Bitter Chocolate is book by a journalist Pinki Virani, who has also authored a critically acclaimed novel Aruna’s Story. Bitter Chocolate is a book about Child Sexual Abuse (CSA) in India, interspersed with facts, figures and several real-life accounts. Pinki candidly informs that she herself has been the victim of child abuse. Throughout the book, the focus of the book remains the child who is victim of CSA.
The book discusses what CSA entails, and its socio-cultural-legal aspects. It can be distressing to read the book at times, given the nature of subject and the fact. In fact, Smita wrote in her comments on this blog that for this reason she has not been able to bring herself to read the book. I completely understand, but we can’t refuse to face the reality because it is starkly dark.
CSA is not new to World at large. Maya Angelou, the author of her award-winning autobiography I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, a CSA victim was so traumatised that she stopped talking till she became an adult. Virginia Woolf is no stranger to CSA, having been sexually abused in her childhood by her two stepbrothers, Gerald and George Duckworth. Singer Carlos Santana, mystery writer Edgar Allan Poe and filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock also have one thing in common: they have suffered from CSA. Just because they tasted success in the end, doesn’t mean all CSA victims turn out right without repercussions. Author has accounted for this with help of real-life cases and experiences that I will not repeat here.
Never mind the title, this is not a book review. For the purpose of public interest, I will put across some facts about CSA from the book. I believe it is a must for all of us to read it to protect children (maybe our future children) in our family, protect their childhood.
1. What is CSA? According to Driver and Droisen in 1989, CSA can be defined as: Any sexual behaviour directed under a person under 16 years of age without that person’s informed consent. Informed consent. How do you make sure that under-16 kid is capable of informed consent? This is the very reason why it is also difficult sometimes to get a conviction from legal standpoint.
The youngest victim of CSA was a six-month old who was admitted into hospital with ruptured genitals.
2. It is a myth that home is safest place for the child. Fathers, brothers (no, I don’t mean only step brothers), uncles, cousins and even grand fathers have been convicted of CSA. So, listen to your child. Perpetrator for CSA can be anyone who has access to children: swimming instructor, physical education/yoga instructor, teacher, adolescent/adult servants, priest, or a worker in NGO. Anyone. This does not mean you must suspect everyone, but you must be alert and not distrust your child when he/she tells you anything about it.
3. CSA is not restricted to any class. Do not dismiss it as a ‘lower-class’ phenomenon. It exists as much in middle and upper classes. As per a survey conducted on 600 English speaking middle-class and upper-class women:
- 76% were sexually abused in childhood
- 40% were sexually abused by a family member
- 71% were sexually abused by relatives and friends
4. CSA is not restricted to gender. As I mentioned, Carlos Santana/Hitchcock and Poe have also been victims. Boys are as susceptible as girls to CSA. According to Indian Police records (which are hugely minimised), 40% girls are CSA victims and 25% guys are CSA victims.
It is also not necessary that only men are perpetrators, sometimes perpetrator can be a woman. Yes, such women exist, though they are only under 10%. They can be older women ‘initiating’ young boys into sex, a female teacher and sometimes a mother. Movie like Graduate might make it seem this ‘initiation’ exciting or romantic but it can be rather traumatic for the child. There is nothing ‘sissy’ about a sexually abused boy feeling the trauma.
5. A CSA experience can affect a child’s sexuality and personality, the impact is seen even in adult life. 30 days in September by Mahesh Dattani is such a play that goes on to depict how two CSA victims develop differently. I clearly remember that after the play, a CSA victim, now an adult, had came up to the audience and confessed how his experiences have led on a bout of both sexual frigidity and promiscuity in his life. Bitter Chocolate also explains how women turned to lesbianism as they couldn’t bear to have any sexual relationship with the male sex, perpetrator of her abuse. And vice versa. Nothing is more traumatic than a heterosexual trapped in a gay body. But that doesn’t mean all gays and lesbians identify their sexual identity because they suffered CSA. All the book says is that CSA does impact the victim’s sexuality.
Some women, who suffered CSA, sometimes cling to insufficient men or inadequate relationships with men in their adult life. Even a small CSA encounter can do that to you. This is true, I can say from the experiences of my two of my friends.
I was in college when I met this school friend of mine after a gap of several years. Unfortunately, at the same time my, this beautiful friend got in a traumatic relationship with this ugly giant. Despite all the woes, she clung to him. She had completely transformed from a confident gal to this emotionally clinging woman. No matter what I/or her other friends did, we couldn’t get her to put stop. She in those days, after meeting this guy, did tell me of her CSA experience as a baby. She still had blackened kind of memory, Hers was a one-time small encounter where perpetrator was promptly caught, within 10 minutes. But the fact that she still remembered it was significant, key to her behaviour in her relationship. Of course, I didn’t figure out the connection then. I was only 18 and she was only 20. But her counsellor did, although much later. Now she is a happily married woman.
You can’t determine how CSA may impact a child, but there are also resilient children who with timely intervention lead a happy life.
These were 5 important points of CSA. I will write more about CSA later, from the book. One of our friends, Amyth, is part of a NGO, Elaan that deals with this issue of child sexual abuse. Please hop over to his Elaan blog to show your support.
P.S: A brief key to the book
You can read elaborate definitions, inclusions of CSA on page 6, symptoms of CSA on pages 8-9, detailed impact of CSA on page 38, laws pertaining to CSA on pages 136-139, prevention of CSA on pages 160-162 and what to do if you are faced with CSA on pages 171-178 in the book Bitter Chocolate.