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Certification programme begins in wake of child sex exploitation case

Debi Ray-Rivers and Jon Brunson of SCARS (Saving Children and Revealing Secrets). A group of community stakeholders came together at the weekend to talk about the issue of child sexual abuse. Held at the offices of Argus Insurance Group and hosted by SCARS, Darkness to Light?s Stewards of Children training was presented to members of Child and Family services, the Bermuda Police Service, The Family Centre, Women?s Resource Centre, The Centre Against Abuse, schools, a sporting organisation, Bermuda Counsellor?s Association and others.

Hot on the heels of a high-profile child sexual exploitation case, the Island’s first charity devoted to the issue launched its programme for certification in spotting, preventing and dealing with child sex abuse.“For us, this case is a tragedy,” said Jon Brunson, vice president of SCARS (Saving Children and Revealing Secrets), referring to the recent suspended sentence of Joshua Crockwell who, when aged 20, caused his 12-year-old victim to attempt to give him oral sex.However, Mr Brunson added: “We can’t let the discussion get caught up in just this one case. It’s about the issue as a whole in this community.”Founders of the group said they’re concerned that the definition of child sexual abuse is not widely understood, including by people mandated to report it.Over the weekend, 20 participants from the education field, sports organisations, and groups such as Child and Family Services, The Family Centre, Women’s Resource Centre, The Centre Against Abuse, schools and the Bermuda Counsellor’s Association, were given SCARS’ first course in certification through the Stewards of Children programme. Officers from the Bermuda Police Service’s Vulnerable Persons Unit also attended.The course was delivered by an accredited US organisation, Darkness to Light.Warned Mr Brunson: “Child sex abusers are by definition very manipulative people who groom their victims, who get to know them and their families so that they drop their guard. The reality is it can be anyone: a soccer coach, policeman, priest, cousin, brother, woman, or older child.”The three-hour training programme, delivered by Mr Brunson, was overseen by Cindy McElhinney, director of programmes at Darkness to Light. Planned weeks ago, its aim is to teach procedures for recognising and dealing with symptoms of child sexual abuse, especially with workers responsible for child care, to minimise the risks.“Our aim is to make it very uncomfortable for the offenders to act,” Mr Brunson added.“Our objective is to deliver the course as often as we can. This first training was delivered at Argus, but we can host the course wherever we have the numbers,” he said. “If schools want us to certify their teachers, we can go there.”He added it was important for members of the community to understand the definition of child sexual abuse under the Child Protection Act.Referring again to the May 9 court case involving a 12-year-old, he said: “Our sincere hope is that this child and her family ultimately hear the message that it is not her fault, and that she did nothing to cause this.”Mr Brunson said it was clear that “the system has failed, and, in particular, failed the victim”.SCARS founder and Executive Director Debi Ray-Rivers said the launch of the training programme was “particularly relevant” in the wake of the recent case.“This was an incredible opportunity to have an important discussion around what we can all be doing to protect the children of Bermuda,” Ms Ray-Rivers told The Royal Gazette. “This was the official launch of the Stewards of Children training and SCARS will be offering the training to organisations and to concerned and responsible community members.”Useful websites:www.scarsbermuda.com, www.d2l.org.