To celebrate CSJ's 4th birthday, we're kicking off the third annual Lend a Hand campaign. From 13 August to 1 September, we're sharing stories from our staff about children we help to show how lending a hand changes lives. Click here to learn about the campaign.
At first Neeta* shrugged her shoulders. She didn’t know what to draw. Beside her, a HAQ/CSJ social worker drew a fish swimming above seaweed. Neeta, 13, asked her older sister which crayons to use to color the fish. Red and brown, her sister decided.
Next Neeta copied her sister’s drawing, a picture of green spikey mountain tops poking into a blue sky. A bright yellow sun smiled between the peaks. “Is the drawing good?” she asked.
Then she reached for a blank piece of paper and sketched. A blue roofline stretched across the page, then walls and a large door closed the space. She added a lock on the door and a man inside the house, with ears but no arms.
“The lock on the door signifies safety concerns and the man without arms, helplessness,” HAQ/CSJ Counsellor Rupali said. “Through these drawings we try to understand what justice means to this child.”
Neeta, 13, was on her way to her niece’s school when a man offered her money. She followed him into a room, and he shut the door. He began removing her clothes and his pants when a woman next door saw through the window and screamed for help.
Young children who cannot express their feelings, and older children who can, need help processing those feelings to move past the trauma and heal from sexual abuse. Counsellors like Rupali use methods like drawing, play therapy, dream diaries and other exercises to help children express and work through the emotional and behavioral changes that often come after suffering abuse.
“It’s so important to address mental health trauma because the children will often not share details about their abuse, out of associated guilt or that the person is interacting with their parents,” Rupali said.
First Rupali builds trust with a child, playing or drawing with them and talking to them about their daily activities. Many children who have suffered sexual abuse trauma become depressed and like to draw or sit quietly in a place for an activity. Other kids, especially the younger ones, remain very active. Rupali engages them in make believe play, building up a story and then asking the child questions related to their abuse that fit into that story.
“I’ll have a doll and say, ‘This is a girl whose name is this. Would you like to share her story?’” Rupali said. “I ask them questions while they’re playing because in play they make up stories related to their own stories and it helps them vent their anxieties.”
Children also express feelings through non-verbal communication in play. For example, Rupali may give a child a ball, and the child may start squeezing the ball, a sign of stress.
With older children, once a relationship is formed, the child will often share about not meeting friends or not leaving the house. Then Rupali will ask if she or he would like to share more.
“Here they know that this is a place for them to vent out their uninhibited thoughts,” she said.
Click here to support children like Neeta.
*Name changed to protect identity.