Child Sexual Abuse in family: A Study of Social Support Mechanism

Child Sexual Abuse in family: A Study of Social Support Mechanism
A comprehensive insight of a research study on “Child Sexual Abuse in family: A Study of Social Support Mechanism”


This document provides a comprehensive insight of a research study titled “Child Sexual Abuse in the Family: A Study of Social Support Mechanisms” conducted in the metropolitan city of Delhi. The increasing reports in news daily indicate the prevalence of menace of child sexual abuse within the four walls of home of the child victim in present day India. Despite mechanisms for providing support to the child victims for disclosures about the incidence of sexual victimization, the child sometimes remains silent about the occurrence of CSA against it and in many cases, withdraws complaint formally even after reporting it to government organizations. There is no formal record presently compiled or analyzed to press this point; hence this study tends to look into the grey areas about the problem by studying reported cases of CSA against child at the hands of members of family/kin by studying existing official records in the north-west district of Delhi.
Also, this work apart from being a fact-finding study, attempts to discover what people do to support victims of IFCSA (Intra-Family Child Sexual Abuse). It even inquiries regarding direct and indirect factors contributing to the silence around IFCSA. Further, it explores about available redressal mechanisms in reported cases where the alleged offender is a father, grandfather, sibling, cousin, relative, live-in partner of the mother and any other person who shares the same household (either permanently or temporarily) and has a position of trust (not including the service providers, etc.). The first-hand data includes immediate responses of members of family and community, the Government, and Civil society organizations. This work also briefs about the social mechanisms available for providing support to the IFCSA victims and available legislative safeguards. Lastly, this study apprises the readers about practical measures for the prevention and control of this kind of abuse.
This study focuses on the social antecedents of the child victim of intra-family sexual abuse by analyzing case studies of reported IFCSA cases. It gathers information about the characteristics of the child victims, and their families, the offenders, and the nature & duration of abuse, etc. For information about the causes, which directly or indirectly contribute to the silence around intra-family child sexual abuse in India, through this study, the researcher collects first-hand data self-reports (questionnaires) from the respondents' who are Child Rights professionals (Government & Non-Government) and are part of the procedural system for dealing with cases of CSA. These professionals include police, caseworkers, probationary officers, N.G.O. workers, etc. It also includes insights on the social mechanism for supporting the child victim in the context with available legislation on child sexual abuse. The suggestions for the formulation of related policies, strategies, and schemes to tackle the problem and preventive measures are part of the present paper. The factors associated with aspects like the families where such abuse occurs, pattern regarding antecedents of such family, their size, their type, large family and a small house, presence of addiction, violence, etc and whether such kind of incestuous relationship extends to all the other children of the kin have been discussed at-length. The analysis of In-depth case studies regarding the reported cases was taken up for evidence collection relating phenomenon under study.
Major Findings
1.In-depth case studies analyses of the reported cases reflected that many reported IFCSA cases involved primary kin, the immediate family members including father, step-father, and brother. In a couple of cases, it even involved the mother’s live-in partner which neither legally nor biologically was father to the child victim but was considered ‘like a father’. In other cases, secondary kin was reported tobe allegedly involved as perpetrators are paternal uncles, maternal uncles, cousin brothers, father’s sister’s husband, sister’s husband, etc. Nevertheless, the literature reflects that the children are victimized by the members of their families and kin, where father leads the lists of perpetrators followed by step-father and so on. A finding in the present study provides evidence that in majority of cases involved fathers as perpetrators.

2.The study could not draw a major finding about the size of families and its relation with the occurrence of IFCSA. Since both the categories small and large families almost equally involved as the parties in these cases. In review of literature Hornle presented the same view that incest is independent of the type of family but dependent upon the degree of dependency of a child on their parents and the way of parenting, here we may consider the type in terms of size small or large. In future researches on the issue of IFCSA, this aspect can be addressed. There were maximum nuclear types of families in the total population of case studies. This can be well seen as an indirect indication, as lesser members around in family to supervise its space and protect as guardian to the child. In the data, it was reported that in many cases the child victims’ families were broken by the reason of absence of one/both the parent or by the reason of divorce, separation, or death of any parent/s.
3.The data also indicated the use of addiction (substance abuse, alcohol, or both) by the alleged offender. The literature related to CSA also indicates the existence of addiction in perpetrators and the incidence of sexual abuse. A similar aspect can be seen as the evidence provided by the case studies in the present research.

4.The presence of violence including domestic violence in the families of child victims of IFCSA, which is in coherence with the details of dysfunctionalities in families and their impact leading towards victimisation of the child victims. The finding even suggests that in many case studies, the mother appeared to be non-supportive or ignorant. This is a major contributory factor for making the disclosure of sexual accounts difficult and further facilitates continuity of offense with a greater degree.

5. It was reported that sexual abuse extended to other siblings in the family. Many case studies provides evidences that suggests the frequency of instances of sexual abuse (i.e. the number of sexual encounters with the perpetrator) does not limit to the single event rather it involves multiple events even before it is finally reported. In many cases it was seen that the initial stages reasons are many for not reporting the cases of child sexual abuse. The foremost reason for not reporting the case is that they are not believed by their caregivers. Also, they are physically beaten to not disclose the incident. Lack of awareness and sex education is another important reason. The child even doesn’t know the names of their body parts.

6.It is also observed that in intra family sexual abuse cases, one of the reasons why victims don’t share their suffering is that they are told by the abuser that is normal as a result the abuser rarely requires using coercion. The child suffers from various negative physical impacts such as pain, redness, bleeding, and injuries in private areas. If we talk about psychological impact, psychological consequences include lack of concentration, suicide attempts, shows hatred for oneself and others. In extreme cases, it leads to pregnancy at an early age, which may culminate in abortion one such case study in this research indicated the same.
7. The impact of such abuse depends upon factors such asthe age of the victim, nature of abuse, number of episodes, use of force or not, whetheraccompanied by any other abuse along with the sexual abuse. It has been seen that a girl child is more vulnerable to sexual abuse. Also, the cases of boy’s sexual abuse are underreported. The reason behind this may be the fact that boys are sexually abused by other people-disclosures about the same may be interpreted as homosexuality (especially where the abuser is male). So, overall, we may say that there exists characteristic profile of victim which plays an important role in intra-familial sexual abuse and one can target the children with these characteristics who are at high risk and measures canbe adopted according to this target group to prevent them from being victimized with this particular nature of the offense.

8.Perpetrators of child sexual abuse within the family have many reasons for developing a sexual interest in children. Few researchers give a psychological explanation for this kind of behavior. According to Freud, all the individuals are attracted to a child but are discouraged away from such feelings by social conditioning and repression. The use of alcohol is also one of the reasons for the commission of this kind of offense which leads to failure in controlling sexual impulses on the part of the offender. There are many social factors responsible for incest cases such as overcrowding in cities, ignorance or lack of education, criminal behavior, unemployment, etc. It is not that occurrence of sexual abuse is only in lower-class family relations with the upper class. There are studies which show that a larger number of complaints are from metropolitan cities. Some thinkers have linked the occurrence of sexual abuse against one who owns children with a decline in traditional family patterns like frequent divorces, working women who go out of the house for work, or greater sexual permissiveness. In cases, where the father is an abuser, the justification provided is there is stained/ non-availability of the sexual relationship between him andthe mother of the victim. The case where the abuser is from family is the one which is reported most. The incest between brother and sister is very rare.
9.Researcher applied ‘Routine Activity Theory’ (RAT) for understanding the problem under study with focus on commission of this offence and ways for prevention. According to RAT for a crime to happen Offenders, Targets, and Absence of Guardians must all converge at the same time and in the same location. In the case of strangers, it generally occurs as a single event with milder experiences in sexual context even in many instances does not have any physical contact with the perpetrator, where acts like exhibitionism or being talked to erotically. The child is rarely left alone with completely stranger people. Those who are supposedly protectors of the child in many cases are the ones who abuse them most.
10.The explanation regarding Freud’s psychoanalysis theory where a weaker superego fails to monitor the ways and means for accomplishing desires somehow points out towards gathering more knowledge and information on what motivates the offender to such kind of crime. If the reasons are beyond situational aspects one needs a corresponding treatment for offender so that our criminal justice system aim i.e. reformation is done properly. Also, one needs to assure that by the reason of the event of IFCSA the disturbances and damages in the relationships among family and kin especially victim and offender need to be healed and restored towards attaining normalcy. Routine Activity theory basically may indicate towards breaking this cycle where crime should not re-occur by applying situational crime prevention theory. Where the handler (be it police, or any other vigilant citizen of society) prevents the motivated offender interface with the vulnerable victim. Also, if the presence of a guardian is there to protect the victim (here child) from getting victimized, then the offender fails to accomplish its criminal motives. The presence of guardian indeed is an important aspect of the problem of IFCSA. If there is presence of an alert guardian, at least the vulnerability of the child getting abused in the hands of members of family/kin is least. Also, the third aspect of supervision for a place in terms of routine activity theory, if a place is supervised and not left away from the sight of people becomes immensely important. IFCSA generally can be prevented inside the own home of victims or relatives’ when the children are not left unsupervised in any spaces what so ever and with anybody. It is important to keep a supervisor’s eye on the activities going in and around the private physical spaces of family or relatives houses. Also, where exists a greater chance of getting caught because of alertness and presence of guardian and/or supervisor, the motivation for any offender to carry forward such act of IFCSA is very less.
11.The literature suggests that many cases of sexual abuse go unreported. The reasons for making reporting of the incest cases difficult are many. The victim suffers from a fear of stigmatization by society. Immediate response of the family when information regarding incest is shared with them is negative. In many cases the members of the family of the child victim disbelief him/her. Suffering in silence is quite common in conservation culture. The victim is expected to suppress his/ her feelings of trauma. The child feels isolated in a peer group.
12.Children often don’t know about the names of their body parts and their functions so many of the times they narrate their story in a retrospective manner.
13.As part of the present study the child rights experts (the professionals working in the field of Child Rights and related fields) answered following as reasons which indirectly contribute towards silence around intra-family child sexual abuse. It includes children as vulnerable group, their family reputation, society reaction, lack of awareness about rightsand laws, flaws in justice system, ignorance of family, widespread access to pornography, lust, social factors such as caste, social stigma, a lack of education facilities, fear of losing family support, poverty, culture that does not value consent, etc., economic dependence of the family lies with the accused, threatening of adverse conditions by abuser, fear in mandatory reporting in family leading to legal action, lack of morality in the abuser etc.

14.There are many social safeguards available for the victims of child sexual abuse such as NGOs, vigilance committees, etc. Also many legal safeguards are there such as mandatory reporting of such cases, Child Welfare Committee or higher courts, free legal aid services, Child Helpline number 1098. There are stated roles and responses to various stakeholders while dealing with similar cases in various legal instruments. These stakeholders include police, CWCs, parents, legal representatives, medical representatives, civil society, etc. The incest cases are so sensitive to deal therefore in every step it is to keep in mind that in any step the dignity of the child is not degrade.
15.The police play an important role in incest cases. The cases are reported to the police. As soon as the police personnel receive the information, he may either take the child for medical examination or report the child to CWC according to the situation. If a child is in medical need there is proper procedure to follow by the medical professional. CWC determines the custody of the child. Whether the child needs care and protection or the child is safe with parents or not otherwise he will be sent to shelter home/ children home and if not, the child will be restored to the family/parents. It is recommended that incest cases shall be investigated by a woman police officer not below the rank of sub-inspector. Timely information to the victim/ informant about the case proceeding or other relevant details is informed by the police. CWC also appoint a support person to the victim/family, who helps them in the process of investigations andtrials with the consent of the child/ family.

16.Support Person appointed by the NGO has some important roles to play. It plays two–fold roles firstly, help in trial and investigation procedures throughout the legal proceedings and secondly, it focuses on long term rehabilitation of the child. The child is in trauma and is not able to cope up with the situation then the role of health professionals and psychologists. They help the child in long term recovery. Its objective is not to obtain information for forensic purposes but for treatment and diagnosis and to ensure the safety of the child.
17.Legal professionals on the other hand have to maintain the rights of the child and treat them with respect and dignity. Also, not to reveal their identity in media it may be shameful for the victim/victim’s family. The role further extends to ensure whether the child knows the literal meanings of the words used by the lawyers.
18.A child major of its part of the day in school therefore the school authorities have to ensurethat whether the child is going through any mental trauma. By noticing a change in the behavior of the child from normal the school authority can interpret that there is something wrong with child. Be open to the child and show trust; everything which the child wants to convey assures a child that you believe. Whenever the school authority observes these things in a child immediately inform parents and if the accused is from the family then inform police personnel.
19.Parents also play an important role, by making understand a child about good and bad touches, so the child can distinguish between good and bad touch. And inform if any wrong or misdeed happen to the child. Teach your child that “Your entire body and the space around it belong to you.” Furthermore, teach them the correct names of body parts. This will help in legal proceedings if the child is clear about the body parts names. One of the outputs of the present study is prevention model for finding ways to prevent the occurrence of IFCSA.
Suggestions for future research in this area

The experience of explorations in this area of the research was indeed a need of the hour, through research more aspects can be understood especially when we talk about IFCSA in India. There are multiple ways one can study the causal reasons why such kind of crime is increasing day by day. One may even ponder upon the fact that as a society, why we are moving towards dysfunctional family units. We need to think and devise ways in which one can handle and heal the breaking relationship into harmonious ones so that as a society wecan contribute towards well-being of all its individuals. Last but not the least, working in this area is difficult as the criminal justice professionals who are working in a traditional set up are not able to build the courage to know that such studies are in good faith of children and will contribute towards gathering knowledge about more and more effective ways of dealing with them. Lives of survivors of IFCSA holds a special mention here, if by some ways we can improve their living conditions then such studies should be encouraged at every level. The present study observes guidelines and various regulations meant for the protection of child victims’ identity. It’s relevant to mention that whatever has been included as part of data in this study, is included in the “best interest of the child”.


Sheetal Arora

Defended in

1 Nov 2020 – 31 Dec 2020

PhD defended at

University School of Humanities and Social Sciences Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University New Delhi, India


Social Sciences




Human Rights