Friday, July 21, 2006

How safe are our children from molesters?

I was molested when I was 5 or 6 years old. I still remember his name – Tito Jojo. I can still see his face in my mind, his bronzed skin, his curly hair.

He was a trusted family friend, most welcomed in our home, Daddy’s drinking buddy.

For years, I did not know the significance of the fondling that I received from him. It was our big secret, like a game. But despite my innocence, I instinctively knew that he was not supposed to do what he did, so I never forgot. It was only when I was in my teens when I realized what it was all about.

I guess some of you will be shocked by this revelation. Olga’s hanging dirty laundry in public, how shameful! There are things best kept private. She should know that!

Yes, I know all that. But then, I have no qualms about revealing this to you. Actually, I don’t have any personal hang-ups. I rationalized early on that there is no shame at being victimized. After all, it was not my fault. I did not choose to be placed into that situation. I was a young, innocent child then, and consciously, I did not even realize what exactly was going on.

But it still left an effect on me. Call me praning, but that is how I am when it comes to protecting my own daughter. She is 6 years old, around my age when I was violated. When I look at her, I marvel at her innocence and the joy and excitement with which she lives her young life each day. And I am filled with resolve to protect that innocence at all cost and for as long as possible.

After all, if it happened to me, it can happen to my daughter too. And yes, my dear reader, it can happen to your child as well.

And that is exactly the reason why I decided to write about this topic today. I hope to create an awareness among the minds of the readers – most of whom are parents, or aunts and uncles, or sister and brothers to little boys and girls out there – that this menace is all around us. Things like this do not happen only in far off places. These are not merely news stories that we see on TV each evening. These things are happening, and yes, they have happened to people we see around everyday. But more often than not, these experiences are cloaked in secrecy, because of shame and fear of the social stigma that may attach.

Personally, I know of 2 or 3 people who have had similar experiences when they were children. I know of a friend whose 4-year daughter was molested by her teen-aged nephew who lived with them. She learned about it when pus started coming out from the child’s genitalia. She also developed UTI. A few months ago, a 6-year old girl from Siaton was violated by a 14-year old boy. I was told she had blood all over her. A few days ago, right here in Dumaguete, a 4-year old girl had a similar experience. A 9-year old boy did it to her.

The victims that I cited were all girls. But do not be lulled into believing that only the girls are vulnerable to sexual predation. Little boys can become victims too. I spoke with somebody who openly admitted his preference for young boys!

Then, there was this incident in Manila, in one of the big malls there. A little boy went to the men’s room while his mother waited outside. When she started wondering what took him so long, she followed him inside. She found her child in a state of shock, with seminal fluid dripping from his mouth.

These children are fortunate that they escaped with their lives. Others are not so lucky, like the 9-year old niece of my brother-in-law’s driver. She was raped and then stabbed repeatedly. Her mother chanced upon the assailant while he was still stabbing the dead girl. It happened in Sibulan.

We should not be too trusting nowadays. The statistics are staggering: one in four girls and one in six boys will be victims of some type of sexual abuse or assault by the time they reach age 18. There are many types of child sexual abuse, from inappropriate touching, fondling, exposure to pornography, to full forced intercourse and sadistic acts. Abuse may consist of a one-time incident or an ongoing perpetration, which continues throughout childhood into teen years.

Research studies conducted in schools show that for every 3 Filipino children, one child experiences abuse (Manila Bulletin, 11 February 1996). During the first semester of 1999 alone, there were 2,393 children who fell prey to rape, attempted rape, incest, acts of lasciviousness and prostitution (DSWD 1st semester, CY 1999 – Statistics are not from Dumaguete).

Most cases of child sexual assaults are committed by someone the victim knows: a parent, a sibling, another relative, a family friend, a neighbor, a teacher, a member of the clergy.

Some victims still live under the dark cloud of secrecy, unable to reveal their painful experiences. Because of this, they may go through life carrying feelings of guilt, shame, self-blame, anxiety, fear, or may have issues of trust, safety, and self-esteem. They may become angry, hostile, suicidal, may turn to drugs or alcohol, act out sexually, or engage in other high-risk behaviors.

So I am still praning? Ok, fine, call me praning. If fact, go ahead and call me neurotic, OA (over-acting) too, or overprotective, even hyper-protective! You're welcome to help me find more words to describe me, I cannot think of any more right now :-) I will accept any label on my person. If that’s what it takes to protect my child, then so be it.

So dear parents, do take a moment to reflect on how safe your children really are from these predators, be it in your homes, or in their schools, or even in friends' or relatives' houses. Are you too trusting? For instance, do you have a yayo rather than a yaya taking care of your young one? I remember a story a few years ago about a girl right here in Dumaguete City who was abused by her yayo. He used to watch pornographic films in their neighbors’ house.

Do you have male employees in your household? Are your children allowed to go outside your home unaccompanied by an adult?

My daughter has a yaya although she does not need one anymore. Her role is chiefly to keep her company, whether inside or outside our home. She is not required to do anything else while my daughter is with her. She has my orders, never leave Abby’s side, ever. I briefed her thoroughly about the reasons. Abby has strict instructions as well - never to leave our house unaccompanied. This is notwithstanding the fact that our home is surrounded by a high fence and the gates are always closed. You see, we have male workers and that is what’s freaking me out.

In her school, I insisted that the children should be accompanied by an adult whenever they had to leave their classroom to visit the restroom. Another parent suggested that all unused rooms should be kept locked.

That is not all. I told you, I am praning when it comes to this subject. But this article is becoming too long already.

We should be perpetually vigilant when it comes to protecting our children. Not only should we concern ourselves with their physical well-being, but more importantly perhaps, we should strive to keep their mental, emotional and psychological integrity intact.

After all, that oh-so-sweet and precious innocence will be theirs for so brief a time only. Once it is lost, it will stay lost forever. Let them enjoy that for as long as possible. We owe that to them.

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