Protecting the child, a collective responsibility 2

Hello my people, I hope you are having a wonderful week so far. I certainly am. I have loads of gist to give you about what has been happening but before then, I need to get this very important topic on child sexual abuse that I started with last time concluded. To refresh your memory on what the last post was about click here:

Here are some existing myths about child sexual abuse:

  1. Child sexual abuse is rare and does not happen often: A lot of people think that child sexual abuse is rare and does not happen often- this is a myth. Statistics have shown that one in four girls and one in ten boys in Nigeria are abused before the age of 18 years old. Just imagine 4 girls standing together, now there’s a huge possibility that one of them has been sexually abused! That’s really scary.
  1. Child sexual abuse involves only forceful penetration: Wrong! According to UNICEF and other research, child sexual violence can take the form of sexual abuse, harassment, rape or sexual exploitation in prostitution or pornography. These acts could involve physical contact or non-physical contact for them to constitute sexual abuse.
  1. Only strangers can sexually abuse children: Studies have shown that it is those who are quite close to the family of the child, that abuse children, not necessarily strangers. Studies in Nigeria have shown that girls first sexual experience occur in the following order: romantic partner- friend – neighbour – classmate – stranger. While boys first experience is in the following order: classmate – neighbour. You would be surprised to know that house helps, drivers, relatives and family friends are perpetrators of child sexual abuse. Also, children are most likely to experience sexual abuse in the perpetrator’s home, in their own home, at school or someone else’s home (e.g their friend).
  1. Only adult men can sexually abuse: Wrong! Women can also sexually abuse boys. A couple of adult men have admitted that their first sexual experience was with an older lady who was either their older sister’s friend, an aunt, a house maid or even their teacher at school. In addition to this, children also act out sexually with other children. This means we have to be careful about the kind of information we expose our children to. A child who has seen pornographic content or who is frequently being exposed to sexual acts by adults, would most likely see it as normal and would act it out with another child when the opportunity presents itself.
  1. All sexual abuse victims are girls: This is also a myth. Even though the rate of boys who have been sexually abused is not as high as those of girls, boys are also sexually abused by both adult men and women. This happens in a lot of boarding schools and other places you find young persons of the same sex sharing a living space over a period of time. You would either find a situation where an unwilling “feminine” boy gets abused by the bigger and stronger boys. This myth also goes hand in hand with the one that says that child molesters only molest children from the opposite gender. This is false.
  1. It is sometimes the fault of children who are sexually abused because they dress provocatively or display provocative behaviour: Now this is one excuse for bad behaviour that a lot of men folk give, to justify rape by their peers, which I absolutely hate! Really? I mean Really??? Does this mean that a man who rapes a 5 year old did so because she dressed provocatively? According to experts, there are two things a rapist looks for when he tracks a victim: opportunity and vulnerability. The thought that provokes such an action is the man’s and has nothing to do with the victims’ actions. Statistics have shown that women who were sexually abused/raped (now I am talking generally) have different characteristics- some were gorgeous, others plain, some were young, others elderly. Some were attacked while wearing jeans and a T-shirt, others while wearing jogging clothes or heavy coats. Some were children (sadly). So sexual abuse should not be excused because of how the victim was dressed.
  2. If children did not want to be sexually abused they could tell the abuser to stop: Now picture this: a 30 year old man who is 6 feet tall and a little 10 year old child.  Now tell me on whose side the scale is tipped in terms of strength, power and persuasion (that is if he is even trying to coax her into being abused)? The adult abuser is usually a person in a higher position, authority, status or age than the victim. Children have also been taught and made to believe that adults are always right. This would definitely prevent a child from stopping or reporting abuse, especially when the abuser has promised to do something for the child or threatened to take something away from him/her . There is a fear that refusal to comply would cause harm to the child, or to other members of the victim’s family. The abuser usually instills fear in the victim, before, during and even after the abuse.
  1. Majority of victims report the abuse to someone else – This is a myth. Victims do not always report abuse because of different reasons like fear, being too young (example is 6 year old Jummai I spoke about in the last post), financial consideration, manipulation and coercion, guilt and shame and believe it or not, a desire to protect the abuser.
  1. Sexual abuses occurring in homes or within families are often isolated, one-time incidents: This belief is false. Statistics show that 71% females and 69% males who experienced Sexual Violence reported more than 1 incident of abuse. In some cases it goes on for many years and only stops after the abuser or victim moves out of the place where the abuse took place, e.g. is when the child becomes older and goes away to boarding school.
  1. Family members who do not know that sexual abuse is happening are always irresponsible: When we hear about sexual abuse, everyone is quick to blame the parents for shirking their responsibilities and not being watchful enough to know that their child/ward is being or has been sexually abused. This is not always the case because to be honest, it is not practically possible for parents to be with their children 24 hours in a day. Especially with our present economic situation where most times both parents have to work to make ends meet. There have also been cases where children of housewives get abused. Abuse occurs firstly, because the offender works hard to keep it a secret. From the story cited above, there was no way that Jummai’s parents, who were both in the house during the time of the abuse happening outside, would have suspected that the driver was abusing their child. This is because the driver worked really hard to keep it a secret, by knowing the schedule of the family. He knew his boss would be having breakfast with his wife at that particular time and the other siblings were not interested in playing outside like Jummai did. Secondly, abusers groom family members to ensure that they do not suspect the abuse. Grooming takes the form of being really nice to the kid, offering to help out with taking care of the child, buying stuff for the child, helping with the child’s home work etc. All of this ensures that the parents do not suspect the abuser.
  1. Non-violent sexual behaviour between an adult and a child is not damaging to the child – This is another myth. Studies have shown that children who were abused either violently (rape) or non-violently were affected negatively in different ways and exhibited behaviours, which include emotional instability, increased sexual behaviour, faulty interaction with others, drug and alcohol abuse and other deviant behaviours. Sexual abuse is linked to poor mental and physical health with outcomes that include self-harm, thoughts of suicide and sexually transmitted infections. Among females that were raped, 1 in 7 reported pregnancy as a result of the sexual violence, 10% of children victims reported missing school due to the sexual violence they experienced, 9% attempted suicide, 6% of the girls who disclosed used drugs or misused substances as against 2% of boys.
  1. Children who are sexually abused are damaged forever: This is false. With proper physical, psychosocial and spiritual support and interventions child victims can move on to live fruitful and purposeful lives.

Now you have it and its time to take action. One cannot say this enough: it is our collective responsibility as parents, teachers, pastors, friends, brothers, and sisters to a potential victim (don’t say God forbid! Remember 1 in 4 girls?), to ensure that child sexual abuse is stopped in its tracks. You can do so by stopping and/or reporting any incidence of child sexual abuse you come across to the appropriate authorities. It is offence against the state, not against the victim alone; this means without the family, the perpetrator can still be prosecuted. We should also educate children about child sexual abuse by telling them what to do when they find themselves in certain uncomfortable situations with adults. We also need to have close relationships with our children so that they won’t hesitate to tell us about inappropriate behaviour towards them by another adult. Time spent preventing child sexual abuse from happening is of far greater value than time spent fixing a child who has been damaged by sexual abuse.

Enjoy the rest of your week folks and don’t do what I would not do. 😀

 

 

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/15426517@N07/10398665926″>The laughter of all</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/”>(license)</a&gt;

Protecting the child, a collective responsibility- Part 1

Jummai had what you would call a happy childhood and normal too in terms of her relationship with her family, i.e. her parents and siblings. Her dad told folk tales to her and her siblings every night before they slept, he took them out to the zoo, amusement parks and to visit family friends during the weekends and they prayed together as a family every night. What else can a little girl ask for? Her father was one of the few bankers of those days, he was well respected in the community and theirs was what you would call a very decent family. They lived a very comfortable life and did not lack anything.

When she was about five or six years old, they had a driver. This driver was recruited by her dad’s bank as his personal driver to take him to work and back everyday, he also sometimes ran general errands for the family whenever the need arose. His name was Dauda. He was quiet, respectful and diligent in his job. He came to the house early in the mornings, waited in the car until Jummai’s dad was ready to go to work, took him to work and he brought him back in the evening after work. Everything looked okay and he was seen as someone who minded his business and did his job. What no one knew however was that he was a treacherous pedophile. Each time six-year-old Jummai went outside the house to play in the morning during the holidays, he would lure her into the car with sweets and would proceed to caress her and kiss her passionately like he would do to an adult. When he was done with her, he would let her go, just in time for her dad to come out for them to go to the office. This he did for many months, undetected until he was replaced for an unrelated reason. For some reason, she knew that what he did to her was wrong, it confused her because it disgusted her and also excited her too, as she got the attention she did not get at home from this driver. She never mentioned it to anyone and life went on as usual and she even forgot that it ever happened to her. It wasn’t until she became an adult, knowing what she now knows, that she realised that God must have been on her side for not allowing the driver to go beyond what he did to her.

A couple of years later when she was a teenager of about sixteen years old, while she slept in her bed, she felt a hand caressing her breast, she thought she was dreaming or something. Then as she cracked her eyes open she wasn’t sure who she saw leaving the room in a hurry.   She lay in her bed as realization hit her, she felt revulsion- it was her 25-year-old male cousin Yusufa from the village, who had lived in their house for about a year. She said nothing because she needed to be sure before taking any action. A few days later, it happened again, this time she opened her eyes and their eyes met before he ran out of the room. She was livid, jumped out of her bed and ran after him. When she got to him she screamed, “What the hell were you doing to me?” He pretended not to know what she was talking about. He said nothing. She felt so much anger and hatred for her cousin that day and if not for the size of him she would have beaten him to a pulp, all she could do was to keep cursing him out. She swore that as soon as her parents were back from their trip out of town she was going to report him to them. The noise attracted their aunt who came and asked what the problem was. After Jummai narrated what happened, she reiterated her promise to tell her parents when they got back from their trip. Her aunt listened with patience and in the end begged her not to tell her parents or anyone because it would cause a big family issue. Her dad would not take it lightly; this cousin was from her mother’s side of the family. He was sent to the city from the village to come and learn how to do business, he ran the family shop and the plan was that after a few years, he would be given some money to start his own business. Reporting him would mean that he would be sent away with nothing, his poor mother in the village would be disappointed, and he might go back to the village and lie that the allegation was false, which would definitely cause a family feud in the end. Jummai refused to budge and insisted that she would report to her parents. But after a lot of begging she finally agreed to “see reason”; she listened to her aunt’s pleas. Since then she stopped talking to her cousin; she hated him and did not hide that fact from him or anyone. They basically stayed out of each other’s way until he left their house a few years later, to start his own business and family.

This week’s topic is one that touches my heart greatly. Child Sexual Abuse (CSA) has been going on for many decades, but is just being looked into in the slightest of ways, in the last couple of years. Little attention and effort is given to it, this is because of the lifelong issue of stigma and discrimination that could be faced by victims as a result of it being exposed. A lot of families that it has happened to would prefer not to deal with it because of the stress it might cause to them, they do not want their family to be stigmatized, they do not want to “blow it out of proportion”, because they think that it is easier to burry it than to actually confront it, deal with it and stop it in its tracks. Forgetting that there are other long lasting future effects of child abuse on the victim, which include emotional instability, increased sexual behaviour, faulty interaction with others, drug and alcohol abuse and other deviant behaviours. Sexual abuse is linked to poor mental and physical health with outcomes that include self-harm, thoughts of suicide and sexually transmitted infections. Jummai is one of the lucky few who did not go through the trauma of rape and violent sexual abuse, even though what she experienced was also sexual abuse.

The Child’s Rights Act of Nigeria (not many of us know that it exists), passed in 2003, defines a child as anyone under the age of 18 years old. This means anyone who is under 18, is a child. It does not matter how womanly or mature she looks, she is still a child who is unable to make informed choices about sex.

Although all forms of sexual abuse whether perpetrated against adult victims or child victims, are wrong and have been prohibited, with sentences for offenders, child sexual abuse constitutes a huge percentage, which has not been adequately captured by statistics. This is not unconnected to the underreported cases of child sexual abuse due to families’ wish to avoid stigma and discrimination against the child victim and even the perpetrator. Child sexual abuse is even more insidious because the victims are given very little or no choice and they are powerless to make an adult decision, which they know nothing about. This then affects them in future and makes them live a life that was foisted on them due to circumstances beyond their control. Rather than live a normal life that every child is expected to have.

There are some myths about CSA, which have been ongoing for some time that has helped in the perpetuation of child sexual abuse over the years. Next week I will highlight some of those myths and some suggested solutions to this problem.

Until then, have a blessed and thoughtful week. Lots of love!