Hesperian Health Guides
Sexual abuse has lasting effects
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Even though talking about sexual abuse is hard, it is very important to make sure that you, or someone you trust, talk to your child. Explaining sexual abuse to children in a way they can understand will not make them more worried. It will not hurt them. It will make them safer.
Sangeeta was 4 years old when she was abused by her 14-year
old brother. She went to her parents and in her childish way told
them that her brother had hurt her. At first, Sangeeta's parents
thought that she had bruised herself. Sangeeta did not know the
right words to use, but she kept trying to explain.
Finally, when her parents understood what had happened, they did their best to cover up the incident. Sangeeta was not allowed to talk about it. Her parents "solved the problem" by sending her brother to a boarding school. For her parents, the matter was closed.
As Sangeeta grew up, her brother's abuse had lasting effects on her. She was afraid of men and she felt it was her fault that her brother had been sent away. When he came home for holidays, she could not talk to him. Sangeeta was convinced
that she could never get married. She felt shame and was afraid of having "pain" again, she said. She also felt little hope for the future and had little faith in herself or her abilities.
When she was 16, Sangeeta began talking to her aunt who was a health worker about her childhood abuse. As she shared her feelings and fears, she began to gain confidence. Finally, with her aunt's support, she was able to share her feelings with her brother, who asked for her forgiveness. She is happier now, but she is still not able to talk to her parents about her feelings.
Sangeeta was fortunate because she was able to find someone to talk with about her feelings. Sometimes victims of abuse pretend that nothing happened. Sometimes they do not remember what happened until they begin talking about why they feel so afraid or unhappy. When adults who were abused as children cannot talk about their own feelings, they often cannot talk to their own children about how to protect themselves against abuse either.