‘Psychologically, we abuse children unknowingly’
Dr. Celine Njoku is a counseling psychologist and former national PRO of the Counseling Association of Nigeria. In this interview with CHUKS NWANNE and CHIAMAKA JACOBS, she spoke on the rising cases of child abuse and the need for the society to go back to family and rebuild the values
Child abuse is a topical issue globally, what do you think constitutes child abuse?
First of all, we have violence; it’s a sin and no matter how we look at it, it’s wrong. Where does this violence happen mostly? In the home and the home is referred to as the domestic church. That’s why any violence coming from the home is termed domestic violence; it happens within people who know themselves. It can come in any form of physical violence, whereby you have bruises on the body. It could be emotional, whereby the mind is poisoned; there’s also sexual, social and spiritual violence.
What’s your take on child rights?
Children have their rights; they are human beings like you and I. And when he/she is violated, he/she no longer has right to assert. There are three levels of assertiveness: assertiveness, unassertiveness and over-assertiveness. The person violating the child has over-assertiveness, which is also known as aggressiveness or madness. Today, people are mad and over-aggressive on the minor; they over-assert their own right over the child, which should not be. What happens to the child? He/she now fixates at the level of nonassertive. The child has no right again; his right is abused, he’s no longer a human being but a sub-human. But the child of the abuser is assertive; she has a liberty to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’, unlike the abused child, who fixates at the middle of non-assertiveness.
What do you consider as sexual abuse?
Sexual abuse has many forms; it can come in the form of harassment. Sexual harassment is mostly carried out in the universities, primary and secondary schools. Harassment is a type of behavior, comment and contact that is sexually related which does not go down well with the harassed. Still under harassment, we have bullying, caressing, touching, etc. There are certain areas, especially for the feminine gender, that are no-go areas. The breasts, the back area and the front area… these are private parts. But because the home is lacking, the children come out and they don’t know where another person’s freedoms should stop. If the home tells a girl child that, if somebody touches you on the breast, raise an alarm and shun the person, she will do so. The only time over- aggressiveness is allowed is at the point of rape. Apart from that, the person becomes animalistic or mad.
It seems sexual abuse today happens more within the family?
You are right; we’ve seen such cases. Three years ago in New Guinea, a mother left the house with other children and kept her 18-year old daughter with the father to cook food for him. That night they left for the village, the father raped the girl repeatedly. Even after she condoned that, the father came back to carry out the devilish act in the morning. So, the girl went to the kitchen, took a knife and beheaded her father. When we talk about father, there must be reverence and respect. Since then, when I’m talking to adolescent girls, I say, ‘we need more beheading.’ But some of them are not ready to do that; they are enjoying it because they are sexually active. When we were growing up, we were sexually inexperienced. Nowadays, victims don’t go to court or say anything because they actually enjoy it.
What do you think would make a victim not to raise alarm?
Their mothers never taught them to raise an alarm; instructions from the home go a long way. Do you know that there are some married ladies, who find it very difficult to go naked before their husband because the home has indoctrinated them not to allow any man see their nakedness? Where are the mothers? They are not seen; they are too busy! And what do these children do when they go outside? They approximate; if A doesn’t work, B would work, and peer group comes in. So, this sexual harassment involves rape. Rape is a sexual act carried out on the victim with force or without the consent of the victim. In the home, you need to teach the girl child how to dress well; wear bra to avoid sagging breast. Wear the pant because it is a private part. Men dress to please women, but they don’t reveal their bodies. We have six types of rape; gang rape, date rape, acquaintance rape, strangers rape, child’s rape and statutory rape.
In recent times, we’ve recorded cases of sexual abuse by fathers. Is there a psychological side to that?
Yes there is; they are called pedophiles. Psychologically, these are deviants; they are battling with undesirable behaviors. In those days, you could give someone your child and go to the farm and your child will still be in good shape. But not these days; when you come home, some of the genitals of your child must have been altered. Idleness could be one of them, watching of pornography. When you watch porn, it mixes up with your memory where information is stored; you tend to think about it all the time. So, when you get the slightest opportunity to display, you grab it. Another one is nudity, the way the ladies dress; men sometimes don’t have control as much as women when it comes to sex. Another one is lack of self-control. What makes us higher animals is because we have the level of control. So, these are the things that make these crimes to escalate. We are less busy, idle and unfaithful.
There is another case I’m handling; a man deflowered his daughters and when he was asked, he said he was in a cult. So, cult makes you now to see abnormal things as normal? The woman came back from the salon and saw her daughter running out of her husband’s bedroom; the bed was stained with blood. He claimed he has a right to go into his daughters because, he pays their school fees; that he wants to enjoy them before another man does. The girls are about 16 and 17 years.
Their mother brought them to me one after the other. The father will promise them heaven and earth; take them to Shoprite, showers them with gifts and money. He was always telling them he is the best father they could ever have. So, at that early age, he has brainwashed them. That’s why I keep saying that the home is a powerful agent. If a child is highly indoctrinated in the home, the child comes out the best.
How do you care for people that have gone through sexual abuses?
In handling such cases, you need to check their psyche; give the victim many area and options to choose. Yes, you can exchange calories with your father, but these are the consequences, so choose. Are you ready to bear the brunt? The answer is no! Most of these things are lack of awareness. Those days, fathers were sane; they knew what was good and what was bad.
What can we done to curtail the rising cases of sexual abuse?
One, we go with God, but unfortunately, we don’t have the spirit of God. These days, you are the watcher of your child and people are minding their business. We are building more walls instead of bridges, as to have a link with others. Sex education is very important; tell them the degree and consequences of what they are doing. They are teachable, but the problem is that they weren’t taught on time. Most of the illiterate parents were doing the talking, but we the literate ones are not even talking. What happens, it bounces back on us. And when we talk about sexuality education, we are not talking about teaching them how to exchange calorie; far from it. Sexuality is the total behavior of who you are as a human being. Your sitting posture is your sexuality; your handwriting is your sexuality. Right from the day a baby is born, all the phenomenon, the entire happening on that child is the child’s sexuality. In other words, it could be bad or good. We have different aspects of sexuality: your value, creed, intimacy, love, eroticism, bad way of showing love etc. We need to teach our children all these things so that, when they come in contact with erotic behaviors, they will be able to dictate the signal.
It seems something is wrong with our value system these days?
Yes, there is. When I heard of the ‘Change begins with you’ campaign by President Buhari, my mind as a psychologist went back to our value system. Our value system fixates only on the flesh; value should be beyond flesh, it should be the soul.
Our problem now is that we fixate at the mundane things. Because of that, corruption and abuse comes into play. If somebody is coming close to your sexual organ, you defend it. So, your genital, your value, your intimacy, your love and affection, a holistic you, your spiritual level, your psychological level, your physical level… everything is imbibes into your sexuality. The ability to choose rightly is your choice.