‘Make it happen’ is the theme under which International Women’s Day will be observed on Sunday. Make what happen? The International Women’s Day website has published several subthemes: Make greater awareness of gender equality happen. Make it happen for more women in senior leadership roles. Make equal recognition for women in the arts happen. Make the growth of women-owned businesses happen. Make increased financial independence of women happen. Make fairer recognition for women in sport happen. Make it happen for more women in science, engineering and technology. To these we might add: Make the end of abuse of women and girl children happen. Because, let’s face it, there will be no gender equality or financial independence for women as long as they are downtrodden.
Girls who are abused, particularly those who are sexually abused, grow up to become women with low self-esteem and high self-hate and usually need an intervention to get on somewhat of an even keel. When that does not happen, or does not occur early enough, they can pass on the negative attributes to their offspring, continuing what is now a vicious cycle.
On Sunday last, we published an article in which a woman whose daughter has been placed in the care of the state and who was accused of acting as a pimp for the child, then just 13 years old, sought to refute the allegations against her. In the telling interview, she claimed that she has no control over the child, who, according to her is highly sexualized. She confessed that the child was sexually molested as a three-year-old and that the perpetrator was charged and subsequently sentenced to 7 years in jail. However, no psychosocial help was sought for the child and the incident could have resulted in her present situation.
On February 22, we published an article about a young mother seeking justice for her four-year-old daughter, who had been sexually molested by her father. The young woman has moved away from the community where she formerly lived and expressed concern that though she had reported the matter and the man was arrested, there had been no follow-through by the police. She wept as she acknowledged the trauma her child would have experienced, but has not sought assistance in dealing with this. It was clear that the young mother was not even aware that such services existed. At the same time, she had also revealed that she too had been subjected to and submitted to years of physical and verbal abuse, which she felt she had to accept as she could not have done better.
The examples given above, sadly, are not anomalies. The sexual abuse of young children, girls especially, is rampant and the majority of the cases never reach the courts. In addition, only a few of the children who are abused get the psychosocial help they need, because the preference by the adults concerned is to cover up the matter.
According to published international statistics, some 90% of child targets are sexually abused by someone they know and trust. Often when the perpetrator is a parent, the other parent colludes to avoid embarrassment or so as not to lose the person who might be the breadwinner. They then wonder, 10 years later, why the child is acting out or appears to be dysfunctional.
Yesterday, in response to evidence of widespread child sex abuse, British Prime Minister David Cameron classified it as a “national threat” and placed it on par with organised crime so that it’s given the same priority in terms of being investigated. He also proposed criminal sanctions for senior public workers who fail to protect children from abuse.
Meanwhile, in our neck of the woods, there has been no or very little to no response to the concerns raised about child sex abuse in rural and hinterland areas; not even a one-off blitz in the areas where it is known that such abuse is rampant and where 12 and 13-year-old girls giving birth is a norm. The authorities here place much emphasis on reporting such matters to the police, who are often ill-equipped to deal with them. In any case, such reportage can only come after the fact – when the child would have already been abused. There is need for a more pro-active approach and it’s time to make it happen.