Cayman is known for being a small, tight-knit community where news travels fast. As the saying goes, when you sneeze in East End, West Bay says “God bless you.” One issue that people are often reluctant to talk about, however, is child sexual abuse.
For the past decade, the Darkness to Light: Stewards of Children training program has been trying to change that – to get community members talking about the problem of child sexual abuse, and to teach them ways they can help recognize when it is happening and how they can help prevent it.
Breaking the silence
“Child sexual abuse is an uncomfortable issue and there is a huge problem in Cayman,” said Cindy Blekaitis, a Darkness to Light program facilitator. “We find that in smaller communities it’s harder to break the silence because of limited resources and the fear of reactions within the community.”
Although people may not realize it, anyone who works with children, or interacts with children, is likely to know a child who has been sexually abused. An estimated one in 10 children experiences child sexual abuse before their 18th birthday, according to Darkness to Light research studies.
1 in 5 adolescent girls abused
According to an Adolescent Health and Sexuality Survey released by the Ministry of Culture last year, nearly one in five adolescent girls in the Cayman Islands reported that they had been sexually abused.
Such abuse is often the root cause of such social issues as violent crime, teen pregnancy, health problems and substance abuse.
Free training program
Thanks to the support of Hedge Funds Care, the Red Cross is able to offer the Darkness to Light: Stewards of Children program free to any community member who registers to attend a training session.
Since 2007, hundreds have been trained through the program. Ms. Blekaitis has trained more than 500 people, but if she had her way, every adult on the island would be trained.
“I’ve always felt that anyone who cares about children needs this training,” Ms. Blekaitis said. “I feel that the information can give adults the tools and encouragement they may need to push through our own discomfort. It’s important for all of us to actively protect children, it can save children and families from the devastating effects.”
There are four upcoming training sessions: May 10 and 21, and June 7 and 18. The two-and-a-half-hour sessions outline five steps to protect children, through a video, workbook and group discussion.
The program exposes little-known facts about child sexual abuse. For example, 90 percent of children who are abused know their abusers, and 30 percent of children who are sexually abused are abused by family members. Forty percent of children are abused by older or more powerful children.
Learning such facts is the first step in protecting children from sexual abuse, according to the training program.
Step two is to minimize the opportunity for abuse to occur by eliminating or reducing isolated, one-on-one situations to decrease risk for abuse.
The third step, one that can sometimes be difficult for parents, is to have open conversations with children about bodies, sex and boundaries. The training program teaches that children should be equipped with the proper vocabulary for their body parts – not euphemisms. According to the training, parents should also teach children about sex early, around the age of eight.
Children should be taught about touching boundaries, and to trust their gut feelings about when a touch is inappropriate, and that if someone asks them to keep a secret, that should be a red flag.
The fourth step teaches adults about the signs of sexual abuse, which are often not necessarily physically apparent.
The fifth step addresses reacting responsibly. This section teaches adults how to respond to risky behaviors and suspicions about or reports of sexual abuse.
By providing knowledge and a detailed framework of how to respond to sexual abuse, adults who complete the training emerge feeling more conscious and empowered.
Pre-school teacher Grace Langley, who attended a Darkness to Light training session this week, said the program was “excellent.”
“I think I’m more conscious of the need for us to be more alert, especially when we see changes in children’s behavior,” Ms. Langley said.
To register for a training session at the Red Cross, email [email protected]