Sex&theCity: Err on the side of caution

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When it comes to young children, any amount of precaution is not enough

Goldsmith prize instituted in 2013 is an annual prize of £10,000 given for offbeat fiction that pushes boundaries and breaks the mould. The books chosen are different from the mainstream fiction, often published by smaller publishing houses and sometimes are “experimental” novels that break all conventions. One of the nominees for this prize this year was the book Martin John by Anna Schofield. Though she did not win the prize, I found her choice of subject most interesting. Anna writes about Martin John, her main protagonist who is a paedophile. She gets into his head and tells his story and unwinds his damaged mind. The strangest part is that she uses conflicts, which we are so familiar with — our internal dialogues between right and wrong, what is permitted and not, how we should behave and what is acceptable and what would be condemned.

The voice inside Martin John’s head says that he lives in the world of “meddlers” and meddlers have rules for everything. These rules do not make sense to him, but in order to co-exist with the meddlers, he must follow them, whether or not he agrees with them. He struggles to remember them and tries to fight what comes naturally to him. We understand with striking clarity the thoughts that possibly go on inside the head of a paedophile. Not only does Anna Schofield manage to do it with a strange kind of empathy —though the words paedophile and empathy don’t go together — but she also makes us grasp his sheer helplessness in acting the way he does.

Alice Seebold in Lovely Bones, weaves a story of a 14-year-old girl who has been raped and murdered. She is now dead and is perched comfortably in heaven, from where she can see the events unfolding before her. She narrates the story in an unaffected manner, with absolutely no anger or grief. She is in a place of contentment and calmness. Alice watches the deep grief of her parents, unravelling of their marriage, the investigations, and the life of her murderer. The story was poignant, deeply disturbing and so realistic that it took me many weeks to get over the book.

The 2006 movie Little Children, starring Kate Winslet and Patrick Wilson, too had a similar impact on me. Directed by Todd Field, this film deals with paedophilia, though it is not the focus of the film. It shows us the lives of two lovelorn people, both trapped in their respective unhappy marriages. Both have children, which is how they meet, in a park, and they become involved with each other. The sex offender in the movie returns after a stint in prison and this causes a huge stir in an otherwise sleepy suburb. The climax is particularly touching and leaves you thinking, long after the movie ends.

When I read reports of children being sexually assaulted and raped, I am filled with fury, agony and sheer helplessness in equal measures. Sexually abusing children qualifies as the most horrifying and heinous of crimes in my books. Child sexual abuse is prevalent across all cultures, and all countries. The American psychiatric association lists paedophilia as a mental disorder and defines a paedophile as someone sexually attracted to prepubescent children generally 13 years or lesser. Not all paedophiles are sex offenders, though. And not all sex offenders are paedophiles. For some sex offenders, abuse is a matter of opportunity. They are not sexually attracted to children, but for them it is a matter of power and dominance over another human being, the child becoming a surrogate for an unavailable adult.

What is alarming are the numbers in India. According to a UNICEF report, over 7,200 children, including infants, are raped every year, and many more are unreported dues to the stigma. Reports also say that in 90 per cent of the cases, the adult who does this to a child is someone who is close to the family and whom the child trusts and knows.

As parents, all we can do to fight this terrifying thing is guard our infants and educate our young children in an age appropriate manner, without scaring them. The children have to be told that their body is theirs alone and nobody has the right to touch their private parts. There should be an atmosphere of trust and openness in the house, while discussing matters like this. The child has to be taught that there is no shame associated with any body part and the best thing to do, when in doubt, is to talk to a trusted adult. When it comes to young children, any amount of precautionary measures are not enough.

(Preeti Shenoy is the author of eight bestselling books, the latest being a fiction titled It’s All In The Planets)

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