It has been more than half a year since Richard Huckle was given 22 life sentences for child sexual abuse crimes in our neighbouring country, Malaysia.
One of the worst predatory paedophiles, he targeted, groomed, raped and abused up to 200 Malaysian babies and children, aged between six months and 12 years between 2006 and 2014. Some were abused for years, including one from the age of 3 until 10.
Child sexual abuse is still considered very taboo here in Asia. Because of this, families of victims are declining to come forward for counselling and other help. When The Star interviewed Bukit Aman’s head of Sexual, Women and Children Investigation Division ACP Ong Chin Lan, she said, “We have identified a few victims. We have tried to identify communities. But we respect the parents and guardians’ view of not coming forward. They don’t want to lodge a police report because of pride and shame.”
Malaysia was all the rage when news of Huckle first came out. Now it has slowly trickled to nothing…why? Because it is still taboo and nobody wants to talk about it.
The issue is very real here in Singapore, too.
Effects of Child Sexual Abuse on Children
For some of these children, the physical abuse may have ended with Huckle’s sentencing. Many of us only think about the physical, the tangible and we forget that these children were groomed. The nightmare does not end when the actual abuse ends. Some children continue to suffer psychological harm.
Some children act out their frustrations and confusions. Some suffer in silence.
- Confusion. Children groomed over a period of time may face very mixed up feelings about what happened to them. Was it really wrong? Does this make me unclean? What happens now that I’ve spoken up. What would my families and friends think of me?
- Guilt. The victims are often made to feel guilty, believing they are responsible for the abuse. That they had allowed it to happen
- Shame. Now that the secret is out, it might make them feel worthless or tainted.
- Fear. Because sometimes the abuser may use threats to keep the abuse a secret. They won't feel safe.
- Grief. Some victims may also mourn the loss of the relationship with the abuser if there had been a close bond between them.
- Anger. They may feel intense, and often uncontrollable anger. Unable to express their feelings, they may lash out at another person — or blame their caregivers for not stopping the abuse or for not protecting them.
- Helplessness. They were helpless during the abuse. What if it happens again?
- Depression. They may become a recluse and lose interest in life.
How Can a Counsellor Help?
A counsellor can help the victim and their families by taking them through the healing process one step at a time. With time, the whole experience will be easier to handle and become less frightening. Sweeping the abuse under the carpet in hopes to forget the whole ordeal will not help victims. These emotions need to be dealt with, otherwise, victims may face problems or symptoms they don’t understand.
Victims and their families need to come to terms with strong opposing emotions experienced during the abuse and also after it has ended. The anger, the feeling of guilt, the blame, the feeling of helplessness and how to overcome them. Even adults find these conflicting feelings extremely confusing. Imagine how much harder it is for children to handle guilt and broken trust.
More importantly, seeking help can free victims and their families – to find some form of closure.Then everyone can begin to heal and move forward and have a chance at enjoying happier lives in the future.
The first step towards any kind of healing is first admitting you need help.
Credit: Public Health Agency of Canada