Only a fraction of cases reported to police
The vast majority of sex offenders in the Cayman Islands are getting away with their crimes, according to statistics from police investigators and trauma counselors.
Despite recent survey results suggesting one in five young girls have suffered sexual abuse by an adult, the police Family Support Unit, the main investigative body for child abuse, has had just 41 cases referred since January 2014.
Statistics on the number of convictions were not available, but counselors believe only a very small percentage of abuse cases are prosecuted.
Detective Inspector Lauriston Burton of the Family Support Unit said many victims were fearful of going through the investigative process and of their identities being disclosed.
He said the Pan American Health Organization report suggesting some 19 percent of teenage girls had been sexually abused was “alarming.”
“We don’t believe we are getting all the reports we could be getting,” he said.
He said most referrals come to the unit, though some cases are investigated by the Criminal Investigation Department.
Dr. Taylor Burrowes Nixon, a trauma counselor and the deputy chair of Cayman’s Mental Health Commission, said most sexual abuse cases are currently going unpunished.
She said the investigative process is often very slow and the police are sometimes reluctant to prosecute, even when counselors believe there is sufficient evidence.
More frequently, she said, children are reluctant to go through the investigative process or are talked out of it by family members.
She said, “We must respond to wrongdoing swiftly and unequivocally in support and protection of the wounded, and also ensure that offenders, and those complicit, are held legally responsible and provided with behavioral intervention with sentencing.
“Without a reasonable and timely response on both sides of the spectrum, we will continue to protect offenders and shame victims into silence. They can’t speak up comfortably if they know they are the ones punished.”
Dr. Sophia Chandler, a psychologist who works with victims of sexual abuse at the Cayman Islands Hospital, said many cases go completely unreported to adults and only emerge in anonymous surveys like the PAHO report.
For those who do speak up, many don’t want to pursue a criminal investigation, and even when they do, it is a long and rocky road to secure a conviction and many do not stay the course.
“The vast majority of sexual abuse is within families or the close friendship circle. For the child, reporting it means totally disrupting what has been the norm in the family,” she said.
“A lot of children do a cost/benefit analysis and decide they may not be believed. There really is a disconnect between the amount of abuse happening and what breaks through to the courts.”
She said in many cases, parents or guardians are complicit in the sexual abuse, or are unwilling to support their child in making a report.
In numerous cases, she said, mothers are financially or emotionally dependent on the abuser – a boyfriend or stepfather – and choose to believe them, rather than their daughter.
“For some women, it attacks their ego. They think, ‘I couldn’t tell this guy was a creep; he was more interested in my teen daughter than in me.’ It is easier to say she is a liar, than I am a fool. It happens more often than you would like to think. Sad to say, that is the reality,” she said.
Dr. Burrowes Nixon, who also runs a monthly support group of the survivors of sexual abuse, said complicity of family members is common.
“For many victims, their neighbors and their families knew what was happening and nobody stopped it,” she said.
Dr. Chandler sees around 40 to 50 patients a year suffering from the consequences of sexual abuse. Dr. Burrowes Nixon estimates she has seen around 60 patients who suffered sexual abuse as children over the past six years.
The work of both counselors is funded by the Hedge Funds Care charity, which is also funding a new outreach program through the Red Cross called “It’s not your fault” to reach high school students.
Carolina Ferreira, deputy director of the Red Cross, said its role is education and outreach.
The organization offers “darkness to light” training – a program that helps adults identify and intervene in child abuse cases.
It has also produced a documentary on DVD highlighting the prevalence of sexual abuse in Cayman and is running a “Protection Starts Here” campaign to raise awareness of the role parents and the community can play in preventing abuse.
Ms. Ferreira said the Red Cross would also like to see mandatory minimum standards for all youth organizations, including sports clubs and summer camps, requiring background checks on coaches and other youth workers.
She said the topic needs much broader attention than it is getting.
“The first thing is to acknowledge we have a problem, and not just because it is the topic of the week. This is a generational problem, entrenched in our history, in our culture, and being brought in from outside as well.”