A charity dedicated to halting the sexual abuse of children crossed a landmark when it certified its 10,000th child advocate.

Debi Ray-Rivers, the founder of Saving Children And Revealing Secrets, said that milestone, achieved on Saturday, reflected progress made on the issue by the Bermuda community.

Ms Ray-Rivers said: “It’s a testament to our community, to our people, because we are not a community in denial.

“We are not a community who say we won’t take the training because this doesn’t effect us.

“We are a community who want to do everything we can to protect children in our country.”

Scars chairman Jon Brunson said: “It means we have created a real movement that the community has bought into, and not just in word but in deed.

“People have made this a priority in terms of what they require from organisations and what they expect from themselves.

“That means there is a behavioural change about the crime of child sexual abuse in the community, and what they expect, and people are driving the change. We are just continuing to advocate and provide momentum behind that.”

The charity launched its certification programme in May 2012. By the end of that year, 131 people had received certification.

That figure had risen to 9,976 people by the end of last year, and another 1,334 had been recertified.

The charity formally crossed the 10,000 mark on Saturday afternoon.

Ms Ray-Rivers, herself a survivor of abuse, said: “Now we are booked through February. We used to have no men in the room, but now we have lots of men.

“Before, we never knew about survivors in the room, but now we have people opening up in the class saying they are a survivor because they feel supported. They know they are not alone.”

She said word of mouth, and parents, had helped to fuel the charity’s momentum.

Ms Ray-Rivers said: “Our marketing has been our people. It’s been word of mouth and now youth-servicing organisations don’t want to be left out.

“Parents are asking if staff are Scars certified. They are being advocates for our children. It’s exciting.”

Mr Brunson added: “We had it in our mind that everyone in Bermuda needs this training. That was a constant for us.

“When we started, it was a drip, but we were relentless because we knew we were doing the right thing.

“We didn’t really have a perspective about what was a lot or not a lot. We were happy people were interested.”

Ms Ray-Rivers said increased education and awareness about the sexual abuse of children had caused an increase in the number of cases reported. She expects that trend will continue before it levels off.

She said: “I think that numbers went up so high because people are saying that this happened to them, it shouldn’t have happened and the perpetrator is still alive and a risk to other children.

“We are going to continue to see a rise in reported cases, but eventually as children become adults they will learn appropriate behaviours and it will reduce the number of people who cross boundaries with children.”

Mr Brunson added that more work must still be undertaken to fully address the issue, including a legislated requirement for child protection training and codes of conduct for youth-serving groups.

He said: “These things help us move into an environment where we can reduce the opportunity for child sexual abuse to occur, so these are things we are looking for from a legislative perspective.

“As we continue to educate about protection, it is going to bring a behavioural change. How we act with each other and how we act with children.”

Mr Brunson said the other side of the coin — how abusers are dealt with — also needed to be addressed.

He said: “We need to keep the conversation going, not just about what we can do on the prevention side, but also about our responsibility as a community to ensure that offenders get the appropriate rehabilitation.

“We need to make sure the right framework is in place there.”


The Royal Gazette