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‘Football legend guilty’ – where do we go from here?

Prevention measures: we can combat child sex abuse, says Kelly Hunt, of the Coalition for the Protection of Children

After the Wendell Baxter case, what will be our legacy as the adult witnesses of crimes against our children? Will we ignore this taboo subject that is continually being brought to our attention, or will we take a stand and fight for change?

We pay dearly for the victimisation of our children. Child sexual abuse is not only a serious crime but violates the human rights and personal integrity of a young person. This maltreatment during childhood can disrupt early brain development and cause harm to the nervous and immune systems.

Numerous other health consequences may result from childhood trauma, and evidence shows that child abuse is a significant component behind the history of violent offenders, substance abuse issues, delinquency, prostitution, and mental and physical health problems — including eating disorders, depression, emotional and behavioural changes, loss of trust, self-blame and low self-esteem.

Successful prevention and intervention can halt the negative outcomes on individuals and society as a whole.

The need for early preventive education is clear as inappropriate touching between peers, the sexual exploitation of children and other forms of child abuse continue to be problems on the island. In conjunction with the Department of Education and with the support of Saving Children and Revealing Secrets, the Coalition for the Protection of Children introduced the Speak Up Be Safe programme last autumn. It was received as a much needed opportunity to engage children in an empowering, evidence-based discussion. It serves to provide a consistent curriculum that will equip students with important tools and life skills that are fundamental to child abuse prevention.

In addition to increasing knowledge of abusive behaviours and resistance skill building, there is a focus on creating a responsive safety network with peers, teachers, parents/caregivers, and other adults that the child identifies as safe. The curriculum redirects focus towards the adult’s responsibility to keep our children safe. It is our job to protect children and our responsibility to report it when we notice a child at risk or being harmed.

Together we can effectively fight this issue. We can implore that our children be trained in preventive education; we can become Scars-trained adults and spread awareness. We can put preventive measures in place and implement policy in our schools, clubs and all other organisations so that one-on-one interaction with children is both observable and interruptible.

Collectively, we can create a culture where we do not tolerate child abuse. As a group of proactive citizens, we can leave a legacy where covering up and apathy towards harming young people is a thing of the past, and the belief in speaking up to keep our children safe is the way of the future.

Kelly Hunt is executive director of the Coalition for the Protection of Children. For more information on Speak Up Be Safe, e-mail cpc@logic.bm