The secrecy shrouding child sexual abuse

The prevalence of paedophilia and incest are significantly under-reported based on patients’ accounts according to the first psychotherapist specialising in sexual abuse in the Cayman Islands.

Psychotherapist Taylor Burrowes has been treating children, adolescents and adult survivors of sexual abuse for the past eight months at the Wellness Centre.

And there is a disturbing trend of sexual abuse and incest on children says Burrowes. Patients are saying their perpetrators include uncles, fathers, stepfathers, brothers, grandfathers and cousins.

“A lot of the girls we see report early incidences of sexual abuse in the pre-teen years just as puberty begins,” says Burrowes. “However, some girls recall being molested as young as 5 or 6 years old by various family members.”

Mothers are also bringing in their daughters for treatment, because they think something may have happened. But it is more complicated than that. The mother sees her daughter’s symptoms of sexual abuse and it triggers the parent’s own memories of childhood incest says Burrowes.

Grey Behaviour
What frequently happens is the sexual abuse starts with “grey area” behaviour when the child is 3, 4 and 5-years-old. Grey area actions could include exposing the child to sexual explicit material; encouraging them to run around the house naked; sitting on the adult’s lap in a way which causes sexual arousal.

“Perpetrators typically use normal playful behaviour such as tickling and wrestling to manipulate children’s comfort level and groom them for more sinister motives involving their own sexual gratification. We often hear of a relative who invited the child to sit on his lap while having an erection,” says Burrowes.

Grey area behaviour manipulates and confuses children on appropriate boundaries to groom them for molestation or sexual intercourse explained Burrowes.

“It is a slow and gradual process as the child grows up, isolating the child and touching the child inappropriately. The child becomes confused, because this is someone they trust. And the perpetrator will say this is something special between you and me so don’t tell anyone because you will get in trouble,” says Burrowes.

Official Reports
Allegations of sexual abuse and incest against children have fluctuated from a low of 12 to a high 26 annually according to a report released the by Child and Family Services. Six months into 2009, there are already 12 reports of sexual abuse or incest against children.

Based on her current client base, Burrowes believes official reports of child sexual abuse are significantly under-reported. There are various underlying reasons for this. The child is too ashamed or has difficulty disclosing the abuse. If the child discloses the abuse to a relative, frequently the family will minimise it or try to deal with it within the family says Burrowes.

“Often they will recant their abuse. They just want it all to go away, because it is so hard to talk about,” says Burrowes.

Another 2006 report on Cayman children at risk obtained by a Freedom of Information request indicates that sexual abuse of children may be more prevalent than current reports:

“It is estimated that some 75 per cent of crimes against children are sexual and there has been a reportedly drastic increase in the incidence of this problem over the last two to three years,” stated the 2006 report.

The report goes on to say that given the secretive nature of many Cayman families, sexual crimes against children are likely to be under-reported, even more so than in other countries.

The report also states there are many cases where an adult relative has had sex with a child under 16 and the family does not report the crime to protect the perpetrator. This is especially true when the relative is contributing financially to the household, and so the relative is protected despite continued harm to the girl.

“The mixed nature of the labour force, islanders and expatriates and the subtle mistrust that exists result in some information on child abuse being kept secret or not discussed,” stated the 2006 report.

Future Reporting
In May, four government agencies abuse signed a mutual agreement for mandatory child abuse reporting. Those entities included Child and Family Services, Education, Royal Cayman Islands Police Service and the Health Services Authority. With this agreement in place the number of sexual abuse and incest reports could climb significantly by the end of the year.

In addition to individual counselling, Burrowes also runs a 12-week group therapy programmes for adolescents and adult survivors of sexual abuse.