Assault on Innocence
by GMike

News of yet another young child being molested has brought to the fore
a very serious problem facing our nation; the sexual abuse of our
young children. Many times, the perpetrators of these ghastly deeds
are either close family associates or worse yet, close family members.
It is alarming and makes us wonder about the number of sick perverts
living in our midst.

The latest report involves a seven year old girl who was allegedly
abused by her own father. This follows closely on the heels of an
earlier report of another child, this one barely four years old, who
was sexually assaulted and who might even have been infected with a
sexually transmitted disease. It is sickening and a situation that
warrants immediate address by not only the authorities but by every
member of our society.

“It takes the entire village to raise a child”, goes the old African
proverb but unfortunately, that was written for a time when folks
lived together as a community. In this day and age, people quite
often alienate themselves and everyone stays busy minding their own
business. It is not unusual for folks to live right next door to each
other and not even know each other’s names much less what is happening
when doors close at night.

The latest census reveals that as many as 44% of Belize’s population
is under the age of 15. One can only guess at what percentage are
actual victims but what we do know is that in recent years, the number
of reports has steadily been increasing. According to a website
dedicated to the protection of children, “Belize has strong laws in
place for dealing with the sexual abuse of a child, but there is a lax
in the judicial and legal sector in investigating and prosecuting
cases of child abuse.” This is almost as sad as the fact that these
abuses are themselves, actually happening.

The cruel fact is that cases involving the sexual abuse of children
are difficult to investigate and even more difficult to prosecute.
For a long time, it was a topic considered taboo and many people still
find it difficult to even discuss it. It is estimated that for every
case that is reported, there are as many as ten that goes unreported.
The figure might actually be much higher. It is equally alarming that
even of the few cases that are actually reported over fifty percent of
those are eventually withdrawn before they can proceed to trial.
Something must be done.

If every adult who has escaped the agony of sexual abuse would stop
and put themselves in the shoes of these unfortunate children, maybe
we could bring more attention to their plight. This past weekend, a
group of concerned citizens organized a march in an attempt to draw
attention to this big problem. The turnout was dismal but we must not
let that deter us from continuing our campaign to bring focus on this
major evil among us. Our children are depending upon us and we must
not fail them.

Every so often when reports are made public, organizations and
government departments that control big bucks for the address to this
problem, jump up with public campaigns and knee jerk reactions. Once
the public fervor subsides, they withdraw to the comfort of their
private offices and go back to their usual paper shuffling.
Meanwhile, young children continue to suffer and the rest of us
continue on as normal and try our best to ignore and hide our dirty
secrets. We will have to at some point face this beast head-on and
find some workable solution.

We already ask a lot of our teachers but we might need to ask more.
Quite often, they are the only ones who interact closely with these
children outside of the home and they will have to be trained to
better recognize tell-tale signs. Countless studies have been done
and many books have been written on this topic. Too often, children
are too scared or care too much about their abusers to approach
anyone. There are however, signs that can be recognized by those in
close contact. We must pay closer attention and do more to make them
trust us with their problems.

This is a problem that will not go away on its own. Every report must
be taken seriously and we must encourage family members to seek help
at the first sign that something is wrong. It is ridiculous and
selfish for us to allow our children to suffer because we do not want
to bear shame. The shame is not on family members and certainly not
on the victim, but on the heartless and worthless perpetrator.

We must properly investigate each case and yes, deal harshly with any
mischief maker. We do know that there are vindictive persons who
would set children up to tell stories but this must not paralyze our
efforts. Parents must be brave and vigilant and employ “tough love”
even against those close to them. It is written that if “the right
hand offends you, cut it off”. There are few more grievous offenses
than the harming of a defenseless, innocent child. Let do our
endeavor best to put a grip on this atrocity.

G. Michael Reid
Citizen of the world