Enlisting help in the form of a domestic worker looks like the most practical thing any mother would do in ensuring her children are well taken care of in her absence. But did you know that you might be putting your child in harm’s way? Writes NJOKI CHEGE

A  casual chat with a male friend in his late 30s revealed what is probably every young boy’s unspoken experience in the hands of a female (or male) domestic worker. You see, for the past four years, my friend has been searching for one woman who worked as their domestic worker several years ago. Reason? He suspects she might have borne his child as she sexually abused him since he was nine years old, until he was 13 years, when he finally joined Form One.

Apparently, my friend is convinced beyond any shadow of doubt that he fathered a child in his childhood (crazy, I know) and he is determined to find that woman, and his child.

But this friend is not alone. Several men, particularly those who grew up in Nairobi, have confessed that their first sexual experience was with none other than their house help.

As if this is not enough, a couple of weeks ago, a video went viral on the Internet showing a house help having sex with a young boy — who looked barely five years old. The young boy performed the act so seamlessly, as if he had been at it since birth, giving the impression that this was not his first time. Any description beyond this would deem this article too gross for a family magazine, but the reality is, your little adorable four-year-old son, could know more than just birds and bees when it comes to sex.

Dr Gladys Mwiti, a leading psychologist and author of the book Child Abuse Detection, Prevention and Counselling confirms that such kind of abuse is a reality, although is not frequently reported.

RIPPLE EFFECTS

While such an incident could probably happen over a short time, it has boomerang effects, which if not nipped in the bud, would lead to a downward spiral of your son.

Says Dr Mwiti: “It becomes a threat to the normal development of a child. A child’s security is also threatened. Emotional sadness kicks in, and the child develops a fear of adults. A child feels different and withdraws social contact from other children,”

A sexually abused child will exhibit clinging behaviour, especially towards the parents, because they feel they are the only persons they could be safe around. Other short-term effects of this experience include; bedwetting even after the bedwetting age, emotional withdrawal, and sometimes, aggressiveness.

EASY TO SPOT

Dennis Amukumbwa, a general therapist at the Oasis Africa Counselling Centre and Training Institute says it easy to spot a child who has gone through this experience.

“A child will most likely re-enact the same situation with other children. He will start experimenting what has been done to him and tend to be sexually aggressive towards other children,” says Amukumbwa.

But those are just the short-term effects. The long-term effects are more pronounced, deeper rooted, and damaging.

In most cases, victims of such incidences will remain fixated at that single stage of abuse, so much that the event becomes a focal point in their definition of love, sex and sexual relationships.

Says Amukumbwa: “They are likely to relate that experience to any sexual experience they will have in the future. This, in turn, causes them to develop a negative attitude towards sex.”

EMOTIONAL ISSUES

The victim is likely to grapple with a cocktail of emotional issues such as trust, sexual orientation, identity and difficulties in forging and maintaining sexual relationships. They are also susceptible to various forms of addictions, and it all boils down to the tension that was created in the years or even decades ago.

“There is need to deal with that unresolved sexual tension, which came as a result of that painful sexual experience. This could take the form of an addiction, including sexual addiction,” says Amukumbwa.

Worse still, as Dr Mwiti points out, such children may live under the wrong assumption that it is okay for the to abuse, and continue being abused in the future.

“Children will tend to identify with the abuser and grow up feeling that it is ‘normal’ to abuse and be abused,” says Dr Mwiti.

NEGLECTED CHILDREN

Understandably, such evils might be happening in your house without your knowledge due to the fact that you are not always around your children. In spite of this, parents can play an active role in safeguarding their children from sexual abuse by domestic workers.

First off, as Dr Mwiti advises, parents need to avoid long absences from home because this is what facilitates such kind of obnoxious behaviour to go unnoticed.

“Parental absence creates havoc and frustrates the house help because she feels overburdened and the children will bear the brunt of it all because the house help might take out their frustrations on the children,” says Dr Mwiti.

DUE DILIGENCE

If you must engage the services of a house help, do your due diligence. Know exactly whom you are leaving your children with, and whom they hang out with — because sometimes the company your house help keeps poses danger to your children. Do not assume your children are safe, keep checking on them, asking them questions and soliciting answers from your children.

Again, it is never too early to start teaching your children to be on the lookout for certain red flags. Teach your children to speak out when somebody touches them dishonourably or suggests something out of line. More so, teach your child to be assertive against such kind of behaviour. Confident children are less likely to be taken advantage of, for obvious reasons.

‘Get your children to open up to you, and when they do, please believe them. If they cannot open up to you, find somebody they trust to open up to. Do not use threats, because the abuser has probably used threats to silence the victim,” says Dr Mwiti.

POSSIBLE TO HEAL

In the unfortunate event that a domestic worker abuses your child, it is important to realise that the situation is healable, manageable and possible to get through.

The first thing any parent who realises their child has been abused should do is to reassure that child. Trust, you must realise, is critical in the holistic healing process and recovery from sexual abuse.

“Reassure them that it was not their fault that this happened. Children tend to live with guilt later in life. They end up masochists because they think they deserve to be abused,” says Amukumbwa

This is why it is important to reassure your child, in a bid to clear off that guilt from their mind. It is also important to restore trust in that child, by showing (not just telling) them that you are there to protect them and that they can trust you.

Seeking professional help is as important as reassuring your child because a professional child therapist will walk with the child, and help him heal — the professional way. It is obvious that you must ensure that the abuser is no longer in the child’s life, this way; the child will live a secure life.

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