Muscat: Moving past the stigma against reporting child abuse in all its forms is the only way to bring the guilty to justice, according to the Royal Oman Police.
Speaking to Times of Oman, an official from the ROP said it is important that parents stop thinking that silence in such cases is the best solution for the child.
“Parents should never hesitate, if their child has been subject to harassment or assault, to speak to the police immediately. If parents remain quiet then the aggressor will be free to possibly act again but filing a report with the police will lead to justice for the victim, awareness and deterrence,” the official said.
“Speaking up is better than letting a child who has been sexually abused suffer alone,” the official said. This comes after three people were arrested on charges of sexual assault, child harassment, attempted sexual assault and defamation in various parts of Muscat. According to the police, the three crimes - all of which involved children under the age of 11 -took place last week,
“In the first case, an eight-year-old child with special needs was sexually assaulted by one of his relatives,’ the police said.
“In another incident, an 11-year-old boy was lured by a citizen who attempted to sexually assault him, but the child began shouting and managed to escape from the accused,” added the police. “Al Khoud police station also received a report from a woman claiming that her 11-year-old daughter had been harassed by a worker in her parents’ home,” the police said.
The judicial and security authorities in Oman take child sexual abuse cases very seriously and the welfare of the child is held in the highest regard.
“Parents should be at ease knowing that such cases are resolved quickly and do not take months at court, lessening any adverse effect on the child. Parents shouldn’t feel as though the identity of their child might be publicised,” the official said.
“There may be parents who think it is best if they keep quiet and not report the case, but they should know that this could seriously impact the child’s psychological wellbeing as a result of the trauma they have suffered” the police official added.
The Royal Oman Police has been working hard to raise awareness about the severity of such cases, “We try and teach parents the signs that they should look out for to know whether their child has been harassed. The more such cases come to light, the more people will know that they are not alone,” said the official.
Lujaina, a mother of four boys said, “I think it is very important for parents to speak to their children about abuse, and for the children to have an environment where they can feel safe to speak to the parent if anything like that happened.”
“My boys are between 3 and 14, I have already spoken to the older ones about where it is okay to be touched and where it is not, and how they can always speak to me about things they may think are uncomfortable. I think parents should speak to children about harassment once a child is at the age where they can distinguish between right and wrong,” Lujaina added.
Lujaina spoke about her own experiences in speaking to her children about harassment, “The conversation doesn’t have to be awkward. For instance, I share informative videos on social media with my children since they are born in the digital age and they are visual learners.”
“One of the techniques I use is that I always ask my boys how their day in school was, or if they went out what did they do. This way, they slowly open and begin to get used to talking to me,”she added.
Lujaina also added that since many parents in Oman rely on housemaids and nannies it is also important for their children to know that the helper should not touch them in certain areas.
Dr Baby Sam Saamuel, the Chairman of the Board of Directors of Indian Schools in Oman, said the abuse of children and minors was to be in no way tolerated.
“Abuse, in all its forms, is a grave concern and Indian Schools in Oman are painfully aware that this is an area that increasingly needs vigilance and action,” he told Times of Oman. “The Board of Directors have already implemented a unique outreach program throughout the Indian Schooling system in Oman.
“Titled ‘Here4u - Let’s talk’, the schools offer 24X7 counselling services, 365 days a year, for our staff and children, as a means to speak to a qualified counsellor any time of the day through a dedicated number,” added Saamuel. “Additionally, we are planning to conduct extensive awareness sessions for children, staff and parents, to identify, prevent and report abuse in all its forms.”
He added: “We also have ‘We Care’, a school level initiative, currently active at ISM, aimed at tackling bullying within and outside schools. A similar platform that can aid in preventing abuse as well is being planned across all the Indian schools in the Sultanate.”
Sara Hassan, a counselling psychologist at the Canadian Medical Centre in Oman, said children who suffered abuse often displayed physical symptoms because of their trauma and asked parents to watch out for these.
“Some children are more resilient than others, but in most cases, it leaves mental scars and trauma. When you cannot trust those around you, you tend to be more isolated. A child who has experienced abuse may develop fear and anxiety or have psychosomatic symptoms in terms of affecting their appetite. They may choose to sleep less or sleep more, they may have pain that cannot be medically explained, they might not feel like going to school and complain about stomach aches or headaches”.
“Maybe the abusers themselves were abused when they were younger, and so they repeat this cycle, and simply put, some people don’t know any better. I usually work with adolescents and develop a timeline with my clients. A lot of the negative stresses are brought back to the home environment. This has a lasting scar on the teenagers and adults that I work with.”
Anuya Phule, a clinical psychotherapist at Hatat Polyclinic, said that adults who committed such abuses had a ‘mental illness. “Any kind of abuse towards a child causes different intensities of trauma,” she said.
“This trauma is lifelong damage – emotional and psychological. The children don’t have words and knowledge that they can share with someone. They think this is a normal environment and healing can be lifelong. It is on a very physiological level, and manifests in the form of anxiety, across their health, so it is a very deep-rooted trauma.
“Some people who commit these acts have been abused as children, so they carry on the same act. I believe that adults who commit this act have a mental disorder and strict legal action must be taken. I would encourage parents and teachers to maintain awareness. Children can be taught this in schools at a very early age.”