In July I attended a very timely and informative Housing Community meeting at the Kirwan Terrace Community Center that focused on sexual violence. The V.I. Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Council sponsored the meeting and the discussion was led by a panel of experts.
As we all are aware, not a week goes by that we do not hear or read about an individual being raped or abused. Sadly, the majority are young children. I attended the meeting to gain information on Domestic Violence and to find out more about what I can do. Although there were people in attendance, I was somewhat disappointed that there were so few attendees. Unfortunately, people rarely get involved until after an incident touches them or their families personally.
Although I am deeply saddened when anyone is victimized by sexual violence, the most horrible violation is when a child becomes a victim. A panelist stated that 61 percent of all rape victims are under 18 years of age and that children are most targeted between the ages of seven and 13. Toddlers and young teens trust adults to do the right thing, and are at our mercy. As I sat through the community meeting, I heard a number of things that could be done to protect our children. I have no children of my own; I do, however, participate in the lives of two of my young cousins and I would be devastated if anything were to happen to them. As adults we must not break that trust, and must be vigilant about stopping those who do.
As parents and caregivers most of us do all that we can to protect our children; unfortunately, as hard as we try, there will be times when the predator's main goal is to prey upon the unexpected and the unprepared. These predators will become wolves in sheep's clothing and we will not be able to recognize them. They will deceive us as family friends, uncles, fathers, brothers, sisters, mothers, aunts, priest, nuns, teachers, or other children themselves.
Although painful to accept, there are some things we can do to try to protect our children.
As parents we must build open lines of communication, to protect our children. From an early age we must build a relationship of trust with our children so they will feel as free to talk with us about sex as they are about play. We must build a relationship of solid support that assures our children that, when they come to us to discuss abuse, we will believe what they tell us.
As parents and other individuals responsible for young children we must all make certain to: 1) know where your children are at all times; 2) know personally who they are with; 3) know what they are doing; and 4) set up personal boundary rules for their bodies early in life, so they are aware when they are being touched improperly and will not be afraid to share that with us immediately.
As a community we can protect our children through: 1) supporting the efforts of social service and law enforcement agencies that deal with sexual and domestic abuse; 2) communicating to the abused the importance of seeking treatment; and 3) supporting the rights of children to receive accurate information about sexual abuse.
As a community, we must gather together to stop domestic violence. I ask that we get together to prevent and stop domestic violence. We can begin by breaking the cycle of violence. We have a tendency to ignore the violence and abuse around us, saying that what happens to our neighbors is none of our business. But when it comes to violence and sexual abuse, it becomes everyone's business.
Adults who were abused as children are more likely to become abusers themselves if they do not receive help and treatment. The responsibility of breaking this cycle belongs to each and every one of us.
We must support our local agencies. We must support our law enforcement officers, social workers and medical personnel. We must insist that these professionals and other persons (teachers, school nurses, coaches, etc.) who interact with our children be professionally trained by experts to detect and work with abused children. We must also remember that child abuse and violence is not limited by race, religion, or economic barriers: It affects us all.
I thank the V.I. Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Council for sponsoring this event. I thank the panel of guests: attorney Douglas Dick and attorney Kelly Evans, Justice Department; Arline Swan, probation officer; Vida Herbert, Human Services Department; Dr. Robin Ellet, Community Health; Clarrisa Belleau, victim advocate coordinator-FRC and Lt. Randolph De Souza, Police Department. Their dedication to the children of this community is beyond measure.
I would also like to thank the V.I. Law Enforcement Planning Commission for the pamphlet "Sexual Abuse a Threat to our Children," which provided me with information for this editorial.
St. Thomas, V.I.
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