Diary of a mothering worker
DR GABRIELLE JAMELA HOSEIN
THE Break the Silence campaign, familiar to most because of its blue teddy bear symbol, enters its tenth year in 2019. Focusing on raising awareness about the prevalence of child sexual abuse and incest, providing training about these as issues of gender-based violence, and building communities around empowerment of children as part of prevention, the campaign has indeed seen silences broken.
There’s more reporting now than before, confusing our understanding about whether the rates have risen, or just the reporting, but confirming our position that too many children continue to be harmed.
There have been 11,787 reports of children in need of care and protection since proclamation of the Children’s Authority. Over 2016-2017, there were 4,232 reports of child abuse and maltreatment, averaging 353 reports per month. In relation to sexual abuse, girls are harmed at four times the rates of boys, but the rates of neglect and physical abuse are nearly the same, and in fact slightly higher for boys than girls.
At the Caribbean Association for Feminist Research and Action (CAFRA) meeting yesterday, researchers highlighted childhood abuse, including sexual abuse, as a singularly significant denominator among perpetrators.
Perpetrators also spoke about lacking healthy, involved and connected father figures. This doesn’t mean blaming women-headed households, which are managing the balance of both being freed from toxic masculinities while being burdened with unequal responsibilities.
It also doesn’t mean that it takes fathers to be fatherly figures or influential role models. It takes men in boys’ lives who care, enable them to feel accepted, and loved “like a son” so that boys don’t get used to “always walking around with hurt feelings as a young boy.”
CAFRA’s data is part of a larger project to shift our cultural norms in order to end gender-based violence as it affects men, women, boys, girls, and especially those from marginalised groups defined by disability or sexual/gender orientation. This makes sense once you understand how striking the data is, and how complex explanations for it and solutions to it have to be.
In 2016, 3,312 reports were made to the national domestic violence hotline, 150 to the Rape Crisis Society, and 1,141 to the TTPS. Why do hurt people feel safer to seek comfort from a stranger on the end of a phone than to reach out to the relevant authorities? How were those lives lived after that call? Did the violence in that caller’s life end, and did it end with a perpetrator’s conviction for the crime of violence or with counselling as a path to accountability? Was there healing? Was there greater safety in islands with as much as 1,240 breaches of protection orders between 2009 and 2017? What happened to the children?
In the 18 months between January 2016 and September 2017, 99 women were murdered, but 857 men. As we think about the rates of boys and men murdering other boys and men in our society, who connects such killings to what we describe as domestic violence, or the ways that power is wielded in families that lead to experiences of trauma, harm and a will to hurt.
Even more significant, who has made the connection between child sexual abuse, neglect and physical abuse in boys’ lives, and their later actions that cause trauma, harm and death?
Currently, there is no national, state-led approach to prevention, eradication, prosecution and healing – including something as simple and necessary as age appropriate curricula for primary schools that aim to change a culture that normalises gender-based violence and forms of family abuse.
The Break the Silence campaign is one example of a national focus on ending child sexual abuse and incest – which is so horrendous that it’s unbelievable we tolerate it enough as a society for it to exist. Any society that values family life above all else should report zero cases. What we have is a society that prioritises fear, respectability, religiosity, discipline and silencing above children’s rights while children live amidst fear and threat.
A decade on, the BTS campaign needs private sector and community infusion of support and investment so that it can continue to press against such silencing and violence for another ten years.
If we make the connections between child sexual abuse and incest, later domestic violence, and wider male violence and killing, we may prevent crimes before criminals are created. For the TTPS and its allies, this should be a priority, for it’s the more humane solution to the desperation of a shoot-to-kill policy.