We must set­tle for noth­ing less than zero tol­er­ance of child sex­ual abuse!

The Star (St. Lucia) - - LOCAL - By

Alicia Valasse

We are still liv­ing in the days of old. We still duck for cover at the mere men­tion of or­gans of cop­u­la­tion, nu­dity and what we per­ceive as novel forms of sex­ual de­viance and mis­con­duct. Hard to be­lieve, but we still mask the emer­gence of a preg­nant fig­ure with far­ci­cal tales of swal­lowed bread­fruits, and coy ref­er­ences to the birds and bees. We rou­tinely ex­pect oth­ers to teach our chil­dren good man­ners, ba­sic hy­giene, in­clud­ing how to care for their body or­gans, and their func­tions. Is it any won­der that the chil­dren we try so hard to pro­tect from re­al­ity are the ones most in need of our pro­tec­tion?

Hav­ing man­aged the suc­cess­ful taboo­ing of all things sex­ual, some in our so­ci­ety con­tinue to en­cour­age the vic­tim­iza­tion and abuse of the young. The value we place on the lives of the young is so di­min­ished that some glo­rify the sex­ual feats of the per­pe­tra­tors while oth­ers per­sist in the in­ces­sant per­se­cu­tion of the vic­tims.

Some months ago I met Jess (not her real name), a teenager who lives in the north of the is­land. Hav­ing suf­fered the bru­tal­ity of a gang rape, be­ing alive for her is syn­ony­mous with “just wak­ing up.” She looks on in­cred­u­lously as many around her openly li­on­ize rapists for hav­ing con­quered a fe­male who was “too hot,” had “too much style” or had been “ask­ing for it.”

Like other rape vic­tims, Jess has been ex­iled to a world where sui­cide ap­pears in­creas­ingly at­trac­tive, where self-harm can be ad­dic­tive and whis­pers of con­cern are just that—whis­pers. Jess has learned the hard way that vic­tims are raped all over again with crafty as­per­sions taken from an imag­ined sex­ual dossier, while per­pe­tra­tors strut in the bliss of free­dom. True story.

Who’s to blame for this re­gret­table state of af­fairs? How many of us know of moth­ers who sell their daugh­ter’s vir­gin­ity to the high­est bid­der; who col­lect the monthly rent for her young body at night when no one is look­ing? Do we know of the older men who seek to recharge their cor­rupt li­bidos with sex­ual en­coun­ters with the young? Do we know of the sys­tem of sex­ual serf­dom which ex­ist in our com­mu­ni­ties yet say noth­ing be­cause “it’s none of our busi­ness?” Do we know Daddy wakes up in the mid­dle of the night to fon­dle our daugh­ters but re­main silent be­cause Daddy buys the gro­ceries, pays the bills and ar­ranges our weekly make-overs? Do we con­ceal the suf­fer­ing of the Ver­linda Josephs among us and hide the scars of the Va­lerie Lords with make-up and plas­tic smiles? Are we part of the prob­lem?

We are all too aware of the scourge of child sex­ual abuse and the reper­cus­sions for the vic­tims and for so­ci­ety. For many of us, our hu­man­ity is not suf­fi­cient to al­low us to reach out to vic­tims and as­sist in their heal­ing. Our ar­chaic laws also do not pro­tect vic­tims; they al­low per­pe­tra­tors easily to es­cape jus­tice. We can­not con­tinue to live com­fort­ably in an en­vi­ron­ment where a fe­male must re­sort to crime so as to en­sure her safety. Why should I have to re­sort to crim­i­nal vi­o­lence (as in the re­cent case of a fe­male stu­dent who al­legedly stabbed a man who had sex­u­ally ha­rassed her) so as to get public at­ten­tion?

While ac­knowl­edg­ing the many hin­drances faced in the pros­e­cu­tion of sex­ual of­fences (in­ad­e­quate train­ing in the use of age ap­pro­pri­ate in­ter­view tech­niques and the use of rape kits; per­se­cu­tion of vic­tims), we must be pre­pared to ac­knowl­edge that the time has come to up­date our laws. It is high time laws were in­tro­duced to en­sure manda­tory re­port­ing of sex crimes.

As has Trinidad and Tobago, we too must en­sure par­ents, fam­ily and com­mu­nity mem­bers, ed­u­ca­tors, health work­ers and other so­cial work­ers re­port such crimes. The “se­cret ar­range­ments” and “ru­ral court ses­sions,” where fam­ily mem­bers and al­leged per­pe­tra­tors serve are judges, jurors, lawyers, wit­nesses and ex­e­cu­tion­ers, can­not be tol­er­ated any longer. Chil­dren have their rights and should not be de­nied them. No one should trade a child’s in­no­cence for a cow, a few dol­lars or that oc­ca­sional spa mo­ment that some of us dream of briefly. A child’s in­no­cence is not a com­mod­ity to be bought and sold.

We must be ready to boldly echo the sen­ti­ments of the com­mis­sioner of the Vir­gin Is­lands Po­lice Depart­ment, Del­roy Richards Jr: “If the chil­dren are in­deed our fu­ture, then we must pro­tect them from all preda­tory el­e­ments that seek to un­der­mine the very laws that are en­acted to shield them from these el­e­ments. Our re­sources must be di­rected to a com­mon goal—zero tol­er­ance.”. Zero tol­er­ance for Child Sex­ual Abuse.

Ear­lier this year, on Na­tional Child Sex­ual Ex­ploita­tion Aware­ness Day, a call went out in the in­ter­na­tional arena for na­tions to pledge zero tol­er­ance to sex­ual

abuse and ex­ploita­tion of chil­dren.

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