The innocence of the young is so refreshing. A child is perhaps the most rational being one will ever encounter. Children look at the situation as is. They speak the truth. They have no baggage from the past and are therefore able to objectively examine a situation. This innocence makes children highly valuable and at the same time vulnerable.
There is much anecdotal evidence which speaks to the innocence of children being virtually gouged from them in the form of sexual abuse. In the Caribbean, every individual must know someone who was sexually abused as a child by an adult. While this threat is real, many societies seem to believe that once an issue is not discussed its existence is negated.
Child sexual abuse encompasses a range of behaviors/actions/activities directed towards a child (typically under the age of sexual consent – 16 years old), and can include: Rape, forced and ‘consensual’ sexual intercourse with a minor, incest, children used as sexual objects in videos, photos or as pimps; Exposure to sexual materials through different media, e.g. radio, photos, movies, text, mobile telephone, Internet, parent/adult sexual toys, sexual DVDs; Exposing the child to the sexual act deliberately or unknowingly; Uncomfortable or intrusive touching of a child (Jones and Trotman-Jemmott, 2010)
One might be inclined to think that developed countries are able to adequately protect their children. This is not necessarily the case. A recent (Jul 18th, 2017) news article out of the UK, noted that “children as young as 12 are being denied compensation because of evidence that they went along with their abuse” (The Telegraph News, 2017). The article also made reference to a specific case in which:
a 12-year-old girl who was plied with alcohol, led into the woods and sexually assaulted by a 21-year-old man, was denied compensation, despite the fact that the man pleaded guilty to unlawful sexual intercourse with a girl under the age of 13. The reason for the denial of compensation was that she had gone into the woods “voluntarily”, had not been a victim of violence, she emerged “happily” from the woods and that she had recently had sexual relations with another child around her own age.
This above situation occurred within the context of a law which states that children aged under 16 cannot consent to sexual activity under the law.
The focus in the above scenario is not about denial of compensation because compensation can not heal, neither can it undo the damage done. However, what is revealed is the attitudes of those in authority; those who hold the keys to policy, practice and precedent; towards children. The fact that a child can be sexually abused by an adult; that adult admits to the said abuse; and yet the child can be considered as “not a victim” is disconcerting, to say the least.
In the Eastern Caribbean, a study commissioned by UNICEF revealed that 85% of the sample believed that adults who have sex with children cause long term emotional harm to the children. Yet in the region, while it is known that child sexual abuse is prevalent, the precise incidence is difficult to determine however, as many cases are under-reported. Under-reporting was attributed to feelings of fear and shame, inter alia, on the part of the victim.
An unfortunate statistic and record noted in the report had to do with older men in sexual relationships with minors, where 17% of the respondents perceived there to be circumstances in which it was okay. It was also noted that in Barbados, ‘the involvement
of older men in sexual relationships with female minors was seen as so widespread that it could be described as ‘normal’. The majority of these relationships were viewed as ‘consensual’, and did not seem to most participants to be worth reporting’ (Jones and Trotman-Jemmott, 2010, p. 11).
What the above reveals is an embedded culture and attitude which needs to be reformed. Having domestic laws and ratifying international conventions such as the Convention on the Rights of the Child, for example, are mere stepping stones. There are many more deep seated issues to be addressed, namely the attitudes and reinforced cultural norms which lead to the existing gaps between practice and law.
This is merely a superficial consideration of the issue, yet at this level, there is a need to- Press Reset!
What is needed is much more than a law, more than a proclamation. There needs to be action! There needs to be genuine care! There needs to be understanding and empathy! There needs to be a will to protect our children at all costs!
Jones, A and Trotman-Jemmott, E (2010), ‘Child Sexual Abuse in the Eastern Caribbean, Perceptions of: Attitudes to and opinions on Child Sexual Abuse in the Eastern Caribbean, UNICEF. Available at: https://www.unicef.org/easterncaribbean/Child_Sexual_Abuse_Publication.pdf. Accessed on: 18th July, 2017
Rudgard, O (2017), ‘Child Sexual Abuse Victims Denied Compensation Because They Consented’ The Telepgraph News. Available at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/07/17/child-sexual-abuse-victims-denied-compensation-consented/. Accessed on: 18th July, 2017