Warning Signs to Look For

Gender based violence and sexual assault are difficult to report and talk about. It is not easy to come forth with the story - and this is doubly so if the perpetrator is someone known to the survivor currently facing or having faced violence violence. When someone you know, love and care for appears to show signs of facing violence, sexual assault or being in an abusive relationship, it is important to be vigilant enough to reach out. It is better to be vigilant and to ask/intervene and be wrong, rather than to turn away and allow for the violence to continue.

Here are some of the warning signs to look out for that are evidence of a person already having faced sexual assault:

- Signs of depression
- Lack of energy
- Change in appetite / sleep patterns
- Withdrawal from activities that they are otherwise normally inclined to
- Self-harm
- Suicidal thoughts / tendencies / behaviour
- Low self-esteem
- Sexually transmitted infections
- Injuries of any sort that are either inexplicable or are being covered up
- Anxiety / Panic attacks
- Avoiding going to certain places
- Avoiding certain people
- Increased dependency on alcohol / drugs / substance abuse
- Eating disorders

If you find yourself in a situation where you find these warning signs, you can:
- Ask the person if they are okay or if they are facing anything
- Let the person know that they can tell you anything and that you can be trusted
- Reaffirm that you believe them
- Reaffirm that what they are going through is not their fault at all.
Here are some warning signs to look out for that are evidence that a person is in a situation that could lead to a sexual assault:
Since a majority of instances of sexual violence and gender-based violence takes place by someone the targeted person knows, the preceding time before such violence involves a grooming process by the abuser / behavioural changes on part of the targeted person as a result of being in that circle. It is a good idea to be vigilant about noticing warning signs of a person being in an abusive or potentially abusive relationship, or at risk for sexual assault.
• Withdrawal from other relationships
• Withdrawal from activities that are normal or established patterns for that individual
• Mentioning that their partner / relation (parent / sibling etc.) doesn’t want them to engage in certain activities
• Mentioning that their partner / relation is expecting them to limit their contact with other people
• Mentioning the occurrence of prior incidents of sexual assault / gender-based violence
• Mentioning that they are under pressure by their partner or relation to do or not do certain things and that makes them uncomfortable.
• The presence of a controlling / dominating relation / partner who forces compliance with such control
• The partner / relation is controlling their means of communication by either having access to it by force or by intervening in private conversations
• Any signs of abuse in the form of injuries

If you find yourself in a situation where you find these warning signs, you can:
- Ask the person if they are okay or if they are facing anything
- Let the person know that they can tell you anything and that you can be trusted
- Reaffirm that you believe them
- Reaffirm that what they are going through is not their fault at all.
Here are some warning signs to look out for, that are evidence of children being in abusive situations

If a child has faced abuse, it is difficult for her or him to articulate what has happened. Here are signs to look for:
Physically:
- Injuries of any sort, particularly in the private areas
- STIs
- Trauma of any sort in any part of the body
- Urinary incontinence / anal fissures
Behaviourally:
- Sexual behavior that is inappropriate for the child’s age
- Bedwetting or soiling the bed especially if the child has already outgrown these behaviors
- Not wanting to be left alone with certain people
- Being afraid to be away from primary caregivers, especially if this is a new behavior
- Avoiding going to certain places / Refusing to go to certain places
- Avoiding certain people
- Tries to avoid removing clothing to change or bathe
- Excessive knowledge (age inappropriate) of sexual behaviour
- Comfort behaviour such as thumb sucking or soft-toy over-reliance
- Nightmares
- Fear of the dark
If you find yourself in a situation where you find these warning signs, you can:
- Listen to the child. It takes courage to speak up, so listen without judgment.
- If you must ask questions, be sensitive about it and don't make the child feel cornered.
- Reassure the child that she is not at fault or responsible.
- Don't hug or kiss the child unless you ask her if he / she feels comfortable - you don't want the child feeling uncomfortable, again.
- Gently find out all the facts and then try to ascertain what happened.
- Ensure that you tell the child that he / she is safe, and that the person who did this to the child will NOT come in contact with the child. Take steps to ensure that this is done.
- Provide the child with professional help and counseling- based on the degree of trauma.
- If you are up to it, confront this person and press charges if you will. If you have your family's support do so. BUT, be mindful of your child's comfort, for legal systems may expect the child to speak up and present evidence repetitively, which may be traumatic.

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Chennai, India