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How to respond to child sexual abuse

The latest victims to be admitted to the Preda home for abused children are two sisters—five and three-years-old. The perpetrator is the children’s biological father, the live-in partner of their mother. The children complained of pain. The mother knew it was a crime. She rushed to the municipal social worker and reported the abuse. 
 
The social worker responded at once, recorded all information and brought the children for a medical examination that found lacerations, evidence of sexual abuse. Right away, she acted to file a case against the live-in partner and brought the children to the protection of the Preda home. The effective system to report abuse and have a quick response team worked well. It happened in Castillejos, Zambales.
 
The rising number of child victims of sexual abuse and incest is shocking, abhorrent, and very disturbing. The proliferation of child pornography on the Internet, made available on cell phones to everyone, is causing child sexual abuse to spread rapidly. This heinous crime of child sexual abuse and child rape is everywhere. It is found in every country, in the home, in institutions, in churches, in schools, on the Internet, in the street and in the sex bars and brothels. 
 
It is growing and yet few people are reporting such horrific crimes that are all around us every day.
 
It is a crime that most people never talk about. They ignore, deny, or cover up the truth. As a result, the vast majority of child sexual abuse crimes are never reported. So we can never know just how many victims there are suffering in silence. People reporting child abuse can remain anonymous.
 
The worldwide figures show that one in every four children experience sexual abuse at least once in their lives. In the Philippines, as the statistics below indicate, it starts in the child’s family. A staggeringly high percentage are sexually abused by family members.   
 
We humans as a species and as members of so-called civilised society have much to answer for. Our species is the only one that sexually abuses and exploits its own offspring and on a horrific scale. Child trafficking is a huge business. It is estimated that at least 1.2 million children are trafficked worldwide annually. Most of the victims are used for the sexual gratification of sex tourists. In developing countries like the Philippines, it is allowed to grow and thrive. Children are trafficked and abused in sex bars and also sexually exposed and abused on live camera transmitted by Internet to foreign pedophiles. It surely induces them to come and do it in real life.
 
This industry, which operates with government permits and licenses, gives a clear message that young girls and children are fair game. It is like an ongoing carnival of sex abuse, with illegal drugs proliferating everywhere, ignored by the war-on-drugs. The girls are trapped in drug dependency and debt bondage.  
 
In the Philippines, there is no national database of the number of abused children. However, UNICEF and Save the Children conducted a research study of child abuse in the Philippines in 2016 where 3,866 school children and young people were asked about child abuse. They were mostly from middle class backgrounds.
 
The final report estimated total prevalence of violence against children (in the study) among males was 81.5 per cent and 78.4 per cent among females. It said that about 17.1 per cent of children aged 13 to 18 years experienced sexual violence while growing up and 13.7 per cent experienced sexual abuse in the home. Among boys, 1.6 per cent reported serious forced sexual acts against them and for girls 2.4 pe rcent were seriously sexually assaulted.
 
The report also said “the prevalence of overall sexual violence in the school was 5.3 per cent. About 3.3 per cent mentioned that the incident of sexual violence happened when they were six to nine-year-old; 9.9 per cent when they were between 10-12 years of age, 22 per cent at the time they were 13 to 15-years-old, and 27.5 per cent when they reached 16 to 18 years.”
 
These figures reflect a national problem and it needs an immediate emergency response. Three things are urgently needed: the first is preventive education. A cadre of permanent expert trainers that will implement a sustained programme of community preventive education together with a team working the social media and mass media to get one message across. The message is that child abuse of all kinds is a serious crime and it must be reported. Parents and adults must have respect and affirming love for their children.    
 
The second response, together with the first, is a permanent legal team composed of a paralegal and a social worker in each municipality and more in each city. They work with the police to respond immediately to any and every report of child abuse and strictly implement the child protection law and bring the child to safety, and hold the suspect abuser to accountability and justice.  
 
Thirdly, there is the urgent need to set up child therapeutic homes for the victims where they can be safe and protected from the abusers and his or her relatives. The homes must have trained psychologists, therapists and social workers to implement a complete holistic healing programme to empower the child, heal the pain, and enable them to testify clearly and confidently.  
 
Without these three responses working together the problem will not be addressed or solved. Thousands of children will continue to be abused and we must not let that happen.
 
 
Father Shay Cullen
www.preda.org