Suffer the children

Pam
Pam Frampton
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"While we worry openly about the dirty old man in the park, we seldom discuss Uncle Al." - Columnist Ken Burger, writing in The Post and Courier newspaper in Charleston, South Carolina, Sept. 17, 2009

Our daughter was given an interesting assignment in English class last month: describe her own version of Utopia.
What she came up with sounded like a lovely place, full of cultural diversity and creativity, kindness, love, equality and generosity.
But then that part was fairly easy.
What she had trouble with was this conundrum: if you come up with rules for people to live by, there's always the possibility that someone will break them.
How can a place be called Utopia if some of its citizens are harming or violating others?
And what do you do with the people who behave badly?
Our daughter's solution was to try to rehabilitate them and then, if repeated attempts failed, to banish them.
That might work in Utopia, but it doesn't seem to here. Wherever someone is banished - to prison, to another community, to another parish - there is still the potential that they will harm others.
And, of course, they leave victims in their wake who are scarred for life.

Horror stories
In the past two months, we have heard horrific stories of child sexual abuse in this province.
A man anally rapes his five-year-old stepson when the boy's mother isn't home - a pattern of abuse that lasts four years.
Now, the boy finds it hard to trust people, is plagued by bad dreams and his grades have suffered.
In addition to being given a five-year prison sentence, the man has to submit a DNA sample, can't own a gun for 10 years and will have his name added to the national sex offenders' registry - none of which does anything to address the trauma of his young victim.
Last month, a man was sentenced to 7 1/2 years in jail for having sexually abused his stepdaughter for nearly five years - abuse that included making a game of sexual torture by having her choose her punishment from an array of cue cards with abhorrent options: oral sex, vaginal sex, etc.. He also impregnated her, and she had an abortion.
"Because of what happened to me, I view the world as a very evil and horrible place," she told the court.
No wonder. She had been the man's stepdaughter since she was three.
The only way she could make the abuse stop was to videotape him in the act and show it to her school guidance counsellor - a traumatizing experience in itself.
Later this month, Thomas Leonard Molloy of St. John's will find out how he will have to pay for having sexually abused a girl he knew when she was between the ages of eight and 10.
He would force anal intercourse on the girl, and force her to perform oral sex, because he was an adult and in a position of trust and she was afraid to tell anyone.
And these are just three recent cases. Imagine how many have not yet come to light and how many will never be reported.
According to Health Canada's National Clearinghouse on Family Violence, "The most extensive study of child sexual abuse in Canada was conducted by the Committee on Sexual Offences Against Children and Youths. Its report indicates that, among adult Canadians, 53 per cent of women and 31 per cent of men were sexually abused when they were children."
And, as in the recent local cases described here, "Most sexual abuse takes place in the context of an ongoing relationship between the abuser and the child."
Parental warnings to children often involve an admonition to avoid suspicious-looking strangers, when the real danger often lurks much closer to home.
Which is why our school system should consider introducing a sexual abuse prevention program in the classroom, starting in kindergarten.
Now, I'm not advocating making children fearful of everyone, nor am I in favour of sexualizing children at a young age, but surely it can only help if we tell children early on that certain types of behaviour are simply unacceptable.
As the Health Canada fact sheet on child sexual abuse notes, "Children who are well informed about inappropriate touching, who are taught to trust their feelings about situations and people, and who know where to get help if they require it are less likely to be victims of any type of assault."
Sex offender registries, DNA samples, counselling for abusers are all well and good - after the fact.
But unless we are prepared to tackle this problem head on - to acknowledge that abuse happens, often, and within far more homes than we like to consider - and to give our children the courage and the tools they need to speak out about abuse, too many kids will bear the scars of psychological trauma, and of our inaction.

Pam Frampton is The Telegram's story editor. She can be reached by e-mail at pframpton@thetelegram.com. Read her columns online at www.thetelegram.com.

Organizations: Health Canada, Committee on Sexual Offences

Geographic location: Charleston, South Carolina, St. John's, Canada

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