One in three Bermuda residents suffered sex abuse before the age of 18, a new survey has shown.

Saving Children and Revealing Secrets, a charity that helps to prevent child sex abuse, teamed up with the Bermuda Health Council to conduct the survey.

More than 700 of the 6,000 past participants in the charity’s child sex abuse prevention training programme responded.

Bermuda is the first country in the world to have more than 10 per cent of the adult population trained in child sex abuse prevention.

Debi Ray-Rivers, Scars founder and executive director, said: “This report confirms what we’ve discovered during our years of training in Bermuda.

“Child sexual abuse is a crisis that the island has been avoiding for decades, and we now have the data to show just how severe the epidemic has been.”

Scars spoke to The Royal Gazette as the island marks Child Abuse Prevention Month.

Jon Brunson, Scars chairman, said the charity had relied on statistics from the United States for its training programmes.

He said: “Once the survey was complete we, once and for all, had definitive data about the pervasiveness of the crime of child sex abuse. We can actually speak to the depth and breadth of this issue as it relates to Bermuda specifically.

Mr Brunson added: “Now that we can statistically quantify the impact of this crime on Bermuda, we can use it as a tool to help our advocacy with effective legislative reform.

“It gives more understanding and weight behind the decisions that we think should be made to justify the legislative reform.

“The survey also breaks it down into certain demographics, which allows us to identify real areas of significance.”

Mr Brunson said statistics in the United States indicate that one in four women and one in six men were sexually abused as children.

Ricky Brathwaite, health economist at the health council, said the island survey, which was carried out last November, showed “we have a significant issue in Bermuda that may be either equal to that of larger countries or in a very realistic way, it could be worse”.

The Bermuda survey showed that the majority of victims knew their abuser and classified them as either family, friend or a neighbour.

Only 41 per cent of victims revealed the abuse and the majority did so at least 25 years afterwards.

Scars has offered training to help adults prevent, recognise and react responsibly to child sex abuse for the last six years.

Staff from organisations such as sports clubs, children’s camps and clubs, charities, churches, companies, schools, the Department of Education and other government agencies have taken part.

Training sessions are also open to individuals and Scars has trained 6,866 people.

The survey was sent to people who had taken part in the training and Dr Brathwaite said about 450 responses were required for it to be statistically significant for Bermuda.

He explained that the anonymous survey asked questions about age, ethnic origin and income levels “to lay a basis for who we were talking to”.

“That was the background information. Then there were questions specifically around ‘have you personally experienced sexual abuse?’.”

He explained that child sex abuse had major consequences and affected victims’ health, crime statistics and damaged the island’s social fabric.

Dr Brathwaite said: “There are a number of people who aren’t receiving treatment. Part of it is because there is a stigma.

“But some of the psychological issues that have been the result of abuse have been things like anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and fear of intimacy.”

He added: “There have been physical health issues — obesity, chronic pain, dependence and addiction, auto immune diseases.”

He added that the data also underlined the role Scars played in tackling the problem.

Dr Brathwaite said the information provided by the charity would help the Health Council “understand the investments that need to be made and can be made in these kind of areas”.

“And we can help drive policy in those directions.”

By Lisa Simpson The Royal Gazette