UWI’s Department of Behavioural Sciences and the Social Work Unit hosted a workshop in February titled, Understanding Child Sexual Abuse: Perspectives from the Caribbean, for early years, primary and secondary school teachers, school social workers and guidance officers. This was one of a series of activities funded by the British High Commission. Eighteen schools from the St George East District were represented.
Child Sexual Abuse (CSA) is one of the most under reported criminal acts against children. It violates children’s rights and perforates their sense of security and normalcy; a perforation further enlarged by the colluded silence of those who have the responsibility to protect them. Caribbean societies are not untouched by the scourge of CSA and while the subject remains largely taboo, our societies live with its effects daily. In their report on the study “Perceptions of, Attitudes to, and Opinions on Child Sexual Abuse in the Eastern Caribbean,” Jones and Trotman Jemmott (2009) say that “child sexual abuse has not only multiple layers but increasingly severe consequences for Caribbean societies.”
In Trinidad and Tobago, guidance officers and social workers within the education system regularly encounter instances of CSA. Mandated to report all instances of disclosure, and to do therapeutic interventions, it is a challenge to be proactive in relation to an issue that usually comes to them after the fact. But there are measures that can help; one is in the area of information sharing, that is, creating awareness and building knowledge among parents, teachers and students.
Workshops or seminars for parents and teachers can focus on:
Information sessions with students can focus on:
Information sessions may also involve watching movies or videos on CSA, or reading stories and newspaper articles on CSA, followed by discussions on the stories presented. Students can also be engaged in developing a safety protocol for themselves for different contexts: at home, the mall, at a party, a friend’s house. This is a good group/classroom activity. When talking to children remember to:
Other proactive strategies can include:
Child victims of sexual abuse often suffer in silence, trying coping strategies that may result in more harm and can often go through life struggling with issues of intimacy and trust. As helping professionals, approaching CSA in a proactive way empowers children, gives them a voice and a say in their own safety and protection and forces those who have responsibility for them to be accountable for their care, protection and maintenance of their rights.
The World Health Organization defines Child Sexual Abuse (CSA) as, “the involvement of a child in sexual activity that he or she does not fully comprehend, is unable to give informed consent to, or for which the child is not developmentally prepared and cannot give consent, or that violate the laws or social taboos of society. Child sexual abuse is evidenced by this activity between a child and an adult, or between a child and another child who by age or development is in a relationship of responsibility, trust or power, the activity being intended to gratify or satisfy the needs of the other person. This may include but is not limited to, the inducement or coercion of a child to engage in any unlawful sexual activity; the exploitative use of [a] child in prostitution or other unlawful sexual practices, and the exploitative use of children in pornographic performances and materials.”
(pp. 15-16, Report of the Consultation on Child Abuse Prevention, Geneva, 29-31 March 1999, World Health Organization, Social Change and Mental Health, Violence and Injury Prevention)
This paper was presented by Lorita Joseph, a Guidance Officer with the Ministry of Education who is currently pursuing a PhD in Social Work at UWI, St. Augustine. Her research focus has been in the area of children and trauma, looking at children's responses to natural disasters and more recently, children's responses to the loss of family members through homicide.