I had the opportunity to visit the Tulir Centre for the Prevention and Healing of Child Abuse. It is run by two quite amazing women who are able to talk about and confront one of the most difficult issues facing children across the world. This includes sexual abuse and assault, exploitation and trafficking. When I was in Turkey earlier this year, I also met two women running a centre for victims of child trafficking in Saudi Arabia.
I think that what struck me the most, is how often we are focused on the victims. We pay attention to the hurt that they experience - there is no doubt that is tragic. A hope is that women will increasingly find the strength to talk about what has been going on and be empowered to say no. But how do you say no to the person who is staring; the one who doesn't accept no; the person who feels that the sexual abuse is somehow normal.
this of course raises a very crucial piece of the puzzle - we must find ways to change the behaviour of boys. This is about ensuring that they no longer see teasing, sexual harassment and assault as in some fashion justifiable. That is a major educational goal that affects families throughout the world. It is hard work.
The centre also sees a growing problem here in India with the role that the internet plays. In the West, this is not news but serves as a very good reminder that much sexual harassment is done through the electronic means - texting, phone images, internet and other forms of instant messaging. Again, when I was in Turkey, an Australian researcher, Dr. M. Campbell, showed how powerful electronic tools are in keeping the harassment going 24 hours a day - and there is no safe refuge. You just can't get away from it particularly for technology dependent youth.
Child protection must go where issues develop and certainly what is acceptable for boys in a culture has profound impacts on what happens to girls.
They also spoke about something that we continuously see in the child protection world - the need to build strong and effective networks - no agency can go alone.
One point that was very powerful is the way in which NGOs are being used at times by sexual tourists (pedophiles) as ways to get into contact with children.
Their blog is worth following at http://www.childsexualabuseinindia.blogspot.com/
Their website is, by their own description, text heavy. But it also has some quite interesting material - http://www.tulir.org/ For those in South India it is in English but also in Tamil.