Incestuous child sexual abuse is one of the most menacing problems that threaten society today. No doubt, child sexual abuse includes abuse of both male and female children. However, in a patriarchal society such as India, it is the female child who bears the brunt most times.
Child abuse can have a disastrous impact on the psyche of the female victim, cementing in her mind the belief that the man of the house must be protected at all costs, even if it means massive sacrifices on her part. It prepares her for abuse at a later stage at the hands of her husband, boyfriend or lover. She has two choices—either she believes in her own guilt or in that of her father. She is too unprepared to deal with the latter and thus automatically engulfs herself in self-blame. The trauma associated with it is life long leading to insecurity of the victim and inability for her to open herself to an active sexual life later in life with her partner.
As a corollary of this, mothers who have been abused as children are less likely to protect their daughters from abuse. So while a victim may anyway not confess incestuous abuse on account of fear of disapproval or punishment, they often find their worst fears confirmed when they admit to incest. This sense of secrecy and helplessness is manifested in the tendency of a girl to ‘play possum’ when she is molested in her sleep. This seems to be a warped view of a protection mechanism, a way of cocooning herself and living in denial.
The incentive of reward at the end might be a spur for secrecy. The rewards may range from preventing sexual abuse of a sibling or disintegration of the family. The onus lies completely on the victim. A bizarre motive has been offered by parents who brainwash their children into believing that if their sexual appetite remains insatiated, they might have to employ prostitutes or indulge in adultery. Initial accommodation then invalidates the claims of the child at a later stage.
A most common way of reacting is to look for pockets of psychological solace. So while some children may develop imaginary friends, others may develop multiple personalities. If psychological measures fail, the guilt and rage of the victim might find expression in sexual promiscuity and blackmailing the offender for material rewards, thus reinforcing her image as a ‘whore’.
Polygraphic tests are prioritized over psychiatric evaluations for the simple reason that incest is often used, particularly by teenage females a way of getting back with malice at a strict parent or older sibling. Instances have been found wherein cases are filed by a desire to shield pregnancy caused by another person or even a yearning for notoriety. Moreover, because there is generally an awareness of incest among non-participating members, a sibling who reports incest cannot blindly be believed to have been the victim.
Alternatively, the victim might turn the angst upon herself and take recourse to suicide attempts, self-mutilation and substance abuse. Any therapist is repeatedly provoked to prove that there can be no trust in this world.
When the last straw is reached and the child breaks down in reaction to a particularly punitive measure, she is likely to be written off as a ‘rebellious teenager.’ The confession seems to be a spiteful response to the immediate punishment rather than a substantial admission of sexual abuse.
Another theory states that no matter what a child first says about incest, she is likely to retract it. If she says there is no incest, it is probably out of accommodation and self-blame and she will eventually reach a breaking point that prompts her to confess. If she does confess, societal forces will prompt her to withdraw her complaint. Either way, she is made to feel like a perjurer.
Child abuse is a problem that has for many years been swept under the rug. Ever since the discovery of child abuse in upper classes, the focus has been more on therapeutic solutions than on penalties, impeding redressal of the problem. However, it is evident that it is a problem that can wreck the victim entirely and scar her for life. Stringent laws are not enough. Enforcement of laws protecting the victims is the need of the hour.