Journal of New Approaches to Medicine and Health

Namah Journal
Moving Forward
New Issue
About us

Can handwriting help in the detection of children’s traumatic sexual experiences?

Dr. Devayani S. Kashyap

Editor's note:

We have chosen to publish this bold and informative article in NAMAH for the following reasons:
(i) We care for our children and wish our readers to be appraised of the extent of this problem that is often undermined or swept under the carpet by authorities as parents, teachers, role models or our own unwillingness to face facts.
(ii) The traumatic scar left on these children may sometimes warp their personality and relationships for a lifetime. This needs to be addressed and cared for.
(iii) Though no particular age in the history of mankind has been exempt from perversities, we find in our own time a re-emergence of the sub-human. We believe that this is a process of catharsis in human evolution whereby all that was hitherto hidden is coming to light. This we believe is a phase of confronting our shadows so that we can be cleansed of them to prepare for a greater future.
(iv) Child abuse (both 'sexual' and 'physical / verbal violence') is a shadow in the human nature and naturally shocks all who are sensitive to higher ideals of perfection, beauty and harmony. It hurts not only the child but the deeper and finer sensitivity of humanity. Though sexual abuse seems much worse and less acceptable, aggression and violence towards children is equally damaging to a developing consciousness. It is in a way the worst of offences as children naturally have a spontaneous trust that springs from the soul. To destroy this innocent trust, to use violence against one helpless to defend oneself , is to corrupt the future before it is born.
We hope that not only the care givers become more conscious and careful but also that these shadows dissappear from the earth making it once again a happy and harmonious place.


Child sexual abuse is a distressing occurrence pervading all sections of every society. It can affect the child’s personality to a great extent and change the quality as well as the direction of personal growth. It is a well-known fact that the effect of traumatic experiences on the amygdale, in terms of emotional conditioning is permanent (Campbell, R.2002).

Child sexual abuse may include fondling a child’s genitals, masturbation, oral genital contact, finger penetration, and vaginal/anal intercourse. It is not solely restricted to physical touch. Abuse could include non-contact abuse, such as exposure, voyeurism and child pornography (American Psychological Association, 2005). Child sexual abuse is any misuse of a child for sexual pleasure/gratification (Child Abuse Prevention Network, 2005). Most definitions tend to ignore the social and cultural context of any given episode of sexual abuse. But, without taking into account the specific context, it is very difficult for individuals, committees or systems to truly define the sexual abuse of children.

The issue of child sexual abuse involves social, economic, political and cultural realities that are very different in nature. UNICEF (1998) has affirmed that this phenomenon exists in all countries, although with differing intensity and characteristics.

There are four categories of child sexual abuse in order of frequency:

1.Inter-familial abuse (parents, siblings, cousins, uncles or aunts).
2.Extra-familial abuse (close acquaintances, neighbours, servants).
3.Institutional abuse.
4.Stranger abuse.

What kinds of children get abused?

Though all children are vulnerable to abuse, certain factors increase this vulnerability and put some at risk more than others. The factors include:

1.Belief that respecting an adult means unquestioning obedience to authority.
2.Lack of appropriate sex education.
3. Social norms that give children a lower status than that of adults.
4.Child’s predisposition to love unconditionally and trust implicitly.
5.Desire to please an adult.
6.Values stressing family honour.
7.Disability and therefore dependence on an adult.
8.Dysfunctional family. 9.Low self-esteem of the child. 10.Social isolation/ having few friends to share thoughts, feelings and experiences.

Difficulties in detection of child abuse

While a small percentage of children report abuse when it happens, others may find it very difficult even to speak of it because of a number of fears they hold in their minds that accompany disclosure. It is seen that sexually abused children often cope by trying to ‘forget and avoid feeling hurt again’.

In spite of evidence suggesting that children almost always speak the truth when they disclose abuse, adults like to attribute it to a false memory syndrome. Children ask for attention and affection, which is their right, and not for sex about which they do not as yet have an appropriate context for consent. Yet, when adult offenders make the excuse that the victims ‘asked’ to be touched sexually, they are believed. Survivors often carry the burden of keeping their families safe by not disclosing the abuse. Lack of sex education is a very important factor that keeps the children from disclosing the abuse. Their lack of vocabulary of the private parts and resulting inability to describe sexual abuse has to be paid more attention to.

S.No City Year Govt./ Non Govt. Org Sample
Age In Years
Data Collec.
1 Chennai 2005 Tulir
2211 Class 11 Total 42% abused. 48%
boys and 39% girls
reporting questi-
Family members and close acquain-
2 Goa (Urban and rural) 2002 Sangath (NGO) Vikram Patel and Gracy Andrew 811 Class 11 6% exper-
ienced coercive sexual
Survey 48% friends / older students, 8%
parents / relatives, 4% teachers
3 Ahmadabad 2002 Dept.of Psyc-
hiatry, B.J.
medical College
and Civil Hospital
733 12-19 years 6% physically abused, 10% sexually abused, 26%
onally abused
Survey Older students
in case
of boys,
48% strangers
on the
/ buses
4 Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai, Kolkata,
& Bangalore
2001 W.H.O. (India) Not known Up to 16 yrs 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 7 boys were sexually abused Not known Not
5 Not known 2000 Dr. Lois Engel Brecht Not known Up to 18 years Over 50% of children were sexually abused Survey and
6 Chennai 2004 Child line
- A phone outreach program (NGO)
Not known Not known 400 calls /month
from children
at risk
sexual abuse
Phone calls Not
7 Jamshedpur 2004 Child line
- A phone outreach Program (NGO)
Not known Not known 472 calls per month from children at risk from sexual abuse. Phone Calls Not
8 New Delhi 1997 Sakshi (NGO) 350 School girls Not known 63% abused, 25% raped and made to
masturbate or perform oral sex on the perpetrator.
Survey Family members
/ Close acquain-

Sexual abuse is one of the most sensitive topics for research. Neither physical mutilation, nor genocide, nor murder can evoke such strong emotions, denial, shame or dissociation as child sexual abuse. Because of these facts, questionnaires regarding this subject given to the general population always seem to have produced extremely skewed results. Giving such ‘black and white’ questions is an exercise in futility. The need to use a qualitatively different and non-invasive approach to obtain the real prevalence of child sexual abuse was felt by the researcher.

Another difficulty in detecting actual abuse is the vicarious trauma and indirect effects of trauma/abuse. Perhaps a good number of girls, who have themselves not been abused had witnessed abuse to another person, such as a sibling, parent, relative, or friend. Such vicarious traumas will probably not cause fragmentation that may be generated in the victims, but it can create tremendous fear as well as stress. Just as the trauma of the Holocaust can be transmitted intergenerationally (Danielle, 1985), the trauma of child sexual abuse may possibly be similarly passed on as well.

A comprehensive approach that takes into account the entire personality of the abused is required to detect the existence of a phenomenon like child sexual abuse. It should be able to comment substantially upon the areas such as physical evidence, visible hormonal changes, genetic changes, illnesses, values or shift in values, psychological manifestations and behavioural traits.

Characteristics of graphology as an empirical tool for diagnostic enhancement

Graphology as a scientific tool is blessed with an intrinsic capacity to penetrate the depths of the human personality. This quality helps graphology to easily correlate with all those disciplines which concentrate on man such as psychology, psychoanalysis, criminology, sociology, anthropology, psychiatry and medicine.

Graphological analysis is particularly helpful for early diagnosis, documenting the cause and course of the diseases and evaluating treatment. This applies to psychological relationships as well as the particular problems of different age groups. The primary aim of graphology is to create awareness of the self in the client. It also offers a non-invasive description of one’s personality and interprets handwriting in terms of actions, as well as the thoughts and emotions behind the actions. Total, unconditional acceptance of the client is encouraged by this science.

The arrival of computer-assisted graphology is a boon to graphologists wanting to work on large groups of people. Graphology in computers is being used in various fields of human development, such as violence, criminology, psychotherapy, chemical and non-chemical dependency, sociology, juvenile delinquency, career development, personality assessment, special needs and child development. Child, adolescent and adult disorders can be diagnosed on the basis of the DSM-4 as well. It is clear that computers have a valuable role to play in tuition, analysis and research. As such, their use should be understood and welcomed by practitioners. This researcher has taken advantage of the fact and has developed a user-friendly software detection programme for sexual abuse to be used by teachers, counsellors, social workers and people in similar fields.


A direct interaction method was used to conduct this study. The study was in the form of a fact-finding enquiry and its major purpose was to describe the phenomenon as it exists. Though the sample size was large, this method proved to be effective due to personal supervision by the researcher.

The hypothesis of the study was as follows. Handwriting samples of school going children can give clear indications (in the form of grapho-indicators) of sexual abuse. This should supplement or enhance the chances of early detection and/or prevention of child sexual abuse. The handwriting analysis will also clearly indicate personality traits and grapho-indicators associated with and commonly found in the abused population and which are uncommon/absent in non-abused population.

The nature of correlation included a statistical relationship between two or more variables, i.e. handwriting, P.T.S.D., and child sexual abuse, no manipulation of an independent variable, and negative versus positive correlation.

The variables studied were — intensity of abuse, gender, age and medium of instruction.
A total of 595 samples were selected for analysis, based on the clarity of the handwriting.

The first step was to collect data in the form of handwriting samples and the second step was the administration of the psychological test known as CROPS. CROPS is used for screening post-traumatic symptoms in mental health, education or medical settings; screening for post-traumatic symptoms following an identified traumatic event; and tracking possible changes in those traumatic situations.

A construct validity for CROPS, and criterion related validity as well as an interrater reliability for the study was established. For internal consistency reliability analysis, the results of CROPS (scores) were correlated with the hand-writing of the same subjects. The data analysis consisted of a quantitative analysis using a software programme for social sciences — version 11.5 for correlation of graphological analysis — with the psychological test (CROPS) scores.

The qualitative graphological analysis consisted of detection of general personality characteristics; presence or absence of sexual abuse; the severity of sexual abuse; and negative personality traits present specifically due to sexual abuse, as well as irrational thoughts and beliefs present in sexually abused children.

Results and discussion

The study concluded that the hypothesis was proved. It confirmed that most children do have positive/negative personality traits and irrational beliefs displayed in their handwriting. The presence and frequency of sexual abuse was clearly indicated in the same. It was determined that 274 children (47.65 %) were sexually abused and that 301 children (52.34 %) were not. The literature reviewed has described prevalence of child sexual abuse in India at around 50 percent of overall population. This study has only confirmed it further.

The study showed positive correlation between CROPS scores and intensity of sexual abuse. While comparing building blocks of personality, the abused group differed in qualitative assessment from the non-abused group. Such factors included interaction with others, potential problem areas, drive/motivation and energy, temperament/moods and emotions, fears/defences, positive traits, and self-esteem. These traits were detected in the entire sample.

There were grapho-indicators of negative traits and different irrational beliefs in the handwriting of the abused group. The study attempted to understand the network of relationships and its role in the occurrence of child sexual abuse. It revealed the structure in terms of its constituents and frequency. Most importantly, it emerged successfully with protective factors, i.e. self-preserving, self-organising characteristics in sexually abused children.
This was a totally new and different perspective of looking at growing children. An indepth analysis of personality traits like this has not only widened the horizons of our understanding, but also has answered some of the questions pertinent to this particular stage of human development. Further investigation using the software detection programme will go a long way in the utilisation of this non-invasive path breaking method of detection of CSA and early intervention.


1. Andreessen, N. C. The crisis in clinical research: editorial comment. American Journal of Psychiatry 1998; 155-160.
2. Ward, S. Indicators of sexual abuse in handwriting. Journal of the American Society of professional Graphologists 1996; vol.4: 35-55.
3.Naftali, A. (1988). Behavior factors in handwriting identification. Journal of Criminal Law, Criminology and Police Science 1988; Vol. 4: 56.
4.Chew, J. Women survivors of childhood sexual abuse. New York; Haworth Press, 1988.
5.Briere, J. Child and schema of sexual abuse. National Center for PTSD, NCP Clinical Quarterly 1996; 6(2).
6.Virani, P. Bitter chocolate: child sexual abuse in India.New Delhi, 2001.
7.Faller, C. Evaluating children suspected of having been sexually abused. Sage Publication, 1995.


Dr. Devyani Kashyap is an M.S. and PhD in psychotherapy and counselling from the Open International University, Sri Lanka. She has been working as a freelance counsellor /group therapist and graphologist.

Appendix I.

Reliability Analysis of personality traits in handwriting of sexually abused(n= 292) and non abused children (n=301)

Appendix II.

Share with us (Comments, contributions, opinions)

When reproducing this feature, please credit NAMAH, and give the byline. Please send us cuttings.