What would be the appropriate punishment for someone who sexually abuses children? When asked this question, typically people respond with the following answers:

  1. Kill them!
  2. Castrate them!
  3. Rape them/their kids.

While these responses arise out of the shock and horror stories of child sexual abuse often bring, they are neither appropriate nor practical. And here’s why:

  1. Kill them!

Besides the arguments along the lines of human rights and capital punishment, it is a fact that killing them won’t help protect more children from being abused. First of all, killing an abuser will eliminate the possibility of that abuser abusing more children. What about thousands of other kids who get abused everyday? Second, it will not serve as a deterrent for other abusers. There are many countries across the world that have excellent rape and child abuse laws. However, these crimes are still extremely prevalent in those countries. In India, where laws and their implementation has always been an issue, this method will just not work. Third, being identified as a child abusers carries tremendous stigma in any society, including India. Social stigma is always a greater deterrent than legal instruments. If the social stigma does not deter the abusers, it is highly unlikely that death penalty will (this is not to state that laws don’t matter… of course they do… just that they alone are not sufficient). Fourth, death penalty is allowed only in the “rarest of the rare circumstances”. Take a look at the prevalence figures for child sexual abuse across the world, and you will realize that child sexual abuse is not rare, leave aside being rarest of the rare (World Health Organization estimates that 1 in 10 children is sexually abused!). Finally, this method will kill only who get caught. Abusers are so smart in their modus operandi, that for every abuser who gets caught, there are hundreds who walk away free. How will death penalty catch them?

  1. Castrate them!

This is probably the most common response. However, sexual abuse doesn’t require genital gymnastics. In fact, it does not even require for a child to be touched physically. Rape is only one form of abuse. What about child pornography on the internet? What about voyeurism (where the abuser gets sexual pleasure out of looking at children when they are in the bathroom, changing clothes etc.)? What about forcing a child to engage in sexual activity with another child? All these acts do not require the abuser to touch the child? But are they abusive? Of course! Castrating someone does not take away their ability or intentions to be abusive.

  1. Rape them/their kids.

Violence is not the answer to violence. If we do this, we will send out the message that rape is justified as long as the motive behind it is justifiable. Motives can always be interpreted, misinterpreted, manipulated and twisted. Rape is unacceptable. Period.

So what needs to be done?

We need to stop looking only at legal and punitive measures to stop abusers from abusing. They have their place, but they don’t change society. We need to stand up and be counted, instead of passing the buck to the courtrooms and expecting prisons to do the trick. We need to accept that:

  1. Abusers exist.
  2. They exist among us, and not just on Jupiter, developed countries, English-speaking countries, poor illiterate families, rich urban families and blah blah blah.
  3. They can be people we know, like or love… like our family members, relatives, friends, neighbors…
  4. They are not devils or demons, but people like us who live routine lives.
  5. Primary responsibility to stop them lies with us.
  6. They can be stopped by breaking the taboos and the silence about child sexual abuse.
  7. They can be stopped by talking to children about sexuality and sexual violence (in an age-appropriate way, of course).
  8. They can be stopped when we stop covering up for them when find out instances of abuse… but place the responsibility of child sexual abuse where it belongs – on their shoulders.
(What is a post on child sexual abuse doing on a blog on feminism? This is here because child sexual abuse is a feminist issue.)

Crossposted here.