After Years Of Enduring Sexual Abuse, This Woman Now Aims To Prevent Others From Suffering

As a child, we undergo numerous traumatic incidences which distort our reality. While some manage to shake it off their heads, most are unable to do so. Sexual abuse is one of them and the majority of the people are unable to realize what had happened to them. As they grow up and realize the gravity of the offence, it drains their self esteem and confidence and result in a life-long deleterious impact.

To address this issue, 22-year-old Mariam Rauf is on a mission to ensure that children realize the nature of sexual offences and are able to differentiate them from platonic behaviour and report without any shame.

A victim and a survivor

Hailing from Kottayam, Kerala, Mariam was like every other child who trusted their near and dear ones. And like most of the cases, she too didn’t realize that she was being sexually abused. The abuse started at the age of three and continued till she was 14 years old. The abusers included her house help, a relative, a shopkeeper, and even a doctor.

The nature and gravity of the offences occurred to her when she was 19 and studying at Lady Sri Ram College in Delhi University. She was attending an event which had Harish Iyer, an equal rights activist and child sexual abuse survivor, as a panellist. During the event, she came to know that according to statistics, half of all children in India are victims of sexual abuse and that meant that half of the people attending the event were sexually abused in their childhood.

“When he said that, I remember feeling really defensive and perturbed. I left the hall. And later when I started introspecting why that affected me so much, I realised I was a survivor of child sexual abuse as well.” Mariam told The News Minute.

Being a changemaker

But it wasn’t until September 2017 that she confronted her problem head-on and resolved to take the issue of child sexual abuse more seriously. While she was riding her scooter on her way to work, a flashback of being sexually abused came into her mind for once again. The next thing she knew was that she was lying flat on the road and her right leg was under her scooter.

The wound, a month of limping and the scar reminded that the past just doesn't disappear despite therapy and confrontations with her abusers. She resolved to raise awareness regarding child sexual abuse and create support groups for healing the traumatized. 

So, at the end of 2017, she quit her job and started working for Personal Safety Education (PSE). PSE is a blend of life skills and safety education. Mariam emphasizes on the need to impart knowledge regarding sexuality to children even before they join school. Simple things like parents educating them about their body and their genitals, and empowering them to express their discomfort go a long way in addressing such sensitive issues.

This is not just important for preventing child sexual abuse and increasing reporting, but also to build self-confidence, a healthy body image, and gender sensitivity. Additionally, telling children about body safety rules and what they can do if someone breaks those rules make sure they do not feel that the fault was theirs. This is very important because guilt and shame are the major factors holding back survivors as they are often blamed for allowing the sexual abuse to happen.

The need to speak up

Unfortunately,owing to the taboo surrounded around sex education, there are many schools and parents who hesitate to participate in PSE. The primary misconception which make parents and caretakers believe that their children don’t need PSE is that they think that an incidence of sexual abuse won’t happen to their child, in the family or in school. In the long run, the discomfort expressed by an adult while speaking about sexual abuse transfers to the child as well who feels he/she cannot speak about it.

Having experienced first-hand how the lack of the right knowledge, boundaries and vocabulary impeded her in reporting her abuse, Mariam started a petition on Change.org in the beginning of August. In the petition addressed to Kerala State Commission for Protection of Child Rights and the Minister of Education Professor C Ravindranath, she wants to make PSE compulsory in all schools in Kerala. The petition has garnered over 30,000 signatures at the time of writing.

“If I had the awareness about the fact that what was happening to me was wrong, and the vocabulary to describe it, I think it would have helped me. I would have been more comfortable with my body, would have been able to speak about it more clearly. I would have been a healthier person overall.” said Mariam.

Mariam’s efforts in normalizing sexuality in children are a ray of hope to millions of Indians who bear the guilt and shame of being sexually abused as a child. By removing the taboo and stigma around such a sensitive and important issue, many children will now be able to open up about their abusers freely and never feel like a victim in their lives.

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