Dear Teacher, Five Tips To Remember While Talking About Safety With Your Students

To the teacher who told her students that girls should not dress in jeans and lipstick:

Dear Teacher, have you used public transportation in your city and never been groped? Have you walked along a street lined with men smoking beedi or drinking chai and never been hollered at? Have you never been judged as a woman when your parents sought a suitable alliance for you? Have you never been mentally undressed by perverted eyes in public? Or did your iron-clad-saree-armour protect you from these experiences?

Ever wonder why it’s easier to blame a girl for her jeans and lipstick?

People generally believe that bad things happen to others. The “others” is something people do not want to associate themselves with. Because once you do that, the threat becomes personal. Bad things could then happen to all people. We are scared to believe that. And so we start defining the characteristics of “others.” Jeans, lipstick, heels, being out after dark, alone with a boy, cell phones, Indian-Chinese food, peacocks, etc. etc. etc.

Don’t feel bad to associate yourself with your students. Yes, you are free to choose what modesty means to you and what perverse means to you. No, you are not free to pass judgment on a girl because she has defined her boundaries differently.

Dear Teacher, you are free to speculate Nirbhaya’s gruesome assault, torture, and demise. But you are not doing anyone any favors when your speculation has no bearing on statistical facts of a study showing 41% of women who reported their rape in India were dressed in sarees. And no, the other 59% were not all flaunting themselves in jeans or skirts. Majority of them were burkha clad, which indicates a very small possibility of sexual provocation as defined by you.

I am a woman, a mother, a sister, and all those wonderful tags that people use to associate themselves with others. I am saying this to find common ground with you. So that I may plead with you to not just take back your words but to learn the truth about sexual assault and rape.

Your prejudice filled rant might have actually been an attempt to educate your young students about safety. But I urge you to use not only sympathy but empathy, in the classroom. Without empathy, you will be fighting a losing battle. So here are some ideas that might help you to effectively advocate the safety of your students:

  1. Boys and girls are both in danger of being raped and sexually abused in our nation. The Study of Child Abuse: India 2007, published by the Government of India had a shocking revelation that 52% of boys surveyed claimed to be sexually abused. So, when addressing safety issues, make sure to keep students from all sexual and gender orientation safe.
  2. The hardest thing for a child to do is communicate the violation and abuse they experienced because often they lack the awareness and vocabulary to do so. The next time you choose to address your students on safety mandates, begin by assuring them that you will be an adult who will believe their broken words and incoherent stories. Assure them that the violation of their bodies was not their fault.
  3. Do not let socio-economic status or caste lead you to believe in the existence of an automatic safety zone for the child. Please know that most children are sexually abused during the day in places where they feel safe: their home, their neighborhood, their community. So make sure to talk to all your students about safe resources available to them, like 1098 (the phone number for Childline), or a school counselor, or your classroom – because it’s time to maintain an open door policy and create safe classrooms.
  4. Also, if anyone tells you that ignoring the abuse will allow the child to get over it sooner, please do not believe them. Trauma manifests itself in different ways and at different times, often hindering the student from enjoying healthy lifestyles and relationships as they grow older.
  5. I have already presented data to dispute that clothes don’t make a victim, and this is especially true in the case of child sexual abuse. But if clothes are something that distracts you from associating with a student who has been sexually abused, look for common ground as a fellow human being. Always exercise your power to empathize.

I am glad you want to address safety issues with your students. For a student to succeed academically, socially or emotionally, safety has to be a priority. Make sure the school administration supports you in this effort to keep your students safe.

There are several organizations that can help your school implement safety protocols in order to promote the best interest of the student. If you unable to find one in your area, write to wow@womenofworth.in and we’ll help you with your efforts.

Let’s build each other up instead of shaming those who have suffered much already.

Sincerely,

Lydia Durairaj, WOW Staff.

Committed to the Girl Child

In India, every year, January 24th is observed as the ‘National day of the girl child’, to celebrate the girl child and to raise awareness on the issues facing girls in our nation which includes gendercide, child marriage, lack of protection, education and other inequalities.

While we laud the benefits of a world that is increasingly becoming digital, the micro impact of digitisation is affecting the choices that children and youth are faced with.

In our blog this month, we want to share the story of 14 year old Laxmi*. Like many girls of her age, Laxmi gave in to the romantic advances of a 23 year old man. Before she realised what she was getting into, pictures of her were being circulated in her neighbourhood in an attempt to tarnish her reputation if she refused to marrying this man.

Fortunately for Laxmi, her mother got wind of the situation and with the help of WOW filed a police complaint forcing the man to vacate the neighbourhood. It was also disheartening to learn from Laxmi, who is in the 10th standard, that she was actually considering leaving school, giving up her dreams and other future prospects to marry someone she barely knew. Currently she is under WOW’s counseling and rehabilitation program and is housed at a secure home where she will learn life skills and pursue her higher education as well.

Laxmi’s mother, like crores of mothers across our nation, struggle to provide for their families while living with abusive alcoholic husbands .

WOW intervenes in the lives of adolescent girls whose right to safety and well-being are threatened by uninformed choices and by society’s blind norms and tirelessly works towards empowering adolescent girls rescued from abuse, neglect and abandonment – one girl at a time. If you would like to support children like Laxmi live up to their full-potential, partner with us in our Girl Arise empowerment program and our Media Literacy workshops that help children make informed choices for their lives. Write to girlarise@womenofworth.in for more info or log on to www.womenofworth.in/give to donate.

Our dream is to make every day, the day of the girl child!

*name changed to protect identity

The Road to Change

Seema (name changed) is a runaway teen. Her story gives her more than one reason to run away from home. As a Sri Lankan refugee who lost both parents and was abandoned by siblings, she moved in with a caring grandmother in Tamilnadu, only to fall prey to a supposed boyfriend who swindled money from her.
All these traumatic childhood experiences have caused Seema to suffer from a mental illness. She wishes to someday go back to her home country and begin afresh, but that seems lofty while battling a world stacked against her.

To keep Seema from running from her past and to gain confidence before being repatriated, our rehab staff are providing individual counselling and life skills based group therapy. She has currently been enrolled in tailoring classes held at the home which she enjoys and has shown great aptitude towards. These are the first steps towards her complete rehabilitation.

The most common reason for rescuing girls between the ages of 14 – 18 is because they run away from home. Once they are rescued they are brought to a centre in Chennai where WOW provides counselling and conducts rehabilitation programs.

The reason for running away might vary but revolves around the age old rationale of escaping the clutches of something unpleasant. However, when they run, these teen girls put themselves in more danger.

WOW would also like to start programs to equip girls like Seema with the right resources and tools that would empower them after repatriation. If you want to support our work with girls like Seema, please write to info@womenofworth.in

Will I Raise a Son Like Harvey Weinstein

#MeToo – a hashtag determined to prove that tens of thousands of women across the world have a Harvey Weinstein in their lives; a power mongering predator who uses coercion, deception, manipulation, or force for their own sexual gratification.

#MeToo – a hashtag that united the victims from all walks of life, validated their pain and endorsed their right to safety.

#MeToo – a hashtag that got men – perpetrators or not – to lend their support in ending violence against women.

Many people shared their stories, and others made proclamations to change the status quo. To this end, Mayim Bialik, a Hollywood actress, neuroscientist, and a mom, shared a video called Will I Raise a Son like Harvey Weinstein?

[su_youtube url=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WFb0EDl-JS8″]

Bialik uses the video to reminisce about the lessons she learnt from her parents as a child actress in Hollywood. One lesson in particular was to be wary of men as they are always motivated by only one thing – sex. As she continues to navigate the importance of raising sons who will be the antithesis of Harvey Weinstein, she asks a very important question: Will the lack of trust in men, that my parents raised me with, serve me well as I raise my own sons?

This is an important question to grapple with as parents, and as a society. Most of the work that we as an organization do revolves mainly around empowering girls and women. This mom’s question forces us to consider training boys to view their world through a feminist lens.

Though Bialik’s views are socially conservative or lack cultural nuances, they are certainly a good place to start. Here is her list of 7 teachings that parents need to impart to their sons:

Equality:  Everyone is virtually the same. We all have the same hearts, same desire to be loved, respected and protected.
This is especially difficult in cultures where religion, class, and caste divides create systems of hierarchies that deify or dehumanize people based on where they belong in the spectrum. But the belief in humanity and the ability to consider equality as stated above is never beyond grasp even in archaic and patriarchal cultures.

Rights: Everyone has a right to feel safe. If you put someone in a situation where they don’t feel safe – It’s not okay.
Our children have the right to safety. Our women have the right to safety. Our men have the right to safety. Schools, colleges, workplaces, hospitals, public places are covered under several legislatures that call for safety protocols that are yet to be translated into actionable changes. Modeling this behavior becomes difficult when excuses are the norm and safety is only a buzzword.

Consent: You do not have the right to touch someone if they do not want to be touched – Even by your own mother.
This is a tough nugget to teach. Saying ‘no’ is seen as rejection, defiance, and rebellion – an act which undermines authority – making consent less important and obedience a virtue. This fallacy goes against the very nature of consent. Parents, as figures of authority, have a unique privilege to model consent by setting and respecting healthy boundaries with children – both boys and girls.

Common Sense: It’s never okay to be intimate or touch someone who is under the influence of drugs or alcohol to the point that they cannot give consent
Statements like, “Boys will be boys” or “Girls like ‘this’ are asking for it,” shred common sense and allow abuse to piggy back on the blame game. It’s easy to see alcohol, or a party, or articles of clothing as the culprit instead of common sense that informs us that people are equal, people have a right to safety, and people have to consent.

Location: You are responsible for where you are. If you are in a place where there are bad things going, leave and report it. Strip clubs and places where people pay to have sex, don’t go there. It is your responsibility to protect a man or woman that you see in a dangerous place. Get out. Get help. That’s on you
This might seem tricky as defining good and bad in respect to sexual preferences or reclaiming sexuality is always debated. If we teach our boys about equality, rights, consent, and common sense, there are greater chances that systems of abuse can be overcome as they self regulate where they should or should not be.

Ingesting: Scientifically speaking, the human brain doesn’t really behave with great judgment in the teens and even into the twenties. Things you would never think you would do, people do them when under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Ingesting pornography…likely contributes to the degradation and abuse of men and women.
As a neuroscientist, Bialik naturally turns steers the conversation towards topics such as brain plasticity as something we need to teach our sons to be aware of as they navigate life and form their identity, theories on life, overcome peer pressure, be media literate, etc. Everything that is permissible is not necessarily beneficial, especially if it contributes to the objectification and abuse of people, women in particular.

Daily: Every single day respect people that you interact with but specifically, pay special attention to those who have not been appreciated or represented historically.
This is difficult when privilege is woven into the fabric of our existence, but let’s walk two moons in their moccasins to understand the position of privilege as it applies to each of us. Let’s make it a habit to be more than politically correct; not by being patronizing, but with the belief that everybody is created equally, that everybody has rights, that consent and common sense are essential in intimate relationships, and that learning can lead to better understanding.

In faith, we echo Bialik’s closing comment: We have inherited a broken world and it is our job to fix it.

Share with us how parents could model this behavior within families.

Fearless Cindrella

  1. Why is safety awareness against sexual abuse among children important?
    Sadly, kids are the easiest and the softest targets. That they are innocent and naïve hardly matters. It’s the only reason why kids should know the boundaries that cannot be crossed. They also need to know how to not let anyone cross that boundary.
  2. Does our “Fearless project” resonate with you on some level? If yes, how?
    Yes it most certainly does! In fact, I love that the Fearless Project is also about prevention as much as it’s about recovery. Our country needs to learn how to keep our children safe. We need to learn to create an impenetrable fence all around them. We need to raise our kids with love and not with fear, impalement or shame.
  3. How did you overcome the trauma of abuse? What aspects were most difficult to heal? What aspects made the healing process difficult?
    It was a process.
    I think overnight healing is only temporary healing and so, I’m rather glad my healing took time.One by one, the layers of hurt got peeled off and eventually, withered. I don’t think there’s a set formula to overcome the trauma of being victimized but over time I’ve gotten to understand that we all go through the same stages – feeling of uncleanness, self blame, living in denial and finally, confrontation. Let me break it down a bit more.

    • Feeling of uncleanness – as kids, we understand that we’ve been violated even though we may not know the words to use to articulate our feelings. With this understanding comes the feeling on uncleanness.
    • Self blame – thoughts like – “I invited trouble” or “it’s because I’m not pretty enough” or “it’s because I’m ugly” constantly resonate in the head. Add to it, our society conditions us to think that it’s always the girls’ fault.
    • Denial – this is when we start thinking that ‘the act’ never happened and then we graduate to think that it happened but it wasn’t as big a deal as we’re making out to be.

    Mind you, all this is still about ‘ME’. In the sense that up until now I haven’t even started thinking about how the perpetrator has been in the wrong! That’s the worst part about the ordeal. The perpetrator goes on to live his life normally and the victim gets stuck in time.

    When I did start thinking about the person responsible for this, the part that hurt the most was the broken trust. To be able to trust another man was a task! It felt like no one deserves to be trusted, like no one’s trust worthy.

    It took a lot of time, a lot of friends and a lot of love to overcome these doubts and questions.

  4. What is your advice to children who have faced abuse?
    Don’t hide it from anyone. Don’t hide it from yourself either. Talk about it, shed tears, vent….basically, address it and give yourself the dignity of words.You don’t necessarily need to address it in a recurrent manner but address it in a way that helps you get over it without having to rue about it over and over again.Learn to let go. Learn to forgive. It’s a process that will be worth your while.
  5. How important is it for Student campuses to ensure both awareness, precautions and a safety mandate against child sexual abuse?
    EXTREMELY IMPORTANT!
    Apart from teaching our kids to excel in life we need to teach them to be safe as well!
    Campuses are where our personalities form and develop and so, it should be an environment for growth! It shouldn’t be stifling or terrifying instead it should be encouraging and gratifying. If sexual predators wander around in our campuses, it’s the slow death of life!
  6. What word of advice would you have for parents and teachers in bringing awareness on child sexual abuse?
    Relentlessly and consistently pursue the cause please. I know the results are far too few but you are impacting generations to come. Your work is not a drop in an ocean. It’s like yeast making its way through the toughest situations.Don’t for a moment be under the assumption that sexual abuse cannot take place in our home. It has and it will continue to, unless we remain vigilant.
  7. Teachers and Parents sometimes say that it may be harmful or unnecessary to give too much information about sex too early in life. What is your comment?
    How much is too much? And honestly, we live in a day and age where the world is at our finger tips – quite literally! If we are not the source of information to our kids, someone else will be. Perhaps even someone who’s less trustworthy. Is that a gamble worth playing?
  8. What advice do you have for parents and teachers who are helping children overcome the trauma of abuse?
    It’s not the end of the world and your kids need to know that. At the same time, they need to know that you understand what they’ve been through and it doesn’t change your relationship with them.They need to be surrounded by better men/women who are proof that there are good human beings in their world too.They need to be encouraged with words of appreciation and validation.They need to be taught to forgive. But they also need to see you confront the perpetrators.
  9. What is your message to the world on Child Sexual Abuse?
    It exists and maybe right in our own backyards. Let’s not run away from the fact. But let’s face it with hope and love.

[su_box title=”About the author” style=”soft” box_color=”#f3f3f3″ title_color=”#000000″ radius=”5″]Cindrella Prakash is not only a survivor of child sexual abuse but an overcomer in every sense of the word. She currently lives in Mumbai with her husband Asher Joe. For more on her incredible journey follow the link: http://www.satyamevjayate.in/watch-the-episodes/child-sexual-abuse/survivors-speak.aspx.[/su_box]

A mother’s view on child safety

We have heard about the incidents involving women and children being molested and probably momentarily dwelt on it and maybe (if you’re like me) gotten misty eyed over it. I don’t plan on quoting statistics to you nor do I want to get technical by defining abuse and all it’s horrific offshoots.

My heart and gut clenches every time I think of a child getting hurt by an adult who should have protected him or her. It’s an abuse of power, of responsibility and of position. It’s not okay! As a mother to three precious little ones, I consider, as my primary calling and responsibility, their safety and well being. I do realise though that in many cases where abuse has occurred children have been handed over with love to those whom parents have trusted implicitly, in order that the parents could make ends meet and provide a better home and future for their family. So then, the question arises as to what can be done to make life safer for these children who have to stay at daycare or a crèche or at a relative’s house while their parents support and provide for them? For one, the child has to be taught by their parents to protect their body from a predator. Predators both known and unknown considering, scarily enough, that a lot of times the abuser is someone known to the child. Parents being the primary caregivers and nurturers have every reason to educate their children and create a safe space of communication between them which will be a fall back in the event of any harm coming to the child. More importantly there has to exist a cordial relationship between parents and school teachers who spend the most time with the children outside of home. Also important is the cooperation that parents need to offer the school authorities when they attempt to bring in additional safety measures for their students rather than criticising or working at cross purposes to them. The most crucial factor though, would be for parents to not be caught up in the rut of societal pressure which could cause them to sweep incidents like this under the rug rather than dealing with it head on. Easier said than done right in our conservative and often times judgemental society? But think about this, if I stand up to deal with my child’s hurt, pain, questions and memories then i can do far more good for that little human than giving him or her the world. Just by believing them, holding them close and playing a part in their healing without any judgement could radically change their lives. Abuse leaves scars. An aware, caring and involved parent can make those scars fade dramatically. I urge all you mummas and daddas out there, no matter how old or young your kids are. Listen to your children, observe them for behavioural changes, monitor who they play with and stay abreast of their lives. You can be that MVP in your child’s life. It’s never too late. Start now! #fearlessproject #stayaware