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The insidiousness of sexual abuse

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Shame and secrecy are the dreadful hallmarks of sexual abuse. Worst yet, because of our attitude toward sexual crimes, victims are cowed into enabling silence since the lack of openness creates a fertile field for the criminals who perpetrate such evils on the vulnerable.

Shame and secrecy continue to impact the underreporting of this criminal activity because too many victims never find their voice or courage to unmask the perpetrators.

Sexual crimes are underreported everywhere and often, because of the socio economic scenarios in some households, many adults turn a blind eye to the criminalities.

Parents and teachers, they themselves perhaps having their own terrors from their childhood, sometimes do not listen to their instinct when it comes to their charges.

Often, having only processed infractions of their early years on becoming adults, parents and teachers still have not found a voice or a coping mechanism that allows them to address children’s abuse appropriately.

I’m camping out on our responsibility to protect our children. The insidiousness of sexual abuse is in its shame. Not many of us know how to attribute blame to the offenders and guilt and embarrassment cause us to “leave it alone.”

Two things occurred in the past few weeks that impact this conversation. Speaking with a healthcare provider about a situation at a tertiary-care institution in T&T, I discovered that in the space of four days, five young women were hospitalised following attempts at suiciding.

In the discussion, I got around to asking about the root cause, wondering if there was a common thread to these incidents.

Every one of these young women reported sexual molestation and abuse either as one-time offences or ongoing exploitation.

I asked the question because of my awareness of these matters and a suspicion that the guilt our children and young adults are made to carry when adults violate them, sometimes beginning in their formative years and often as ongoing abuses, are prompting mental incapacities.

My other reason had to do with my contemplation about the damage done to a seven-year-old who was molested.

This was a recent incident where an 18-year-old was caught by an observant neighbour with his hand under the dress of the seven-year-old.

The neighbour, thankfully, had enough courage and conviction to leave his home and accost the teenager, making his accusations of what he saw, public. The guardian of the child, being friends with the mother of the teenager, promptly denied that the teen would ever do such a heinous thing.

The mother of the teen took the position of questioning the child and accusing her of lying on her son, despite the fact that an adult male had confronted the teen after seeing him molesting the child. The mother of the seven-year-old upon hearing about the incident, immediately chastised her daughter, telling her stuff like, “I always telling you that you too fresh!” And I curled up in a ball upon having the entire scenario relayed to me by the one adult there who seemed to understand that the blame for such an incident is squarely that of the perpetrator.

The parents and guardians of the child must also take some responsibility here, especially because I believe almost no one can or should be trusted to be around children. Call me paranoid. I don’t care. I believe in remaining on full alert because sexual crimes are crimes of opportunity.

All I could think about is this child’s recovery. Sexual violation cannot be undone. There may be interventions that allow those so abused—male and female—to live a reasonably balanced life, but no one can relieve a person of a sexual infraction. It is there in all its awfulness for the lifetime and possibly continued injury of the victim.

• CAROLINE C RAVELLO is a strategic communications and media practitioner. She holds an MA in Mass Communications and is a candidate for the MSc in Public Health (MPH) from The UWI. Write to:


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