PETALING JAYA: Forget the saying that children should be seen and not heard, especially when it is about sexual abuse.
Children almost never lie about being sexually abused, said consultant paediatrician Datuk Dr Amar Singh.
“Most children don’t tell anyone when they have been sexually abused.
“They worry about being blamed or fear no one will believe them because this is what their abuser tells them.
“And most of the time, they are right. From my experience, 50% of mothers don’t believe their children when they say they have been sexually abused.
“This is especially if the abuser is a family member.
“A child does not have the capacity to make such things up. It takes a lot of courage for a child to speak up because often, they are threatened and blackmailed by their abuser to stay silent, ” Dr Amar said.
The Star reported yesterday that one in 10 children in Malaysia are sexually abused.
About 98% of these child sexual abuse cases are true but only three out of every 10 adults believe them.
Shaney Cheng, a senior case worker with non-governmental organisation PS the Children, said the dismissive attitudes and disbelief of adults is one reason why children don’t speak up about the abuse they face.
“Seven out of 10 cases of child sexual abuse happens within the family and is almost always swept under the carpet because it brings shame to the family.
“That is the reality and that’s why you don’t hear most cases of child sexual abuse.
“Also, people assume that child sexual abuse is rape and nothing else.
“Molestation, flashing a child, touching a child, sexting is seen as ‘no big deal’ but that’s wrong.
“These are also forms of sexual abuse because these are violations by a person of power for their own sexual gratification.
“And when children do speak up, they are hushed up.
“If a girl reports that she has been molested or that she was assaulted by a flasher, she is often told to ‘be more careful next time.’
“If a boy speaks up, the response is even more negative because boys are ‘supposed’ to be able to protect themselves. All this makes it very difficult for a child to speak out, ” Cheng said.
“The statistics (of child sexual abuse) are shocking but we need to be a society that takes responsibility and protects and supports our children. Yes, it happens. We have to accept it and do something about it.
“Find out about child sexual abuse and understand how children respond and why they don’t speak out.
“Talk about child sexual abuse so that more people understand the issue and stop dismissing or blaming the children, ” Cheng said.
Women’s Centre for Change programme director Karen Lai felt that society needs to change the way it responds when a child reports being sexually abused.
“As a society, we tend to believe adults more than children when they disclose that they have been abused.
“This poses a serious challenge because the initial response to a child’s disclosure is so critical.
“If a child is met with disbelief (“Why did you go with him?” or “Why didn’t you tell me earlier?” instead of words of support or validation (“I believe you” or “It’s not your fault”), she or he will clamp down and feelings of shame and guilt will worsen.
“Should this happen, it will be difficult to take action against the perpetrator, ” Lai said.
For help, contact PS The Children at 03-7957 4344 or 016 721 3065 (emergency contact), the Women’s Centre for Change, Penang at 04-228 0342 or Women’s Aid Organisation at 03-79563488 or WhatsApp 018-988 8058.