Protecting children from sexual abuse

The RCIPS Family Support Unit is issuing the following information as part of its campaign to raise awareness of all types of issues that could affect families in the Cayman Islands.

What is sexual abuse?

Children and young people of all ages can be victims of abuse and this can come in many forms including inappropriate touching, masturbation, intercourse, indecent exposure, use of children in or showing children pornographic films or pictures, encouraging or forcing children into prostitution or encouraging or forcing children to witness sexual acts.

Most sexual abuse of children is carried out by someone they know. Children are more likely to be sexually abused by someone they know, including relatives and family friends, than by a stranger. Children may have confused feelings if they’re being abused by someone they trust. They may not realize that what is being done to them is wrong.

What kind of people sexually abuse children?

Child sex abusers can come from any social, racial or religious background and may be well-respected members of society.

Those who sexually abuse children in families can include fathers, stepfathers, live-in partners, brothers, uncles, male cousins, grandfathers, father figures and family friends. They may also be the mother, female relative or female friend.

Those who abuse children in one family may also abuse children in other families.

Targeting children

An abuser may target girls or boys or prefer children of a particular age. Child sex abusers often appear kind, concerned and caring towards children in order to build close relationships with them. They may observe a child and spend a long time building up the ‘friendship’.

They may form a relationship with a single parent in order to get access to children.

Grooming children

Abusers may spend a lot of time building the relationship before the abuse begins. This often results in the child trusting and becoming dependent on them. This is called grooming.

The abuser may seem to be a safe and reassuring figure. He may also convince himself that he is doing no harm to children.

Keeping secrets

The child becomes more dependent on the abuser and in order to keep the abuse secret the abuser will use the child’s natural fear, embarrassment or guilt about what is happening.

A child who talks and shares feelings with parents and others is less likely to become dependent on an abusing adult.

How can I keep my child safe?

Build open and trusting relationships with your children.

Keep an eye on any changes in your child’s behaviour.

Make sure your child understands about sex.

Talk to your children about sexual matters when they start to show an interest.

Explain the difference between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ secrets.

Sexual behaviour between children can become abusive.

Seek advice if you are worried.

How will I know if my child is being abused?

When abuse is discovered, parents and guardians often say there were no obvious signs to make them suspect the child was being abused, even when the abuser was their partner. However, although the following behaviour does not necessarily indicate abuse, sometimes a child who is being abused will:

Start to show fear or avoid being alone with a particular person.

Appear unusually clingy or show other changes in their behaviour.

Talk about secrets or ask anxious questions.

Describe possible grooming behaviour by an adult.

Display sexually precocious behaviour.

Appear depressed or withdrawn.

What should I do if I’m worried?

Talk to your child.

Be reassuring – tell them that you love them and nothing will change that.

Allow your child to tell you their story in their own way without interrupting with lots of questions.

Believe your child.

Tell them that they have done the right thing in telling you.

Tell them that what happened was not their fault.

Could my family be broken up and my children taken away from me?

In most cases it is the abuser, rather than the child, who is removed from the family home. This will depend on whether a criminal charge is brought against the abuser and there is a conviction, or if the court decides that your child needs to be in the care of the local authority. Priority must and will be given to your child’s long-term safety and well being.

How should I react if my child tells me that he or she has been abused?

Your child needs to know that he or she is not to blame.

Make it clear that you believe what he or she says.

Allow your child to talk about what has happened, but don’t force him or her to do so.

Tell your child that he or she has done the right thing in telling you. Don’t blame him or her if the abuse occurred because he or she disobeyed your instructions. (For example, going out without permission).

You may feel very confused, particularly if the abuser is a relative. You may want help in coping with powerful and conflicting emotions about the abuse. These could include shock, anger, disbelief, self-blame and fear.

What should I do?

Be careful about confronting the person yourself. They may try to silence, threaten or confuse your child. You should get advice before you take any action.

Report the abuse to the police.

You may also report the abuse to the Department of Children or Family Services or any Agency that can assist you.

Head of the Family Support Unit, Inspector Howell said: ‘No child deserves to be abused. We as parents, guardians, caregivers, professionals, and as a society have the responsibility to protect our children and to keep them safe. If anyone is aware that a child is being sexually or physically abused it is your responsibility to report it.’

For more information on how to protect your child against abuse, please contact the Royal Cayman Islands Police Family Support Unit at 946-9185 or call 911. Other agencies available include the Department of Children and Family Services on 946-0024 or the Crisis Centre 949-0366 or 943-2422.

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