Spotting Sexual Abuse

Last week I had the pleasure of doing a workshop designed at spotting sexual abuse and abusers. This workshop was entitled Protecting God’s Children and was put on by the Archdiocesan Family Life Commission.

Facts About Sexual Abuse

  • Most abuse takes place by people the child knows and trusts and is seldom done by strangers.
  • Most sexual abusers are heterosexuals.
  • Children seldom lie about sexual abuse.
  • Priests abuse children for the same reasons as any other sexual abusers and not because of celibacy.

Warning Signs of a sexual abuse in children;

  • Changes in behaviour, child becomes withdrawn, mood swings, anxiety.
  • Child may become aggressive for no reason.
  • Loss of appetite, weight loss or weight gain.
  • Stop taking time for proper hygiene practices.
  • Sudden decline in school performance.
  • Problems sleeping.
  • Unusual interest in sexual matters that are not age appropriate. Regressive behaviour, bed wetting, thumb sucking, etc.

Signs of sexual abusers;

  • They use grooming process to earn the child’s trust. Giving of inappropriate gifts, using a “good guy” approach.
  • They use physical contact. The abuser may touch the child often and inappropriately, each time testing the boundaries of the child.
  • The use of psychology. Befriending the child, giving pro villages the parents may not give.
  • Community – many time abusers are very integrated into the community and is well known by everyone including parents.

Why Don’t Children Tell?

  • They were threatened or bribed by the abuser to keep the abuse a secret.
  • Fear that they will be taken away from their family.
  • Are afraid no one will believe them.
  • The abuser promised gifts or rewards for keeping the secret.
  • Blame themselves or believe the abuse is punishment for being “bad”.
  • Feel too ashamed or embarrassed to tell.
  • Worry about getting into trouble or getting a loved one into trouble.

How do we protect our children?

  • Controlled access – be very careful who has access to the child and for how long.
  • Monitor all programmes – even programmes put on by the church. Drop in unannounced, make sure the events are not in secluded areas and do background checks on persons carrying out programmes with your children.
  • Be aware – listen to what your children tell you, believe what they tell you, be alert to changes in their behaviour.
  • Communicate your concerns – Talk to the person involved and highlight behaviours you are uncomfortable with, talk to a direct supervisor.

These tips are very handy and is the start of the process for recognising sexual abusers but I feel that we as a Caribbean people have to develop our own check-list. Our culture is different from the American culture therefore the classification for detecting a sexual abuser may be somewhat different for our unique society. Although this is a very good start for parents who are unaware we will have to do more research into the Caribbean profile of a sexual abuser.


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