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Local activist vows to continue mission to start child sex abuse charity

A children’s rights campaigner has vowed to press on with her mission despite having her application for a child sex abuse charity turned down.

Debi Ray-Rivers says Bermuda needs better laws and resources to deal with the sexual abuse of children.

She is now contemplating an appeal of the Charity Board’s decision on her newly-incorporated organisation, SCARS.

Informed by letter from the Registrar General that her proposal duplicates existing services, Ms Ray-Rivers was told she could appeal to Community Development Minister Michael Weeks. She said: “I was taken aback, but I’m not angry; I know there’s a reason why it’s been turned down, and I need to take some time before meeting with the Minister and deciding on a next step. But I’m determined to keep going with this.

“Support has been overwhelming there are so many people who want to be a part of this. Everybody has a child somewhere in their life, and a lot of people have said to me they know of people who have been abused, or have been abused themselves.”

The group, SCARS for Saving Children and Revealing Secrets has potential donors, but cannot yet solicit publicly. “Funding is critical for me to promote my initiatives, and in order to raise funds from the public I must have charitable status,” Ms Ray-Rivers said. “If I’m not approved, I can’t raise money.”

She called the charity “a calling”, after she personally experienced the effects of child sexual abuse in Bermuda.

“After I had this experience, I realised that we just didn’t have the awareness that we need in Bermuda. I didn’t feel like the system we have here was adequate. In particular, one of the visions of SCARS is to form a child advocacy centre, with a safe, friendly environment.

“I also think there are counsellors out there who are not reporting incidents. Parents and families don’t want to deal with court, because the judicial system lets these victims down. They try to deal with it through therapy. Therapy is crucial, but equally the victim needs to see accountability and consequence.”

The charity’s mission statement calls for a national campaign to raise awareness.

“Unfortunately, because child molesters are so manipulative, the community needs to be made more aware of the issue. It’s not about persecuting people, but this is a selfish act done by someone who doesn’t care what happens to the innocent child. You would want to be part of SCARS if you love children, hate evil and believe in justice.”

She added: “The problem is it’s usually someone you know, not the guy out sitting on the wall. It’s someone who has been entrusted with a child, and that’s what makes this so difficult. If the crime were committed by a stranger, an enemy, I think families wouldn’t hesitate to go through the prosecution process. But if it’s a member of your family, or a school coach, a youth director at your church, it gets more complicated.”

Pointing out the US group Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), she said: “Why don’t we have a clearly-visible advocacy group for child sexual abuse here in Bermuda?”

And she said Bermuda needed mandated, required training for anybody hired to take care of children. Her organisation wants to train two Bermudians through the US ‘Darkness to Light’ stewards of children programme “to bring that training to Bermuda”.

Ms Ray-Rivers said she had met with the Coalition for the Protection of Children in April, out of concern that the two charities might overlap. Coalition Director Sheelagh Cooper is now a member of the group’s six-person board of directors, which includes lawyer Mark Pettingill.

Ms Ray-Rivers was contacted by this newspaper after the charity’s application to incorporate was published in the official gazette on July 1.

Now, she said, the group will evaluate its next step and meet with Government. “Our problem too in Bermuda is that we’re small,” she said. “Everybody knows everybody else, and everybody’s related. But the issue isn’t about ourselves, this is about innocent children. And nobody is above the law.”

Useful web site: www.d2l.org.

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Published August 03, 2011 at 2:00 am (Updated August 03, 2011 at 9:35 am)

Local activist vows to continue mission to start child sex abuse charity

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