(All characters below are fictional - any resemblance is purely coincidental)
When Ruchi was 4 years, Rajni read of a child molestation report in newspapers. This got her worried. She broached the subject with Ravi, “We can’t be everywhere with our daughter. Suddenly I am scared for Ruchi” Ravi reacted, “Nothing will happen, You worry about everything”. But Rajni had some buried experiences, “When I was a little girl, there was an uncle who would touch me.” Saying thus, she broke down.
Ravi after hearing the whole of his wife’s story was aghast. What surprised Ravi was that Rajni’s parents did not listen to her and hushed up the whole matter as the uncle was close to the family. He also recounted (but did not share with Rajni) how one shopkeeper used to touch him when he was a boy of 8yrs andhow somehow he had thought nothing about that, accepting it as part of the favours he received from the shopkeeper ( He always got the best kite, didn’t he?).
Rajni was worried, “I want to talk about this to Ruchi, but am confused how to talk, what to talk”. Ravi was now in sync, “Yes, lets protect her. Let me speak to Meeta (Ravi’s sister). She being a teacher, should know how to do this.”
After speaking to Meeta, Ravi came back to Rajni, “Bad news, Meeta too is vague about this. This was not covered in her teacher training, nor is this covered in any school activities. She too is worried for Kunal (Meeta’s 8 yr old son). I have decided I will research and do what we can do. I assured Meeta that we can do this with both the children”.
“Yes, you do”, Rajni was relieved, “I feel kind of shy doing this”. Ravi retorted visibly angry this time, “ Hello! There is no space for shyness here – do you want our Ruchi and Kunal to go through abuse?”
The first thing Ravi saw on Internet was some youtube videos(link is external) – these were animated films, which he thought both children will relate to. He was excited – this looked like a good starting point. So he got both children together (and Rajni and Meeta, his sister) and all watched three videos.
What Ravi and Rajni were not prepared for was the barrage of questions both children had, “Why is middle point a private part?”, “Why somebody would touch me”, even “What is wrong if somebody touches us?” And so on – questions – which Ravi and Rajni had no idea how to answer – but they started replying with some vague gawky explanations.
That is where Meeta’s experience as a teacher came handy. She stopped them, “Lets not answer their questions. It is a good sign that they have questions – that means they are thinking. We don’t need to solve this, we need to sensitize them. Since they are wondering ‘why’, they already know its not alright”.
Rajni objected, “But what if they don’t understand”. Meeta replied, “That is precisely my point – we need to listen to their understanding – which as you will see is quite a bit. Also and perhaps more importantly, this way they get confident in talking about this – which will be important if tomorrow they need to talk about it.”
Ravi jumped in, “Yes, I read on net that 70% of children never tell their parents – they are kind of scared. Even I did not tell my parents. Lets listen to their answers, I want to give a message to them that they can share anything with me and i will not judge them”.
Kunal started to share all kinds of thoughts, some hilarious, some interesting. But Ruchi was quiet. Rajni was observing this and knowing Ruchi’s passion for colours, suggested, “Kids, lets draw!”
They (even the parents joined in) drew some pictures, “Where all they can be touched, where not”. After spending some time on this the children wanted a break, to play outside and this journey was paused for some time. But Ravi and Rajni were still there, “Ravi, there are so many people, and so many ways in which abuse can happen, especially to girls, how do we cover everything”.
Ravi corrected her, “Not just girls, boys are reportedly abused more than girls. But yes how do we talk about the various methods abusers use to entice children”. Ravi went back to internet, got hold of some visuals, which showed different kind of abuse situations children found themselves in(link is external).
So, some days later they gathered again, Ravi showed the visuals and asked children what they would do in each of the situation. The kids were quiet. Again Meeta’s experience came to their rescue. She suggested, “Imagine this is happening to another child- then what will you advice to that other child.” This got the kids going and again the children explored a lot of possibilities.
Both Ravi and Rajni were tempted to give their advice, but Meeta held them firmly back – allowing children to explore the situations in their own way. She explained to Ravi and Rajni, “Remember, we will not be with the children when this happens. Lets not give a script as the situation might be very different from the script and then they will not know what to do. But if we let them think through various situations now, then they can, based on what is happening at that time, decide what to do. Lets empower them.”
Rajni was now excited with this whole journey – she too hopped on the internet finding apart from some interesting story books and more videos, activities that they can do with children(link is external). She wanted to do as many activities, but was warned by Meeta not to overdo it, rather spread it over a period of time.
What also excited Rajni were ideas like role playing using soft toys, puppets, drawings and even they all together enacting various scenes of abuse and children coming up with what they can do. So in one such enactment, Richa became the abuser and Rajni acted the child role. She was realizing how both the children were in an amazing way becoming very aware and ready to face any eventuality.
Meanwhile the word ‘empower’ got stuck with Ravi and he started exploring this in more detail – talking to friends, his parents and reading more on internet. He shared with Rajni, “The children are capable of handling situations. In fact they are our best weapons to fight or escape abuse. It is through them only that we can create a safe planet for them.”
Rajni liked these key words, capable, escape and safe. She wanted to think of what all aspects she needs to cover(link is external). Moreover, She too was now bitten by the empowerment bug … and thoughts like these were making their rounds in her head, “I can make their life not just safe, but also more powerful” I can make them “am able”.