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Help is Hard to Find for Child Sex Abuse Victims in India

Aside from a mumbled "yes" to two friends who asked if "it" had happened to her, the now 21-year-old New Delhi resident never spoke about the sexual abuse she suffered as a child.

In India, where a landmark study released in April showed half of the 15,000 children and young adults it surveyed had endured some form of sexual abuse, a heavy curtain of silence surrounds the crime and help is hard to find.

"It can happen easily," said the young woman, who eventually sought help at a support centre for victims of incest and agreed to talk anonymously to AFP.

She was eight, her abuser -- a male cousin -- was twice her age and the abuse happened when they met at family gatherings.

"The people you like the most and trust the most can abuse you. Your parents are right there and it is taking place two minutes away, out of their sight," she recounted firmly but with a hint of lingering anger.

Unlike many children in India who are abused, she said she was lucky to eventually find a place where she could talk about her experience and break the bad habits she developed to cope with what was happening.

"I've dealt with the past and moved on," she said.

In a country where talk about sex of any sort is taboo and consulting a therapist carries its own stigma, hers is an uncommon experience.

"Help is very difficult to get," said Anuja Gupta, the founder of the group Recovering and Healing from Incest (RAHI), where the young woman went for counselling.

"There are women who've come to us pretty screwed up by the kind of help they've got. There are women writing in from other cities and I don't know where I can refer them."

Gupta, who says about 300 women have sought help from the 10-year-old group, tells one story of a troubled woman who saw a therapist for five years. Not once did they discuss her history of being sexually abused.

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