Tell it like it is . . . Are you guilty of keeping St Lucia’s greatest secret?
By Delia Dolor
It amazes me how persons are so passionate about politics; the promises, the deceit, the personal lives of ministers, yet when issues such as child molestation and incest arise, it is discussed vehemently then ‘swept under the carpet’ until another revolting episode.
Apart from a few caring persons in the community, who set up various initiatives, nothing happens except gossip and complaints that the issue is unresolved.It is true that action speaks louder than words; the actions of a mother setting her house on fire with her three children inside, the violent murder of Marcia Jules-Philbert, the abhorrent sexual assault of a three year old girl—all happening in St Lucia in the last month, justifies action by the people. The gossip must stop. Allow me to “tell it” like it is.
Put yourself in a mother’s place and imagine this: You’ve left your child in the care of a family member. The family member washes your child in preparation for sleep. They instruct or force your child either by dialogue or action to perform sexual acts on them or they perform sexual acts on your child. The family member then threatens your child not to tell anyone or tells them it’s a secret they must both keep. Worse still, your child is too young to talk.
If this happened to you, what would you do? Many who have found themselves in this position feel there is nothing they can do but protect their child. For many this means not telling anyone but this action permits perpetrators to continue. And those who are reported, wait several years before they are sentenced. Therefore as a nation, we have two elements to face and apply. One: The perpetrator must be confronted. Two: Perpetrators have to be sentenced quicker.
Consider pervasive myths about incest and child sexual assault: Myth: Children lie about incest. Fact: Research shows children very rarely lie about incest. Statistics confirm that in 98% of cases children’s statements are found to be true. In fact, children are often very reluctant to disclose what is happening to them, making detection difficult. Myth: Most child sexual assaults are committed by strangers in isolated locations. Fact: The overwhelming majority of children are assaulted in their own or the offender’s home by a male they know and trust. In most cases the perpetrator is the father, stepfather, grandfather, brother, uncle or mother’s defacto.
Myth: Men who commit incest are “abnormal” or “sick”. Fact: Only a small percentage of perpetrators have a recognizable mental illness. The “average” offender is likely to be a “normal” man with a family and a job. Some survivors say they don’t know what was worse; being abused by a family member or being told that they liked it, that’s why it was done to them. One victim recalls:
“The first time was the day before my first day of pre-school and it continued until I got my first period at the age of 11. He got caught by family members many times but all that they did was talk to him, “asked” him to stop, of course he never did.” A woman of 43 told me, “I haven’t spoken to my brothers for over 30 years. They knew my grandfather was sexually abusing me but they just ignored my cries. My father used to beat my mother and since she married him against the wishes of her parents she couldn’t tell anyone he was molesting me. I can remember looking into her eyes begging her to do something about it, but she always avoided my stare.” She continued, “If someone would stand up and be counted on a national level, we may get heard, but there’s too much shame attached to it.”
A Child Vulnerability Study was conducted during 2005 by the Governments of Barbados, St Lucia and St Vincent and the Grenadines. The aim was to enable the three countries to fulfill their obligations to children in terms of the United Nations General Assembly Special Session on HIV/AIDS, the Millennium Development Goals and other international and regional instruments. One of their key findings was that children living in poverty are thought to be more vulnerable to abuse and maltreatment, and children in overcrowded dwellings are at greater risk of incest and sexual abuse. They stated further:
“Sexual abuse is the most highly reported form of child abuse in St Lucia.” Alarmingly it goes on, “Research suggests some mothers turn a blind eye to the sexual abuse of their children for fear of losing the financial support of their partners.” They recommended that St Lucia make reporting of abuse mandatory; improve policy, protocols and legislation, involving all ministries providing social services, along with training and enforcement of these protocols; introduce parenting programmes.
In St Lucia incestuous relationships might be as common in some villages and towns as adult heterosexual promiscuous relationships. It has become an unspoken cultural tradition. No one asks for it. No one discusses it. No one complains about it. Sexual assault is one of the most underreported crimes. More than half of sexual assaults go unreported. Males are the least likely to report a sexual assault, though it is estimated that they make up 10 percent of all victims.
The St Lucia Crisis Centre has made three referrals of child molestation to Human Services this year. Do you believe that is a true reflection of the number of occurrences of child abuse this year? I think not! Despite my leaving several messages for Human Services asking for the current statistics of child molestation and incest in St Lucia and what the department plan to do about it, I am yet to receive a response.
The bottom line is this: Abuse of our children is not acceptable. When will we, as a people who care about our children, stand up and be counted? From where I’m standing—never! Heaven forbid that St Lucia has an incident resembling a Florida woman this weekend; her home was visited by burglars, who then forced her 12-year-old son to have sex with her!