February 6, 2009
Child sexual abuse and incestuous relations

by Jason Haynes 06.FEB.09

The first reaction that the majority of people have when hearing of sexual child abuse or incestuous relations is denial:

“I do not have to be concerned about that in my community. That could never happen in my family.”{{more}}

Yet, the unbelievable reality is that a person who sexually abuses children may seem very average and ordinary to the world. He/She may be a leader in the Church, in the community or in business, a sports coach, Scout Leader, or celebrity. In essence, sex offenders do not fit a classic stereotype and are not necessarily uneducated, unemployed, impoverished, or alcoholics.

Many, if not all, perpetrators of these heinous acts are aware of the fact that a sexually abusive relationship is one over which a child or young woman has no control. A trusted family member or friend uses his/her power, as well as a child’s love and dependence, to initiate sexual contact and often to ensure that the relationship continues and remains secret.

One young woman, after battling for five years with her secret had this to say:

“My barter with my brother was that he could do sex on me to practice for his girlfriends. I consented not because I enjoyed it but because I was afraid if I didn’t he would not provide the resources I needed to continue my schooling… I never thought of talking about it. I just couldn’t do it!”

Yet, amidst the reality of the situation, the majority of people find sexual abuse and incest even more difficult to believe or accept when the sex offender is someone they like, admire, love, and/or are married to. Tragically, though, the unwillingness to accept the facts concerning sex offenders leaves children vulnerable to becoming victims and increases the likelihood that they will be further abused.

In recent times, there has been an overt recognition that incest and abuse of children within the family unit in St.Vincent and the Grenadines is significant and perhaps rampant. It is to this end that following a visit to Saint Vincent and the Grenadines in July 2006, an Immigration Officer associated with the Canadian High Commission in Trinidad and Tobago produced a report on social conditions in SVG, with particular emphasis on the state of sexual abuse and incestuous relations in this country. The officer noted that throughout many communities in SVG, people choose to look away rather than to confront the issue. By the same token, it was also noted that there was a growing number of cases of adult men molesting and having sexual relations with young boys. This is particularly noted of persons in positions of authority or with something to offer, such as drugs, money or in some instances, a scholarship!

According to the concluding observations of the United Nations (UN) Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC), in its recent consideration of a report submitted by Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, cases of sexual abuse are frequent and abuse perpetrated by family members “is often hidden.” Not surprisingly, also, the report further revealed that a number of children are involved in commercial sexual exploitation in order to supplement family income. According to the same report, street children, boys in particular, are engaged in commercial sexual activity to the extent that it has prompted a Senior Programme Officer within the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Eastern Caribbean Office to conclude in correspondence dated 16 October, 2006, that “the situation has not changed significantly [in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines], since the issuance of the [CRC] report” on 10 October, 2001.

Despite the fact that children are more likely to be sexually abused by an adult they know, parents teach children to expect danger from strangers and not from trusted authority figures. It is thus understandable, given this fact, that a violation of this trust is so terribly frightening and confusing.

While the extent of incest and childhood sexual abuse is difficult to measure because of the lack of reporting and inconsistencies in oral accounts due to faulty memory, it must be noted that incest and sexual abuse of children take many forms and may include sexually suggestive language; prolonged kissing, looking, petting; vaginal and/or anal intercourse; and oral sex. Yet, parents and caretakers generally are often naive when it comes to acknowledging the fact that sexual contact is sometimes achieved without overt physical force; in many instances there may be no obvious signs of physical harm.

Whether or not the signs of abuse are physical and obvious, sexual abuse in childhood can have lifelong consequences. In fact, survivors often blame themselves long after the abuse has ended—for not saying no, for not fighting back, for telling or not telling, for having been “seductive”, and for having trusted the abuser. Often there is no one to confirm that the abuse was devastating to them. Just as battered women and men who have been raped often blame themselves for the violence, those persons who have survived childhood sexual abuse struggle with self-blame. In fact, teenagers with a history of incestuous relations might “sleep around” in order to feel accepted, or run away from their homes and communities. In addition, depression is another common response to the abuse, and adult survivors often turn to drugs and alcohol to mask the pain. Some of them simply commit or attempt suicide!

Social workers and Counsellors would often express the view that it is very difficult for child-victims to talk about the incest or childhood sexual abuse that they experienced. Some of them may never have told anyone, though the abuse may have continued for years. Over the years, they may have dreaded family gatherings, where a particular uncle or family friend would come after them. For some of them, exploring their bodies with an older brother turned into a sexual encounter, after which they found themselves feeling that they had been taken advantage of.