Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Beware of Scaremonging

"Red alert to parents as convicted child predator arrives in
 Dublin…with a suitcase full of toys”

Have you seen this headline on social media or the tabloids?

The real risk to children in Ireland is much closer to home. 

GUEST POST BY Tom Evans, psychotherapist and father of three, explains the reality behind the headlines and outlines strategies on how to protect our children and equip them to mind themselves.

I find this kind of headline a bit grating. It seems sensationalist, scaremongering and it propagates the notion that the “predator” is the stranger, an unknown, probably a foreigner, oh and yeah, in this case, a black man to boot. I'm not suggesting that anybody ignore the risk posed by this individual. 

I am angered when I hear the details of the gruesome acts perpetrated by Rolf Harris, Jimmy Saville, Max Clifford, Catholic Priests, and others in positions of authority. But sadly, the truth is that children are at much greater risk from those they know and those who they are entrusted to, than the unknown stranger.
That’s a scary and depressing thought and I guess it goes a long way in explaining why we tend to demonise the stranger – who is as different to us in as many ways as possible. 

It’s easier to get our head around that, rather than confront the actual truth, that when it comes to predators of child sexual abuse, we don’t need to go far to find them.

I’m sure those people who shared the above warning on social media meant well and intended to inform fellow-parents and carers of an increased risk. But the stats show the profound misunderstanding of where the greatest risk dwells, and how the misunderstanding is perpetuated by a media in snappy headlines.

A paedophile is a person whose only sexual interest is in children. The majority of those who sexually abuse children are not paedophiles, but heterosexuals who have adult sexual relationships as well as abusing children. Both types of predator perpetrate heinous crimes on children and cause immeasurable suffering to their defenceless victims. 

Figures provided by support organisations tell the story. Each represents a child who has had a crime perpetrated on them and has suffered an ocean of pain as a result. One-in-Four, 2012; (Based on the experience of their Psychotherapy clients for that year, who had been sexually abused as children):
·                 53% were sexually abused within their own families.
·                 8% were abused by family friends or neighbours
·                 16% were abused by members of the clergy.
·                 9% were abused by professionals (coach, teacher, etc)
·                 14% were abused by a total stranger.

From Rape Crisis Network Ireland, 2012; Survivors of child sexual violence reported that in the majority of cases they were abused by someone known to them. Strangers accounted for only 7% of all reported incidents.

Rape Crisis Network Ireland 2007; (from analysis of reports of 1,691 survivors of sexual violence crimes who attended 14 rape crisis centres that year). (Quotes are from Fiona Neary, director of the RCNI at that time).

  • ·       One in every four people who reported to rape crisis centres was abused by more than one abuser.
  • ·       60% of people abused in Ireland in childhood were abused for longer than a year.
  • ·       7% of childhood abuse was perpetrated on girls under the age of four. “We can see clearly that girls and boys are abused differently and also that the nature of abuse can change with the age of the victim”.
  • ·       Girls are much more likely to be abused by a family member - 55%)
  • ·       One third of the abuse committed on boys was perpetrated by a family member.
  • ·       Younger girls are more likely to be abused by family members than girls aged over 11.
  • ·       Boys are much more likely than girls to be abused by an authority figure, which may include a youth leader, priest, or sports coach.
  • ·       Girls are twice as likely as boys to be abused both as children and as adults.
  • ·       While the risk to sexual violence greatly decreases for boys as they grow up, no such safe haven is available to women, as the risk of sexual violence only decreases by 10% in adulthood.
  • ·       The family home remains ‘singularly unsafe for girl children and adult women’.
  • ·       Offenders are overwhelmingly male, at 96%. While the majority of abusers are men, both men and women sexually abuse children.
  • ·       In about a quarter of cases, the abuser is him or herself a child or teenager.
  • ·       The least likely of all sexual abuse to be reported to the Gardaí is abuse of a child by a family member, which is one of the most common forms of abuse. “It is clear that the relationship of the perpetrator to the victim is extremely significant in the victim’s decision of whether or not to report”.
  • ·       In 86% of child abuse cases, the abuser is likely to be well known to the family, if not a family member.

These numbers tell a harrowing story and they show that while the stereotype of the child sexual abuser suggests that they are instantly recognisable as suspect, in fact, in most cases, child sexual abusers appear to be ordinary, trustworthy people and the majority operate very effectively and ‘normally’ in society. Child sexual abusers come from every type of social background. In some cases, they may be socially skilled individuals who take up leadership roles in the community.

When it comes to protecting children from sexual abuse, it’s less likely that you won’t already know the person who is most likely to be the predator.

So how do we protect our children and equip them to protect themselves? I strongly recommend a website called Kidpower.org for powerful suggestions and instructions in this regard. Here are some below. They are Reprinted with their kind permission. For more information, please visit www.kidpower.org

1. Safety. The safety and self-esteem of a child are more important than anyone’s embarrassment, inconvenience, or offense.
2. Make sure you know what someone is doing with your kids.
3. LISTEN to your children and teach them not to keep unsafe secrets. Most abusers cultivate strong relationships with children before doing anything sexual. Often, they start by testing a child’s boundaries by being inappropriate in other ways.
4. Prepare young people to take charge of their safety by practicing skills. One quick action can stop most abuse – pushing someone’s hand away, ordering someone to stop, leaving as soon as you can, resisting emotional coercion, and telling. Kids are more likely to be able to take actions like these when they need to if they understand their safety rules and have the chance to rehearse following these rules in a fun, age-appropriate way.

A good news story this year in my view is the launch of The Child and Family Agency, called Tusla. This is a statutory organisation, established in January 2014 under the Child and Family Agency Act 2013. Under Section 8 of the Act, it is required to support and promote the development, welfare and protection of children, and support and encourage the effective functioning of families. It’s a strong step in the right direction, from government, albeit brought about after years of neglect and denial.

If you’ve been affected by this piece or need further information, then here are some useful links:

The Rape Crisis Network www.rcni.ie

* * *  * * *  * * *  * * *  * * * 

Tom Evans is a father, hubby, writer, counsellor, and psychotherapist based in Midleton, Cork.
Email              tom.evans@corktherapies.ie
Web                http://corktherapies.ie/tom-evans/
Facebook        https://www.facebook.com/corktherapies

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