I’ll start by saying that I am not a childcare expert. I’m not a teacher, healthcare professional or even a parent. I do, however, know a bit about child abuse. I know, for example, that, regardless of any assumptions, it affects children from every racial, social and economic background. And adults, for that matter. Rich kids, poor kids, black kids, white kids, and often, very young kids. So before you think that it has nothing to do with you, think again. Here are 436 reasons it has everything to do with you.
Bermuda’s latest child abuse numbers have just been released. There were reported cases of abuse against 436 pre-school and primary aged children in 2005. 142 of them fell into the pre-school bracket. This is likely to be just the tip of the iceberg though. Children are often silent victims, scared to speak up. Their abuser typically is in a trusted position – parent, family member, ‘friend.’ Especially in sexual abuse cases, the child is manipulated to keep secrets and convinced that it will be their fault if the perpetrator gets into trouble. Even in some of the most horrific cases of abuse, children have been overwhelmingly loyal – especially when the abuser is a parent. If we know of 436 cases of abuse, we can be sure the real number is much higher. You probably pass abused children in the street every single day.
When the figures were discussed in Parliament, we were reassured that numbers will be monitored in case any ‘alarming’ trends emerge. Like 436 young children being abused is not alarming enough? I’m not going to claim this is just a government issue though. It is a society issue that we all bear some responsibility for. We can all play a part in trying to reverse the trend, or we can bury our heads in the sand and forget we ever heard the number 436. What’s it going to be?
There are some facilities that help abused children and their families in Bermuda. They are overstretched. There is an annual awareness campaign, but nothing that runs throughout the year. I don’t know if there is a 24-hour helpline, but I’d like to know. If I don’t know, chances are most kids don’t know either. Not being involved in this area professionally, I don’t know what resources would be most beneficial or make most difference – although I suspect most teachers and health workers could tell me. I do know that a concerted effort could make a lot of difference.
But what can I do about it? What can you do?
Here are a few challenges:
- Corporations: Bermuda has some of the world’s richest companies. I know it is easy to keep sponsorship to supporting nice things like the arts, but how about sponsoring an abuse hotline, a specialist counselor, an awareness campaign? You’re probably making a bundle being in Bermuda – so a million here or there put back into the community wouldn’t hurt you.
- Government: how about matching sponsorship donations from business to make a campaign really rock? Take it from the cricket fund if you have to. Sure, they may be disappointed, but they’ll get over it a whole lot quicker than those 436 kids.
- World Cup cricketers: you are heading to an event viewed on TV by millions around the world – surely you can find someone who’ll pay to put their logo on your uniforms so that you can hand over a bit of that funding? That would make you not just sporting heroes but real heroes to boot.
- Individuals: aside from donations of money (always good), do you have skills that could be used in a campaign? Are you a skilled graphic artist/copywriter/radio or TV producer? I’m glad to give my skills as an ad writer, anyone want to join me?
- Media: If we come up with the ads, will you run them for free? And I mean all year round, not just as an annual event. Will you give us some editorial?
- Phone companies: how about making available a free 1800 number for an abuse hotline?
Surely with involvement from all of the above, we could between government, business, media and individuals manage a hotline and an extra support worker at the very least. A year-round ad campaign should be feasible. If you think you can help in some way, drop me a message through the Forum on this site. Or do you have something more important to do today than prevent the rape of another pre-schooler?