Sexual child abuse too often goes unpunished and un-adressed.
When children become the objects of abuse, research shows that abusers often use their age and influence to deceive and intimidate children into silence. Predators use scare tactics to keep their acts a secret and often get away unscathed. According to the findings of the first in a comprehensive series of reports on child maltreatment, published Dec. 2 2008 in the British medical journal called The Lancet, as few as 1 in 10 cases of child abuse are reported to social workers in developed countries. In developing countries these numbers are reportedly even higher.
Predators threaten the child or the child’s loved ones – mother, father, and siblings – to keep young boys and girls from turning to their guardians for help. Other times, children feel ashamed, because of how society has made discussing sexual abuse taboo. Though uncomfortable, it is important to open a dialogue about personal space and the potential for unwanted sexual contact at a young age; it’s all about how you approach it. I used to tell my children, “Never let anyone touch you where you do not want to be touched. If they try, scream and kick and come tell me. You can tell me anything. I love you.” Traumatising? Yes. Necessary? Absolutely! Every parent can put their own spin on it; sometimes uncomfortable things need to be said.
Born in the late 1950s and raised in a West African country, there was a time I thought that only girls were abused. I thought if a girl looked after a baby girl and a boy looked after a baby boy, child abuse could be avoided. I learned this was not the case. A friend who was a lecturer in a school in Africa told me the story of a fellow lecturer who had a son that was cared for by a male nanny. One day, the baby had developed a high fever and a swollen stomach and was rushed to the doctor. The doctor discovered that the baby had an STI. The nanny was confronted and confessed to putting his penis into the baby’s mouth in place of a pacifier, to soothe him every time he cried. The parents’ response was just to send the nanny away.
More often than not, child abuse goes unreported, making it possible for sexual predators to victimise another child. A 2008 research study showed that about 4-16 percent of children in developed countries, including the United Kingdom, are sexually abused every year. In the developed world, the numbers indicate that about 10 percent of girls and 5 percent of boys suffer severe sexual abuse. Records and research show that about 1 in 10 cases of sexual abuse are reported to the police or a social service. Sexual abuse statistics vary depending on the country and the research. According to the 57th session of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, 36 percent of girls and 29 percent of boys worldwide have suffered sexual abuse. According to research conducted by humanitarian organisation DoSomething, 90 percent of child sexual abuse victims know the predator in some way and in 68 percent of these cases, the abuser is a family member.
A parent at my children’s school once came to me with bleeding nails. She told me that she had been sitting in traffic and saw a man putting his hands up the skirt of a little girl. She got out of her car and attacked the driver who was the family’s chauffer. She scratched his hands and face so hard that her long, manicured nails started to bleed. Hands bleeding, she took down his licence plate details, managed to identify the little girl’s school by her uniform, and brought the chauffer to school authorities, who then notified her parents. The parents did not prosecute. They just sent him away.
Child sex abuse is real, dark and horrifying. However, to stop predators from traumatising the next child, to raise our children in a society where they are not shamed for things that are beyond their control, perhaps we should turn on the lights and talk about it.