RECOGNIZE AND RESPOND TO SIGNS OF SEXUAL ABUSE
series: PREVENTING SEXUAL ABUSE by meera seshadri
Caregivers need to be aware that culturally there isn't a discussion around, sexual well-being or sex at all in these communities. Often, for younger children, there isn't a discussion about what it feels appropriate, what doesn't feel appropriate based on who the adults are in their lives or who the older people are in their lives.
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They should be mindful of understanding that any reaction is normal to what has happened to them: From confusion, to anger, to -- perhaps even -- equating what happened with them, with what is common or what's normal or that was that person's way of showing me affection or love. Especially if it's abuse that's happened within the family or happening within the camps.
Violence that they've witnessed, is something that they'll hold in their bodies and in their minds without having words to describe it. Caregivers just should know that there are many different reactions and many different ways it can manifest.
Some of the ways the experience of sexual assault or abuse can manifest are: Feelings of fear; anxiety; anger; emotional outbursts; isolation or emotional disconnectedness. Some of the older teenagers may engage in riskier behaviors, to sort of forget what happened. They may become more impulsive, more loud. They also may have a lot of confusing feelings toward the idea of physical touch or affection. It's really important that you set boundaries with yourself in terms of not being overly familiar, overly friendly, and introducing physical touch only if it's asked for.
Some other signs of trauma manifesting can be: a sense of recklessness; an inability to have routine; sense of powerlessness; helplessness. And many of these children already feel these things having been displaced, not having a sense of home or rootedness.
It's very important that they have an environment in which the things that they can expect every day, happen every day; that they see adults that they trust, and that can be positive role models -- that they see those people every day, and that they have certain activities linked with those caregivers. For example, in the morning, if they always have breakfast with a certain group, that can be really helpful in restoring that sense of routine and power.
They should really direct their own choices. And it's really important that caregivers allow a little bit of that freedom so that they can ask: What would you feel like doing? What would help you best right now? What would make you feel more calm? Those are questions that help, especially a younger child, sort of name their feelings and understand what they're going through.
Meera is a health communications specialist, researcher, and activist working at the intersection of gender-based violence prevention and sexual health promotion. She has spent over a decade working to increase access to, and utilization of, comprehensive...
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sexual health resources for adolescents in communities worldwide, developing violence prevention and education programs at Emory, Georgetown, and Harvard Universities and working as a consultant and curriculum development specialist for Soteria Solutions, the Johns Hopkins Center for Communication Programs, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the World Bank.
She is passionate about confronting the ideological and institutional challenges that affect young people's health, wellness, and autonomy. Meera works in coalition with university, non-profit, corporate, and community stakeholders to create policies and environments that prioritize gender equity, intersectionality, and social justice.