April is Child Abuse Prevention Month. Child abuse can take many forms, including physical, verbal and emotional abuse, and neglect. Given recent headlines, I feel compelled to focus on child sexual abuse.
Most Bermudians have been told at least once in their lifetime that “what happens in this house, stays in this house”.
That means, “don’t tell people our business”. Not airing the dirty laundry often meant that you couldn’t tell anyone from the outside that there was some type of abuse going on behind closed doors.
Childhood sexual abuse is one of the secrets that few have the courage to talk about because speaking up often led to unwanted consequences like not being believed, some form of social isolation or having to testify in court.
Unfortunately, inaction by those who should have provided protection resulted in children being exposed and left to deal with the abuser and the abuse.
Thankfully, charities such as Saving Children and Revealing Secrets, Family Centre and other groups are working hard to educate families and give them the support and tools needed to protect children from sexual predators. Scars, in partnership with the Bermuda Health Council, conducted a survey in 2017. Some key findings were that:
• One in three adult residents reported being the victims of sexual abuse before age 18
• The majority of victims knew their abuser, classifying them as either family, friend or neighbour
• Among the victims, only 41 per cent disclosed to anyone, the majority disclosing at least 25 years after the abuse
• Ninety per cent of victims identified as female
Other relevant information was revealed during the 2022 budget debate in the House of Assembly:
• There had been “an increase in referrals [to the Department of Child and Family Services] for some categories of sexual abuse”
• There were 124 referrals made to DCFS in 2020 and 191 cases referred in 2021
• Child-on-child sexual abuse or sexualised behaviour increased significantly from 69 in 2020 to 106 in 2021, which equals 56 per cent of the total number of sexual abuse referrals (Source: March 14, 2022, House of Assembly, Hansard)
If the Scars/Bermuda Health Council survey report, the 2022 Hansard data and recent court cases do not give us cause for grave concern about the prevalence of child sexual abuse, they should. What child is unaffected in some negative way after being sexually abused? Healthy children become healthy adults, building healthy communities.
Each of us has a moral obligation to protect children from sexual predators — we all must speak out if we suspect or know that a child is being sexually abused or is in danger of being abused. If a child tells you that they have been touched or was told to touch someone else for sexual purposes, believe them and get them help.
If you are uncomfortable having the conversation with the child or do not know how to handle the situation, call Scars or any entity that supports children. I implore you not to remain silent.
Every adult has a moral obligation to protect children from sexual predators, who may be individuals that we trust with our children.
Each child’s future depends on all of us doing our part to protect them, as they are unable to protect themselves. When it comes to any type of abuse, what goes on in the house should never stay in the house.
• Robin Tucker, a One Bermuda Alliance senator, is the Shadow Minister for Social Development and Seniors