April is Child Abuse Prevention Month. Child abuse can take many forms including physical, verbal, emotional abuse, and neglect. Given recent headlines, I feel compelled to focus on child sexual abuse.
Most Bermudians have been told at least once in their lifetime that “what happens in this house, stays in this house”.
That means don’t tell people our business. Not airing the dirty laundry often meant that you couldn’t tell anyone from the outside that there was some type of abuse going on behind closed doors.
Childhood sexual abuse is one of the secrets that few have the courage to talk about because often speaking up led to unwanted consequences like not being believed, some form of social isolation or having to testify in court.
Unfortunately, inaction by those who should have provided protection resulted in children being exposed and left to deal with the abuser and the abuse.
Thankfully, charities like SCARS, The Family Center and other groups are working hard to educate families and give them the support and tools needed to protect children from sexual predators. SCARS in partnership with the Bermuda Health Council conducted a survey in 2017, some key findings were that:
- One in three adult residents reported being the victims of sexual abuse prior to age 18
- The majority of victims knew their abuser, classifying them as either family, friend or neighbour
- Among the victims, only 41% disclosed to anyone, the majority of those disclosed at least 25 years following the abuse
- 90% of victims identified as female
Other relevant information was revealed during the 2022 budget debate in the House of Assembly:
- there had been “an increase in referrals [to DCFS] for some categories of sexual abuse”
- There were 124 referrals made to the Department of Child and Family Services in 2020, and 191 cases referred in 2021. In addition,
- Child-on-child sexual abuse or sexualized behaviour increased significantly from 69 in 2020 to 106 in 2021, which equals 56% of the total number of sexual abuse referrals”. (Source: 14 Mar 2022 HOA Hansard)
If the SCARS and Bermuda Health Council survey report, the 2022 Hansard data and recent court cases do not give us cause for grave concern about the prevalence of child sexual abuse in Bermuda, they should. What child is unaffected in some negative way after being sexually abused? Healthy children become healthy adults, building healthy communities.
Each of us has a moral obligation to protect children from sexual predators – we all must speak out if we suspect or know that a child is being sexually abused or is in danger of being abused. If a child tells you that they have been touched or was told to touch someone else for sexual purposes believe them and get them help.
If you are uncomfortable having the conversation with the child or do not know how to handle the situation, call SCARS or any entity that supports children. I implore you not to remain silent.
Every adult has a moral obligation protect children from sexual predators, who may be individuals that we unknowingly trust with our children.
Each child’s future depends on all of us doing our part to protect them as they are unable to protect themselves. When it comes to any type of abuse, what goes on in the house should never stay in the house.
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