Q: I went to see a play called Bitter Chocolate, on the traumas of abused children in India. It was performed by Lushin Dubey at Stanford University. Afterwards, you were on a panel discussing some of the origins of adults sexually abusing children. Could you explain further what leads someone to do this to his own or another’s child?
A: There are numerous reasons that lead a person to use a child for sexual pleasure. It can be as simple as the adult feeling aroused and a child is the easiest way to satisfy the desire. For various reasons the adult may not be having any, enough, or enjoying sex with a partner or another adult. Or, they prefer to have sex with a younger person. The media encourages this. In India, where pre-marital sex is often forbidden, adults can usually find a vulnerable girl or boy to fondle and be sexual with. The adults usually know this is scary and hurtful for the child, but since there are no consequences for the behavior, they indulge themselves. Unfortunately, in most cases, the child has no one to complain to and get protection from, for fear of being mistrusted, blamed, shamed, or even kicked out of the house. Culturally, perpetrators have more protection than children.
In more serious cases, the abusers truly believe that if they want sex with a certain person, they are entitled to it. Tradition and moral codes of conduct are not their obligation to follow. They are above the law. They cannot empathize with the vulnerable child’s terror, helplessness, disgust, and lifelong emotional and sexual trauma. They can only think about what they want in the moment. The wreckage they leave behind is not their problem. Sometimes, they even believe they are doing the child a favor by offering them pleasure. This is a person with a narcissistic personality disorder. Often they have suffered sexual, emotional, and physical abuse by a parent or other adult. Thus, they act out what was done to them. They are often not even aware of their rage, powerful manipulations, and selfishness. Underneath, they feel weak, lost, and empty and need professional help.
Q: I am a married Indian woman with three children. If it is okay, I would like to tell my story, for the first time, of what my uncle did to me when I was only 11. I don’t need any advice right now, just someone to hear me. Also, other girls will relate to my experience. Whenever my uncle would come over, he would caress me very tightly. His wife would look at us strangely, but she never said anything. When he found a little privacy in our house, he fondled me. I would cry and ask him to please stop. But he insisted that if I just let him “play” with me, it would feel good. I would “like it.” This happened at least 10 times.
When I reminded him that he was married and I was his sister’s daughter, he said there was nothing wrong with a little affection between an uncle and his niece. It was the least I could do for his helping my mother. I was shocked. If I cooperated, he offered to bring me gifts and take me places.
Whenever I would resist, I would feel guilty. He was so good to our family, always cheerful and giving smart advice. I started getting confused about everything. What was okay, what was not. I am finally starting to sort all of this out.
A: Thank you for sharing a painful part of your childhood. I hope you do feel comfortable talking to someone you trust. It will help you to further understand and begin to heal from this abuse. You may also read the book Healing the Incest Wound by Christine A. Courtois.
Alzak Amlani, Ph.D., is a counseling psychologist in Palo Alto and San Francisco. (415) 205-4666.