide for men.

There is no Guidebook
There is no “do this, dont do this” list that you can mug up and follow. Actions matter, but attitude is what causes action. The basic quality is respect for women, not the fake, filmy, “but you are my sister” kind, but respect as will be demonstrated by you not talking to womens breasts, or whistling at them.

Respect is not conditional. Expecting women to fit into the stereotypes that history has handed down before respecting them is fake, futile and will result in your acting like a dick.

Be socially appropriate.
As I said, there is nothing wrong in appreciating beauty, male, female, tree or car. However, it is important to be wise in the way one appreciates. I dont believe in lists, but there are some things that you can outright cross off you list. What works in the movies, like stalking, songs, and displays of macho-ness do not work. Also the street is not really the best way to find someone to start a relationship with. In most circumstances, a smile, nod, quick look-over will have you safe. But you have to learn what is appropriate.
Learn from the best
Just because you respect women does not mean you can do no wrong. You can still do something stupid, tacky and clumsy. This has more to do with social skills than attitude. The cure for that is to have female friends, no one knows what women want better than women. (Not only will women friends help you learn how to behave around women, they will also help you inyour pursuit of becoming a better boyfriend with ample advice and first hand experience in shopping and suchlike.)

Dont be scared, women are not looking for an excuse to call you a pervert.

Above all;

No means No

She is not asking for it. In fact, she never asks for it

To you, Locust, clearly you have no lack of respect for women, so i’d say you need to stop worrying about “accidentally” eveteasing someone, and go have fun.

Are Rapists Victims?

There seem to be a serious confusion in the minds of our leaders and the common man alike about who is responsible for rape, the victim or the rapist. Things are so confusing that some even wonder if the poor rapist isn’t a victim of the crime of “incitement”.

“You can’t blame the locals; they have never seen such women. Foreign tourists must maintain a certain degree of modesty in their clothing. Walking on the beaches half-naked is bound to titillate the senses,”

This is a quote in response to the rape of a 6 year old Russian girl from no less than the deputy director of tourism of Goa, Pamela Mascarhenas.
So, should Ms Pamela release the rapist, who was apprehended the same day the quote was made, because after all he was titillated into the crime by an immodestly dressed six year old!

Unfortunately this is not an isolated sentiment of an ill-informed politician, a brief look at comments and discussions on eve-teasing would tell you that a majority still hold that more “obscenely” dressed dressed women get eve teased more, and that the onus is on women to avoid eve teasing. Why go on-line, even the deep philosophical discussions every Indian has at the tea shop echo the sentiments that women are somehow responsible for what happens to them, if not always, most of the time.

The reason why such an asinine logic has become so pervasive evades me, and if you dont think it is asinine, take a look at the root arguments:

if X does something “wrong” then Y is justified in doing anything wrong to X

(could be Hindi movies, bec the few Hindi movies I have seen have angry young men avenging the death/rape of their mothers/sisters by extreme violence. )

By this standard, if Ms. Pamela’s dog barks too much in the night, it is perfectly alright for her neighbor to poison it.

It is important that we separate the two actions from each other, and therefore the crime from the victim. Sure, a nocturnal canine opera is awful, but just because your sleep has been wronged and she is and idiot, you cannot poison her dog. You can picket, go on a hunger strike, or even talk things over with the owner, as impotent as these sound, but that’s the way, not murder.

If we all start killing irritating dogs, none of us would have any.

There is of course a bigger and more ignorant assumption underlying such statements. And that is that the human male, particularly in India is somehow a slave to his primal urges, never really having evolved his frontal cortex enough to be able to decide right from wrong. And so, like we would tip-toe around a sleeping giant, lest we wake him up, we should mollycoddle the male lest he be titillated and incited into doing something “unfortunate” and uncontrollable.

For those of you who didn’t catch the sarcasm of the previous paragraph, let me spell it out. Human beings, Indians, Pakistanis French or Greek, have the ability to resist their sexual urges, particularly in socially unacceptable situations.  If we did not, this world would have been one big orgy.

Why  a molester or a rapist commit the crime is a subject much studied and there is good evidence to show that it has nothing to do with the amount of flesh shown. Sexual assault of almost all kinds is related more to issues like power and control than sexual desire or urges. There is also a certain amount of risk-seeking or thrill seeking behavior involved. The rapist/molester gets his thrill by overpowering women and displaying his dominance. Almost all molesters started with less severe and easily overlooked forms of sexual assault and progress to more severe forms.

Dont belive me, read this paper [link]

The wonderful initiative by blank noise has made it very clear, not that we need evidence, that molesters don’t care about what you do or do not wear, people have been raped, whistled at, touched and pinched wearing burkas as well as saris. This adds to the clear evidence that victims of sexual crimes have absolutely no culpability.

This blatant criminal-victim-exchange not only increases the trauma to those affected, but it also makes the power hungry predator more confident of terrorizing women and getting away with it.

This post is a bit too late in joining the petition that blank noise has sent to the deputy director of tourism, but the fight doesnt end with a petition or a hundred, minds need to be enlightened, societies need to be changed, its a war out there, not a lover’s spat.

Having said that, I hope to write about the flip-side also, not about this particular case though, but about what the difference between personal responsibility and culpability is.

Unnatural Affections?

Straight To hell

The unknown and the different have always evoked strong reactions from people. Perhaps there is an evolutionary imperative in being wary of all that is alien. Of all the “strange” socio-cultural phenomenons to create waves in the past 30-40 years, nothing matches the gay rights movement in its perseverance and success. Yet, inspite of all the success of the movement across the world, there is perhaps no group so hated and misunderstood. Part of the reason is that in most cultures sex is taboo, and talking about “unnatural”sex is further taboo. Lies mis-conceptions and false information passed on from mouth to mouth end in a grossly misrepresented image or reality.This series will look at the most common  objections and misunderstandings about homosexuality.

That homosexuality is “unnatural” and against the “order of nature” is perhaps the most commonly used argument, heard the loudest and so pervasive as to be even in our constitution till this year.
What is Natural?

Any discussion about the unnatural must begin with understanding what natural is. Explanations and definitions abound and for this discussion I choose to define natural as that which adheres to natural laws.Natural laws are laws that govern what we observe in nature; eg. gravity, electromagnetism etc. but as far as we know, there is no universal law of sexuality and even if there was one, the very fact that homoxesulaity defied the law would mean it was not really a law. It’s not that I have chosen a definition to suit my views, taking any other definition, save those that have a religious origin, there is no scientific reason to call homosexuality unnatural.
Take for example the belief that only human beings have homosexual behaviour, and therefore it is a deviation from the natural norms. Contrary to this belief, there are hundreds of species of animals that exhibit homosexual behaviour. Following is a quote from a popular magazine. The science of the article is accurate, if a bit dramatic.

Giraffes have all-male orgies. So do bottlenose dolphins, killer whales, gray whales, and West Indian manatees. Japanese macaques, on the other hand, are ardent lesbians; the females enthusiastically mount each other. Bonobos, one of our closest primate relatives, are similar, except that their lesbian sexual encounters occur every two hours. Male bonobos engage in “penis fencing,” which leads, surprisingly enough, to ejaculation. They also give each other genital massages.

Click here for the original Article

The Moralistic Argument

However, often statements about the unnaturalness of homosexuality stem from religious or moralistic beliefs. Of the world’s dominant religions, all monotheistic religions have clear cut objections to homosexuality and one can find a wide range of personal beliefs about it, from believing homosexuals to be “lost souls” to “perverts going to hell”.

Most religions believe that there is a clear and fixed natural order, a guideline of how nature and people are supposed to behave. The problem with this outlook is that this presumes that religions know all there is to know about nature and its working. But if religions indeed are right about such an order why do their moralistic and natural standards change with time? Natural and unnatural vary across religions and sometimes even across sects within religions, it is unnatural for a man to be clean shaven if he is Amish and unnatural for him to sport a beard if he is a Quaker. Oral sex was deemed unnatural by all Christian sects till just a hundred years ago, yet now many an evangelical preacher is heard supporting it from posh progressive pulpits. So the natural-unnatural divide as proposed by religions is like writing in sand, with no sound and timeless principles behind them about the natural world and therefore cannot be accepted as a valid one.

Reproduction or Evolution Argument

There are many pseudo-scientific arguments hovering around the theory of evolution, usually propounded by religious groups to lend credibility to their moralistic arguments. The typical argument is that sex was evolved for reproduction and since homosexuality does not lead to reproduction, it is unnatural/wrong/evil. To begin with, it is quiet a big assumption to say that the only purpose of sex is reproduction, and if it were true, any sexual behavior that does not directly or indirectly lead to conception should also be deemed unnatural.

Such reductionist thinking does not keep in mind that the evolutionalry scientists themselves are at times not sure about the evolutionary significance of many human traits. One such example is the female orgasm, if the only purpose of sex is reproduction, then (sorry ladies) the female orgasm is rather useless. In fact for a long time it was not even accepted as normal for a woman to have an orgasm.

In conclusion, there is no good scieintific reason to think homosexuality is an abnormal deviation, or unnatural form of sexual preference. Hopefully with advances in science we will know better about the physiology, psychology and genetics involved.

The next part of this series will talk about the medical aspects of homosexuality, adressing questions like “Arent all gay people HIV positive?” And isnt homosexuality a disease?