French diplomat case: Why the Indian family covers up child sex abuse
Suja Jones Mazurier is a rare parent who reported her husband's alleged rape to the authorities. In most cases, norms of the Indian family make it impossible to raise the issue even within the home.
“It's not over. This is just the beginning. Let the trial begin. I know I am speaking the truth,” Suja Jones Mazurier, told the Times of India, after her husband, French consular agent Pascal Mazurier, was arrested by the Bangalore Police on Tuesday on charges of raping his three-and-a-half-year-old daughter.
According to Karnataka State Commission for Protection of Child Rights, which is pursuing Suja Jones’ case, it was a long struggle with denial, conflict, confusion before Suja finally resolved to take strong and decisive action against her husband.
Nina Nayak, chairman of the Commission, in an earlier interview, told Firstpost that Suja first began to suspect her husband when she was carrying her third child, who is now 20 months old. Things came to a head when he turned abusive.
“He became abusive which is why she started going for therapy in May. And then all this started coming out. Otherwise, Suja said, he was a good father to her children. He was caring, loving and that is what confused her totally. But now she is on strong ground, she is determined. After the Baptist hospital report, she made up her mind. Such a heinous crime has been committed by someone whom she trusted so much. That has really shaken her,” said Nayak.
The biggest hurdle in detecting and punishing child sex abusers is the lack of reporting. According to international studies, not more than 12-14 percent of children who have been reported, even disclose sexual abuse.
In India, for an overwhelming majority of parents who witness child sexual abuse within the family, the option of reporting the crime is simply not seen as an option.
And if family members do take action, it is only when the situation becomes untenable.
“If you look at all the child sexual abuse within the family that have been reported in the last five years, either it was because there was injury due to violent rape, or sexual assault, or a situation had developed which had to be addressed (that the child got pregnant, or was manifesting extreme behavioural changes). There is no other reason why families will ever report abuse which has been disclosed to them. They will always try and settle it within the family,” says Vidya Reddy, Tulir, a Chennai-based centre for prevention and healing of child sexual abuse.
The main reason why people don’t report abuse is ignorance, denial and discomfort, says Reddy. Acknowledging the abuse will then require some response or reaction from the family member.
“They are probably in denial because they can’t believe this person who is so wonderful in every possible way, also has a sexual interest in their children. And if at all they have acknowledged it and want to do something, they will try and do what they can without acknowledging that they are making some changes, to make sure abuse does not happen.”
Reddy cites an example where a woman suspected her father-in-law of abusing her child. From a conservative family, the wife was told in no uncertain terms by her husband that if she were to ever make any accusations against his father again, she would have to leave the house with the child. What then?
The first priority when a case of abuse is brought to her NGOs notice, says Reddy, is to ensure that the abuse stops. “You have to sit together and brainstorm. You are confronted with a situation – conservative family, economic dependence, social and emotional dependence and in denial. You have to sit and talk to the significant non-offending adults - what are the non-negotiables, what can be worked out to ensure there is an immediate cessation of abuse and the continued safety of the child, besides of course addressing their emotional and physical well being.”
However, the flip side of keeping it within the family is that the abuser remains at large, posing a very real threat and risk to other children, and "emboldened with the knowledge that no action has been taken against him or her.”
Asked if the media attention on the Suja Jones case will encourage more people to take the next step, Reddy says the high profile case will likely have the opposite effect. “It might drive any kind of reporting under the carpet. Every case that comes to us is so petrified of the media. Many of them don’t want to go further than talk to us about what to do because they don’t want the media attention.”
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