SHOCKING figures about child sex abuse raise fundamental questions about the kind of society we live in.
According to Margaret Sampson-Browne, director of the Police Service Victim and Witness Support Unit, there have already been over 200 reported cases of incest, rape and sexual abuse for this year in Central Trinidad alone. “We have had almost 800 clients coming to us from Central...including Chaguanas, Couva, and those outlying areas,” Ms Sampson-Browne told attendees at the Violence Against Children conference on Monday.
What is worrisome about this figure is that these persons are most likely just the minority of abuse victims who have found the courage
and conviction to come forward and do something about their plight. Most victims suffer in silence. Sometimes they are cowed by threats from their abusers. Perhaps even more traumatically, sometimes they stay silent in order to preserve family relations. And then there are those mothers who know that their children are being abused but who pretend ignorance in order to preserve either their material security, or their “good name”, or both. Ms Sampson-Browne cited the case of a girl from Toco who was being sexually abused by her father and brother, yet found no help from her own grandmother.
Yet, almost always, there are options in these situations.
Despite their many deficiencies, the social services can offer some help to the children and women who are being abused. To be sure, more resources are needed — this nation to its eternal shame passed through a second energy boom without funding more halfway homes and letting the Children’s Bill hang fire for over eight years. Still, going to the authorities would almost always improve the situation of the abused child (bearing in mind, however, that some personnel in State and privately funded children’s homes have themselves been suspected of abusing the young people in their care).
But institutional challenges are only the second part of this issue. The first and most fundamental question is this: what is it about Trinidad and Tobago society which makes the abuse of children so widespread? One answer may be simple indifference. Adults simply do not care about children, even their own, beyond a certain point of effort.
This process may start from birth, with women who find it too troublesome to use the free health services they can get during pregnancy and for their newborns, and it continues with parents who think sparing the rod spoils the child. Within a highly sexed and simultaneously sanctimonious culture, such upbringing produces too many adults who can only express their sexuality in terms of advantage.
It seems, therefore, that children are under continual threat in T&T. Which bespeaks a nation with a bleak future.