Silence, which too often accompanies child sexual abuse, must be broken.
This was the key message sent today by those who addressed the start of the two-day symposium on Sexual Abuse at the Hilton Barbados, Needham???s Point, St. Michael, held by the Ministry of Education, Science Technology and Innovation, in conjunction with UNICEF.
Minister of Education, Ronald Jones, while acknowledging that sexual abuse was pervasive across the Caribbean, said: ???The silence of the many must be broken. Persons must feel confident that they can come forward with knowledge that they might possess; even suspicion, suspicion not to create chaos, but suspicion which says??? something does not look right???. Invariably, when something does not look right it is not right.???
Commending the Child Care Board, UNICEF and others who partner with the Ministry, he said the symposium would seek to bring ???a deeper understanding??? of the reality of sexual abuse.
Mr. Jones stressed that the silence of the family in relation to identifying the perpetrator was in itself a form of abuse, and under our laws was criminal behaviour. ???No one reaches the Courts of Barbados. We hear stories of those who are paid out??? We have to confront, as a nation, as a people, all of these realities,??? he said.
Chief Education Officer, Laurie King, pointed out that children who were victims of sexual abuse were often also exposed to a variety of other stressors and difficult circumstances in their lives, including parental substance abuse.
???Sexual abuse and its aftermath may be only part of the child???s negative experiences and subsequent behaviours. Correctly diagnosing abuse is often complex as conclusive physical evidence of sexual abuse is relatively rare in suspected cases. Therefore, for all of these reasons employees of educational institutions must be appropriately trained to correctly detect and respond to sexual abuse,??? Mr. King said, as he noted the training was timely because of the increasing incidence of child sexual abuse in Barbados.
???Sexual abuse of children cannot be condoned, whether it occurs in our homes, community and schools,??? said the senior official, assuring participants that the Ministry is willing to do its part to ensure perpetrators of sexual abuse are brought to justice. ???We will leave no stone unturned in identifying and addressing all encumbrances to the holistic development of our nation???s children,??? he said.
Meanwhile, UNICEF???s Representative to Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean Khin-Sandi Lwin, in her remarks, lamented that too many individuals and groups were guilty of ???sins of omissions – those who looked the other way???.
Explaining why this often occurred, she cited examples from studies done across the Caribbean. She listed these as being a lack of: knowledge about the signs and symptoms; skills to assess sexual abuse; training and monitoring support and effective protocols.
Of the latter, Ms. Lwin said: ???And, even where they [protocols] exist they may not be communicated properly, and the staff may not be aware of them. Procedures may not be clear enough or the bureaucracy is too cumbersome to be able to follow through and there are no systems to monitor these mechanisms.???
The UNICEF Representative stressed that the failure to acknowledge and address sexual abuse was a very harmful practice.??The symposium which has as its theme: Let???s Talk??? Student Sexual Abuse concludes tomorrow, Friday, June 20. It aims, among other things, to sensitise participants about sexual abuse, its impacts and ways to address them.
The Ministry in collaboration with UNICEF further seeks to ensure that the education and training of participants reflect an understanding of, and sensitivity to the needs and concerns of student victims/survivors of sexual abuse.