Campaign to tackle child abuse begins in earnest

Child sexual abuse in the Cayman Islands is in the crosshairs of several community groups that have vowed to tackle the thorny and often unspoken issue. 

The Cayman Islands Red Cross has joined forces with the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service’s Family Support Unit, as well as the Cayman Islands Crisis Centre, the Department of Children and Family Services and other organisations to help raise awareness of child abuse in Cayman. The campaign kicked off at Karoo in Camana Bay on Monday with the presentation of six hard-hitting public service announcement videos. These will be shown on television, in the cinema and on Youtube and Facebook (see above). 

Carolina Ferreira of the Red Cross, said Cayman society does not talk about child sexual abuse, but it exists here in many forms. 

“As a nation, we have become experts at protecting the perpetrators and not our children. We have found ways to speak around the issue, for fear of being offensive, yet it is child sexual abuse that should offend us, not speaking of its existence in a realistic manner that we have deemed inappropriate in polite company,” she said. 

The campaign began at the launch of the Red Cross’s annual AIDS and HIV programme. The link between AIDS and child sexual abuse is apparent from a study of that shows that young women ages 15 to 24 are 2.5 times more likely to contract HIV than men their age. A study by the Caribbean Health Research Council in 2008 of 15,000 people ages 10 to 18 also showed that of those who were sexually active, 31.9 per cent of males and 47.6 per cent of females said their first sexual intercourse was forced and 54.8 per cent of males and 23.5 per cent of females were 10 or younger when they first had intercourse. 

“Young people forced to have sex for the first time are at increased risk of HIV later in life due to poor choices, such as multiple partners, unprotected sex and commercial sex work,” Ms Ferreira said. 

Children manifest signs of sexual abuse in many ways, including excessive crying, vomiting, bowel problems, eating problems and sleep disturbance. Other signs in children up to the age of 9 is showing fear of the abusive person, regression in behaviour, for example a child who is potty trained regressing to pre-training, excessive masturbation, nightmares and withdrawal from family and friends. Older children may have depression, harm themselves, run away, change their academic performance and show a knowledge of sex that is inappropriate for their age. 

Marilyn Conolly from social consultancy group Innotiva, who is a facilitator for Stewards of Children training, which teaches adults how to spot and react to child sex abuse, pointed out that children are often taught, innocently by their family, that they have no control over their own bodies or who may touch them, for example, when a parent pushes a child toward an aunt or grandparent and insists the child hug or kiss that person. 

“Our society tells us it’s rude if a child is not made to kiss or hug or be intimate with someone they don’t want to be intimate with,” she said. 

Encouraging children to dance in a sexual manner at Junior Batabano is also sending the wrong messages, she said. 

Paulinda Mendoza-Williams of the Department of Children and Family Services, sharing local statistics, said so far this year there had been five reported cases of child abuse, compared with 12 in 2010 and 15 cases in 2011. 

“One report of child sexual abuse is too much, it shouldn’t happen in our community,” she said.