CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 15 December 2018

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Let there be justice for children

We read and see reports about the terrible number of child sexual assaults and how few perpetrators ever get convicted. That is changing with the appointment of highly trained female judges to the Philippine family courts. 
 
One day in September 2013, Rosie, a 12-year-old child, but with a mental age of five or six, was grabbed by the live-in partner of her mother, slapped in the face and sexually assaulted. Rosie cried out with the physical pain.
 
A neighbour heard her cry out and went to the window of the small house and witnessed the act of abuse. The abuser was arrested and Rosie was referred to the Preda home for children and received care and support. 
 
She became an empowered young girl and testified strongly and clearly. With that and the testimony of the witnesses, Judge Tinagaraan Guiling found the perpetrator guilty beyond reasonable doubt under the Child Protection Law otherwise known as Republic Act (RA) A 7610 in relation to the Anti-Rape Law otherwise known as RA 8353. 
 
The judge sentenced him to reclusion perpetua, which is at least 20 years imprisonment, and ordered him pay moral damages. That was a big victory for Rosie and for child justice.
 
The public and lawmakers everywhere have to realise and understand the devastating trauma and life-long consequences of child sexual abuse. Judge Guiling clearly understands that truth. 
 
A 10-year old child in any culture cannot give consent and cannot really know the full impact of the sexual abuse by a dominant male on her life. 
 
For rape to happen, the judges in some European countries like France, Finland and elsewhere insist that there has to be proven violence and coercion and, in some situations, that the victim must resist and fight back.
 
A 10- or 11-year old child fighting back against a 23-year-old man when she realises that he is going to abuse her is impossible. 
 
Philippine law is less stringent and the law tends to consider the plight and circumstances of the victim and the power and influence of the adult abuser. The legal and cultural tolerance with stringent demands to prove violence and force upon the victim should not be condoned anywhere. 
 
It is not a crime to be taken lightly with the burden of absolute proof of force placed on the victim.
 
Men of all ages are constantly grooming and luring children to have sex with them. Highly impressionable children, usually those neglected and unloved by their parents and wanting attention, gifts, and what they think is love, are the most vulnerable. 
 
They are easily lured over the Internet, on Facebook and other social media, into going with the male pedophile who then sexually abuses them without violence but by intimidation and threats or gift giving and the child does not know or understand the sexual act or foresee the consequences in the years ahead.
 
The age of consent ought to be raised to at least 16 years of age and any sexual abuse of a child younger than that ought to be punished as rape.  
 
At the Preda Home for abused children, hundreds of victims are healed over the years and we know from their cries and screams in the Emotional Expression Therapy room and from listening to their life testimony just how much they suffer by being sexually abused. 
 
The deepest and most primal experience is that of emotional pain of fear, of being dominated, threatened and abused but they bury it within, banish it from their memory and avoid all that which would remind them of it. 
 
However, the memory and experience has marked them for life and is always there. The victims sometimes convince themselves it didn’t happen or that it was their fault, when it fact it was not. 
 
The abuser frequently tells them, “You made me do it.” The child is made to feel shame and guilt and thinks she or he is guilty. 
 
They hide the truth from themselves, their family and the world. The child has to cope and live with this buried pain inside and it exerts a pressure and stress on their lives. 
 
The buried experiences of abuse cause many sicknesses and neurotic behaviours as a result. In later life, most survivors struggle to come to terms with the crime that was perpetuated against them as children when memories return to haunt them. Some do cope with it, although like millions of victims they carry the pain within. 
 
That’s where the release therapy is very helpful. It gets out the pent up emotions of anger, frustration, and hatred of the abuser. The victims off-load it all and are freed, light-hearted and happy.
 
Another very important part of the healing process is the pursuit and winning of justice for the abused child. They need help and strong just laws and just, child-friendly judges are very necessary. 
 
Jesse was 10-years-old when she was sexually abused by a neighbour in August 2011 in Bataan. She was traumatised and depressed when she was brought to the Preda Home for abused girls and there she received a warm welcome, affirmation, friendship, and encouragement from the staff and other girls. 
 
After weeks, she asked to have the Emotional Expression Therapy and then poured out all her anger and pain. Soon, Jesse overcame her fear of her abuser and asked to pursue a legal case against him.
 
Despite court delays and postponements, she fought on with the support of the Preda social workers until she bravely testified and answered questions under cross-examination and eventually Judge Amelita Corpus, having weighed the evidence, found Jesse’s abuser guilty of statutory rape beyond reasonable doubt. 
 
It was a big victory for Jesse and all the abused children and Preda. The child rapist is now jailed for at least 20 years. Justice was done under Philippine law. That is another victory for children and the Preda team.
 
There have been many more court cases filed and won by Preda on behalf of abused children and dozens of pedophiles are serving life sentences where they cannot abuse any more children. 
 
 
 
Father Shay Cullen
www.preda.org