MANILA, Philippines – As children, we are taught not to talk to strangers to protect ourselves from any form of harm. But an equally important lesson, though not as emphasized, is to be careful around the people we already know, the people we trust.
“Most crimes against children are by someone they know like a family member or members of their community who have a position of favor or influence,” said Tim Gerrish, who heads the delegation of the UK-based Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre (CEOP).
Or in some cases, it is a family member, like a parent.
Abject poverty and distortions of parenthood
Nancy Agaid started working as a social workers in the early 80s in Ermita, Manila back when it reigned as the city’s red light district.
“I had one case of two children aged 9 and 12 who were stuffed in a balikbayan box and delivered to a client’s room. When he would open the box, the kids would come out and do his bidding. When he was done, he would put the kids back into the box along with some money and send it back to its sender – the children’s mother,” related Agaid.
Agaid’s many years as a social worker have exposed her to all times types of child sexual abuse. Now a senior training officer for the Stairway Foundation, an NGO working with sexually abused children, Agaid said that most the cases they handle are incest.
“A 14-year-old girl was being raped by her father. When she told her mother about the abuse, her mother did not believe her. She only believed what was happening when her husband had raped the two younger daughters,” related Agaid.
“The mother told me about it, but you know what she wanted to know? She asked me, ‘Anong gagawin ko? Mahal ko asawa ko.’ (What will I do? I love my husband.)”
“Dati naniniwala ako sa kasabihan na walang magulang na gusto mapariwara ang kanyang anak. Pero hindi yun totoo; hindi laging ganoon,” Agaid said. (I used to be believe in the saying that there is no parent who does not want the best for their child. But that isn’t always true.)
In some cases, Agaid said it is extreme poverty and the desperate need to survive that pushes parents to prostitute their children. In other cases, it is a distorted sense of parental entitlement.
Citing the case of the father who raped his 3 daughters, Agaid said the victim’s father asked her, “Ano ba problema nyo, ma’am, anak ko naman yan. Hindi naman iyan 7 years old, 14 na. Ayaw niya yan, pag nag-asawa siya, alam na niya gagawin niya kasi tinuruan siya ng tatay niya.” (What is your problem, ma’am? She’s my daughter and it’s not like she’s 7 years old. She’s 14. When she gets married, she will know what to do with her husband because her father taught her well.)
According to the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), after abandoned/neglected children, sexually abused children are the second most common case they handle.
The most common form of sexual abuse is rape, followed by incest and acts of lasciviousness. The DSWD recorded a relatively large number of incest cases, 32.9% in 2009 and 37.5% in 2010. Victims are predominantly female, 97.6% in 2009 and 90.5% in 2010.
However, Agaid said that child sexual abuse is always under reported, more so in highly conservative Philippine society. Religious teachings about what constitutes immoral behavior contribute to victim-blaming and guilt. Agaid also points to another factor that impedes victim disclosure.
“There is a huge burden on the victim to come forward because of the shame that she will bring to the family by exposing a family member who is the perpetrator,” shared Agaid.
“It is a misconception that child sexual abuse only happens among the poor when in reality, it happens across all social classes. The poor are more inclined to speak up about it because they have nothing to lose. The higher the social class, the more they have to lose in terms of reputation and social standing and the less likely the victim will come forward,” said Agaid.
Scared into silence
The feelings of confusion and fear that accompany child sexual abuse are compounded by the feelings of guilt when the perpetrator is a relative.
“The child has to deal with questions like ‘how could someone that I trust to protect and take care of me do this to me?’” said Lucy Field, CEOP child protection advisor.
In addition, Field shared that the number one reason why children don’t disclose abuse to another person is because they are afraid that no one will believe them.
“Children rarely make up stories about sexual abuse,” said Field.
CEOP in partnership with the British embassy conducted a 3-day training on safeguarding children from both online and offline abuse among the various partner stakeholders in education, law enforcement and NGOs. – Rappler.com
Report cases of child sexual abuse to the Philippine National Police Women and Children’s Protection Center through the Aling Pulis 24-hour hotline at 0919-777-7377.
This was also published here.