DEFINED as an act wherein an adult, adolescent or child uses their power or authority to involve a child in sexual activity, child sexual abuse is a common occurrence worldwide.Often fuelling a perpetual sense of betrayal and distrust, as an abuser generally tends to be a family member or someone whom the victim knows closely, victims of child sexual abuse often experience not only physical pain, but severe emotional and psychological pain; which, if not addressed and coped with, can lead to the victim taking drastic measures, such as self-abuse, in an effort to forget the abuse.
Here, in Guyana, the media is often inundated with stories or allegations of child sexual abuse; but for every one story that gets reported, there are often several which do not make it into the sphere of public knowledge, or even the confidence of those closest to the victim.
There are, however, instances when victims break through the cloak of secrecy concerning child sexual abuse and divulge to family members or those close to them details about the abuse they would have suffered; but those cases are often allowed to go unreported for reasons such as refusal to believe, or because the abuser is someone whom the confidant/confidante respects or is dependent upon.
Unreported child sexual abuse cases are especially disturbing. More than 300 sexual abuse cases were reported to the Ministry of Social Protection last year September; and while the statistics for this year have not been released as yet, there stands the high probability that these numbers have not substantially dropped.
Reluctance to break this silence not only stems from fear on part of the victim, but also due to conditioned impulses and thoughts. There is also the fact that not many adults point out the dangers which perpetually exist around children, and this often results in children blaming themselves for what has happened, believing that they had some part to play in being abused.
In an effort to tackle the issue of silence regarding child sexual abuse, Tinninben Animation Studios and Tagman Media have, through the use of animation, created two short films, the last of which is Nancy’s Story: Boys, too, showed that boys can also be victims of sexual abuse. These short films, geared specifically towards children, are a step in the right direction; as the content, relatable to children, teaches them about what child sexual abuse is, and what to do in cases when a boy or someone close is being abused.
There, however, exists a collective way people tend to think about rape. With hundreds of cases being reported every year, many trivialize and normalize child sexual abuse as they believe that the culture of abuse is not as thriving as it appears. This belief exists not only at a community level, but also at the level of institutions, as has been seen fairly recently in Social Protection Minister Volda Lawrence’s unwavering support for alleged child molester Winston Harding, and in a release sent out from her ministry — tasked with child safety, protection and helping victims of rape — labelling child sexual abuse as an act of “deflowering.”
If not properly addressed, Guyana’s high level of child sexual abuse will continue to fester and become worse over the years. The onus is not only on persons at a community level to report on, and expose, rapists, but also on the Government to ensure that there should never be a desensitization of rape, as that would further hinder progress being made by those on the ground. While several programmes and centres cater for victims of child sexual abuse, efforts to effectively educate on, and eradicate, this scourge should never be stopped.