The issue of child sexual abuse readily brings to mind the case of a 40-year-old teacher, Shaaibu Danladi, in Potiskum area of Yobe State, who allegedly raped a six-month-old baby until the baby’s intestines were damaged.
Medical reports indicated that the baby sustained tear in her vagina down to her anus. The baby’s near coma experience can best be imagined.
While the teacher was arrested and later released on bail, the baby was admitted and had been undergoing treatment since then. The parents were left deeply traumatised and perhaps they could have done something to prevent it if they saw it coming, but they didn’t, more so that the perpetrator was a neighbour.
In spite of having thoroughly abused the girl sexually for at least a month, the parents had no idea of what their little girl, who lived in the same house with them, was going through in the hands of their landlord, until when the mother said she started noticing something unusual anytime the girl was having her bath.
Thus, when she was able to persuade the girl to confide in her and the girl explained what had been happening to her, she informed the police, and Alani, whose property is on Mayegun Street in Sango area of Ogun State, was arrested. He confessed to the crime, noting that he had been sleeping with the girl for at least a month before he was caught.
Suffice it to say these are just two instances out of many, as there seems to be an increase in the way children (boys and girls) and even teenagers are being abused sexually in recent times.
The perpetrators could be parents, relatives, neighbours or strangers. And usually, the sexual abuse could linger for as long as the perpetrator wants, or as long as the parents or guardians of such children do not find out.
In some cases, parents of such children may not notice the abuse until the child begins to limp; out of serious discomfort, show signs of pregnancy or symptoms of sexually transmitted infections. And when the child is too young to walk, as there are cases where babies of less than a year are raped, it could be more difficult to know what he or she is going through.
Meanwhile, the trauma these defiled children (victims) go through could have been minimised if their parents, guardians, older siblings or even neighbours had found out early enough, forestalling a recurrence or the severity.
It should first be noted that child sexual abuse is not limited to sexual intercourse; touching a child’s private parts for sexual pleasure, making the child to touch someone else’s genitals, showing pornography to a child, viewing sexual images of children, deliberately exposing an adult’s genitals to a child, encouraging a child to listen to sexual conversations or wrongly watching a child undress or use the bathroom are all forms of abuse. These are the examples identified by Parents Protect, a website that raises awareness about child sexual abuse and gives information on protecting children.
Since children would hardly volunteer to talk about their trauma, there is the need to point out the things parents could look out for to know whether their children had been or are being abused or not:
Sudden change in style of walking: One good way to know if a child, has been sexually abused is if there is a (sudden) change in the way the child walks. Given the location of the genitals, and the fact that their genitals are too fragile for such activity, the child may likely sustain injuries or pains in that region, which would affect the way such a child walks. For example, a 60-year-old man having sex with a six-year-old girl would likely leave the girl with severe vaginal injuries. And according to the Founder of Esther Child Rights Foundation, an organisation that protects child rights, Mrs. Esther Ogwu, children that have just been abused tend to walk as if there is boil in-between their laps. “It is better for parents to pay attention to any such change before the pain would heal and it would be forgotten.”
Discharge from genitals: Children who have been abused, especially girls, tend to have some liquid, or blood discharge from their private parts. Given that such little girls tend to be virgins, the forceful intercourse could leave them bleeding for some time, which would stain their pants. Thus, if you find your child’s pant stained, especially with blood, ask questions or see a doctor.
Having nightmares: Due to the trauma such children have gone through, it is not uncommon for them to have frightening dreams or suddenly cry out from sleep. This may not be a lone indicator of sexual abuse, but it could also be a pointer, which is why parents should pay attention.
Scratching genitals: While it may not be entirely out of place for children to want to scratch their genitals for different reasons, experts have said it should be an issue of concern when a child does that consistently, as it could be an indication of infection or pain occasioned by abuse. They said asking questions could be a solution before it degenerates into an eyesore or something more serious. In the same vein, Parents Protect has advised that physical signs such as unexplained soreness or bruises around genitals should draw the attention of parents.
High temperature: It has equally been observed that the stress, ‘fear of being killed’ as said by the rapist, and anxiety that tend to accompany such ‘strange’ activity, could make a child that has been abused to have high temperature.
Frequent peeing: Ogwu also pointed out that based on her experience in dealing with sexually abused children; they tend to pee regularly, which could mislead the parent to think that the child took too much water. Thus, if your child is using the toilet frequently, unlike before, pay more attention and ask questions.
Being unusually secretive: It has also been observed that children who have been abused are more likely to suddenly become secretive, mainly due to the way they had been threatened by the rapist. Their silence could also be out of the fear of being reprimanded by their parents. Thus, they could have mood swings or be behaving in strange ways. According to Parents Protect, being suddenly cold, withdrawn or clingy, which in this case means excessively holding on to another person out of feeling insecure, are signs parents should watch out for. They are therefore advised to gently ask questions as to why the child had been acting in a strange manner.
Going back to old behaviours: Due to the unpalatable experience they had, findings by Parents Protect have shown that such children tend to go back to some old habits, like bedwetting. So, if your child suddenly resumes bedwetting, having stopped earlier, pay close attention.
Change in language: Ordinarily, children are not expected to know certain terms, by virtue of their age, especially when it has to do with sex, but when a child begins to mention or describe such terms, without being able to give the source of such information, parents are advised to pay close attention and ask questions.
Unusual behaviour in the presence of persons of the opposite sex: In some cases, children who have been abused tend to be wary of persons of the opposite sex because they would likely see every such person as a potential rapist. Thus, they may want to run away, start panicky or avoid being alone with any person of the opposite sex apart from their parents or siblings. That could also be an indication.
Sudden change in size of genitals: This is applicable to both boys and girls. While this would manifest in the boy’s penis, in terms of increase in size, the girl’s breasts could also start coming out earlier than expected. Ogwu said, “There was a case of a four-year-old boy who was always being abused by the househelp and the mother observed that the boy’s penis was always erect. On taking the child to the hospital, it was found that he had been abused. Another thing is that the manhood would be bigger than the age.”
However, it should be noted that one sign may or may not be sufficient to conclude, but Parents Protect points out that the presence of one or more of these signs could suggest that such parents should begin to ask questions and consider seeking help, more so that children are wont to show signs rather than talk when something is happening to them.
To avoid being victim, experts have advised parents to educate their children on issues like this and then develop concrete friendly relationship with their children such that anytime anything untoward happens, they would feel free to open up to them, regardless of any threat from the perpetrator.