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Our Children are human beings, too!

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You see me standing at the bus stop in my perfectly pressed school uniform… you ride next to me in the van… I sit in your class at school… we hold hands and pray at church… you know me very well… but you do not know my secret….

I believe that you don’t have to look very far to find a child that is the victim of abuse; so I was very pleased when I read last week’s lead story, Moms Mum, which highlighted the issue of sexual abuse.{{more}} However, I was slightly disappointed that what I consider to be key aspects of this problem were not addressed.

On my last visit to St.Vincent, I was in a van and a woman came in with two gorgeous little girls, one of whom had done something minor to annoy her. The way she handled and spoke to that child and the fact that everyone else in the vehicle seemed nonchalant, both appalled and enraged me. Maybe I have spent too long in a society where child protection has swung to the other end of the pendulum and where agencies are ultra vigilant to the point of sometimes, in my opinion, becoming intrusive and a pain for parents like myself.

However, one thing is clear from my own experience, growing up in St.Vincent and from what I have observed quite recently, too much of the population still have the mentality that children are humans-to-be. We don’t seem to understand that, whilst children depend on us to educate them about life and what is right and wrong and whilst discipline is key to a balanced upbringing, children are people. They are people who experience emotions, deserve respect, and whose human rights need to be protected.

I believe that the way we view children is a key element in eradicating child abuse and has heavy bearings on how incidents of sexual abuse are dealt with. How a mother reacts when her child reveals to her that her father or her uncle has abused her is directly related to the value that that mother places on the child’s right to human respect, right to choose to say yes or no to sexual advances and right to be protected from abuse.

I am convinced that the figures reported in the article last week do not begin to represent the true scale of the problem we face with sexual abuse. Actually, I wonder if van drivers are the main culprits. I suspect that if one had access to the database of all human secrets, one would find that most cases of sexual abuse occur right in the home. We have, from ancient days, adopted this practice of extended families living under the same roof. Whilst this has its benefits, it may all too often provide ground for temptation to grow and the perfect environment for abuse to thrive.

The other important factor that I believe should be considered in dealing with child abuse and its effects is counselling: both for the perpetrators and the victims. People who become abusers may have once been victims of abuse. I feel that understanding what makes abusers tick is an important part of the solution.

The experts generally seem to agree that counselling is vital for the victim. Their research indicates that severe cases of child sexual abuse can result in substantial psychological damage: such as post traumatic stress, depression and anxiety and physiological injury that includes neurological trauma which can be severe enough to induce epilepsy-like symptoms. Since the physical, emotional and mental health consequences can be so far reaching, victims should have access to trained psychiatrists and psychotherapists.

It is well established that abused children, who are left untreated, are at risk of becoming adults with mental health problems that will impact their ability to be good parents, good spouses even good citizens. I will dare to say that a lot of the unexplained rage we carry around, that so easily explodes into ‘cussing’ or someone pulling a cutlass or, in these times, a gun, is a possible consequence of the abuse we suffered as children.

It is my opinion that any counselling provided for sexual abuse should not only target children but adults who have suffered in silence for years. There must be somewhere that everyone can go for help, without worrying about the stigma that is normally attached to admitting that you have even the slightest mental health issue.

Finally, if you are the little girl or a little boy standing at the bus stop with your invisible secret or if that was you twenty, thirty or even forty years ago, I hope you find someone who you can tell and who can help heal the wounds of abuse….

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