More than 20 members of the community were trained at the weekend to become facilitators of a sexual-abuse prevention training programme.

Police officers, corrections officers, members of the church community and representatives from schools were among those who took part in the one-day intensive course to become trainers of the Darkness to Light Stewards of Children programme.

This teaches adults how to prevent, recognise and react responsibly to child sexual abuse, and was organised by the charity Saving Children and Revealing Secrets (Scars).

“This training is exciting because it not only means the organisation is growing but, most importantly, that we can reach more people,” said the executive director of Scars, Debi Ray-Rivers.

The charity’s project manager, Danielle Riviere, who took part in the training, said the programme provided the charity with an opportunity to increase its outreach by having more facilitators to conduct training.

She said only 22 people were qualified to conduct trainings but now another 21 facilitators could help to spread the message in Bermuda.

“It’s quite amazing because the police have got involved and sent eight officers to participate,” she said, adding that teachers and churches were also represented. “It’s a great cross-section of our community.”

Darkness to Light is a non-profit organisation based in the United States that works to prevent child sexual abuse. Its evidence-based educational programme, Stewards of Children, has been used in 50 states and 17 international locations, and more than a million people have taken part.

Detective Inspector Mark Clarke, of the Bermuda Police Service, said: “For years I have had the lead for child-based investigations Island-wide.

“For years we’ve investigated and prosecuted and spoken about protection, thereby protecting. It’s timely that we therefore now also take a position of protecting by intervening and educating, which fulfils our community obligation, which is ensuring a safer Bermuda.”

Former police officer Raj Goonewardene, who teaches at Warwick Academy, said he had taken part in the programme because he had four children and because, as a teacher, “it is important for me to have the knowledge to help both pupils and parents”.

“It’s been brilliant — a fantastic experience so far,” he added. “Every parent, every adult should do this.”

Because Scars is a charity and funds the training itself, Mr Goonewardene encouraged the community to “help with this very worthy cause”.

Shacolbi Basden, an educational therapist in charge of an alternative education programme at the Department of Education, said she had taken part in the programme because of her own personal experiences and because it was her mandate to continue to train teachers and education staff.

She credited Ms Ray-Rivers with inspiring her to participate.

“Debi has been a lighthouse by way of having a conversation that many are afraid to have,” Ms Basden said. “It’s important because childhood sexual abuse is a topic of taboo and it’s always been something that has been avoided. Once people are aware that they can have power to speak, that they can exercise their voice, healing can begin.

“When I first experienced the training, I was speechless and I knew that I had to be part of the Scars team.”

Ms Basden said the facilitators had done a great job and that the collaboration was very helpful.

Cindy McElhinney, the director of programmes for Darkness to Light, said the organisation was “thrilled to play a small role in helping Scars tackle this issue in Bermuda”.

“It’s a global health problem that our children face. What Scars is doing in Bermuda to bring light to the issue and to educate adults on how to protect children is critical to the health and wellbeing of the children and Bermuda’s community.”

The author and director of the Stewards of Children programme, Paula Sellars, told The Royal Gazette: “For me, as the author, it is amazing to see how far Bermuda has taken the training in four short years.

“It’s incredibly fulfilling because 11 years ago when this programme was conceived, I couldn’t have imagined that it would go so many places in the world.”

“Bermuda is a model of what can happen when a few passionate people get into action with the prevention programme.

“It is truly transforming the Island, which changes the quality of life for children in ways that we can’t even fathom or predict.”

By Lisa Simpson The Royal Gazette