More than 3,000 people have gone through training to help combat the difficult issue of child sexual abuse, according to Scars chairman Jon Brunson.

Addressing the Hamilton Rotary Club yesterday afternoon, Mr Brunson said that since 2011, around 3,211 people have been certified through the charity’s Stewards of Children training programme, which is aimed at helping people spot, prevent and react responsibly to the issue of child sex abuse.

Among those who have gone through the certification process were representatives from 42 schools, police officers, sports clubs and a host of organisations that work with children and families.

“When we first started this organisation, in the first year we trained 100 people,” he said. “We thought how in the world can we keep and maintain that pace. In the next year, we trained I believe somewhere between 600 and 700 people.”

Mr Brunson said some schools make it a requirement to be trained in the Stewards of Children programme.

“When you talk about a movement that’s generating momentum, people believe in the work that we do — 3,200 people are now trained child advocates, and that number grows in multiples every week,” he said. He told the club that at first it was difficult for him to fathom how common child sexual abuse is. According to statistics from the United States Department of Disease Control, one in four females is sexually abused before the age of 18, along with one in six males.

“One child offended is one too many, but we felt at Scars that it was important to provide some sort of basis for those statistics [locally], so we conducted our own survey,” he said. “It was startling that we were able to determine that our stats say the circumstances could be far worse in Bermuda. It could be as bad as one in three [females] and one in five [males].

“We also found anecdotal evidence that will support that. That’s just based on our conversation with what was the vulnerable persons unit of the Bermuda Police Service, the Coalition for the Protection of Children and the Family Centre. The data definitely reveals that child sexual abuse exists insistently here.”

Mr Brunson said that according to statistics, child sexual abuse goes unreported in an estimated 88 per cent of cases, and in more than 90 per cent of cases the culprit is someone known and trusted by the victim. Often, this means that victims are reluctant to come forward because they don’t believe that anyone will believe them. In other cases, people believe they can resolve the issue themselves rather than telling the authorities, potentially allowing the offender to abuse other children.

“If you think you can deal with these issues within your organisation, as an individual within your family, the perpetrator may stop in that environment but the tendency is to move on and find another environment where there are vulnerabilities that can be exploited,” Mr Brunson said. “The reality is a sex offender needs to be held accountable for their actions, and for a victim to recover they need to see that happen.

“The reality is to do the right thing can sometimes be the most difficult thing, and when you’re talking about a family, if you really believe that it’s an adult’s responsibility to protect children, doing the right thing can break a family.”

He stressed that child sexual abuse is not limited to sexual touching but also exposure to pornography and inappropriate sexual conversations. The overwhelming use of the internet among young people has created another level of challenge for parents

“Our message to children is if it makes you feel uncomfortable, you should tell us,” he said. “Us as parents or us as trusted individuals because it’s our responsibility to deal with that, not yours. We as family members, trusted individuals and community members have a moral responsibility to do everything in our power to protect our children.”

By Owain Johnston-Barnes The Royal Gazette