Jones, Adele and Trotman Jemmott, Ena (2009) Child Sexual Abuse in the Eastern Caribbean: The report of a study carried out across the Eastern Caribbean during the period October 2008 to June 2009. Research Report. University of Huddersfield and Action for Children, Huddersfield.

This report from the Centre for Applied Childhood Studies at the University of Huddersfield in the United Kingdom (UK) and the UK-based Action for Children describes an action research project study that investigated child sexual abuse across several Caribbean countries. The study, "Perceptions of, Attitudes to, and Opinions on Child Sexual Abuse in the Eastern Caribbean", was carried out across 6 countries - Anguilla, Barbados, Dominica, Grenada, Montserrat, and St. Kitts and Nevis - in an effort to understand how Caribbean people perceive the problem, what behaviours and social conditions contribute to it, what the impact of child sexual abuse is on those most affected, and what views are held about the forms of action that might be needed. With funding from the United Kingdom (UK) Department for International Development (DFID), the study was commissioned by the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF)/the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) as part of an initiative aimed at reducing sexual violence against children.

A mixed-methods approach was used to gather data from 5 stakeholder groups: the general population, professionals in relevant fields, policymakers, survivors of sexual abuse, and parents. About 1,400 people participated in the study overall. The methods used included: literature reviews: overview of international research; policy and legislative analysis; stakeholder consultation sessions; stakeholder engagement at the regional level; focus group discussions; practice-focused interviews with key informants; policy-focused interviews with key informants; narrative interviews with adult survivors in 3 countries; and a community survey of perceptions, attitudes, and opinions across a representative sample in each country.

Results are shared with regard to how participants define childhood and sexual abuse, as well as what the scale of the problem is in the Caribbean region. In brief, the research revealed that there is both heightened awareness of child sexual abuse and, in the perception of the majority of people who participated in the study, recognition that it is a "serious and wide-spread problem in the Caribbean". With regard to communication, specifically, the study suggests that there are particular issues for Caribbean societies that affect the reporting of abuse and that may also add to problems of estimating scale: In small societies, anonymity and confidentiality cannot be assured; the perpetrator may be in a position of power or is likely to know someone who is and may be able to influence the outcome of a report; the procedures for dealing with reports, systems for monitoring abuse, and services to deal with the impact of disclosure are underdeveloped; cultural values about the status of children means that they are not always believed; and poverty and the economic and social reliance of many Caribbean women on men mean that action which may affect the main breadwinner (such as reporting abuse) is often undermined by women themselves. Again highlighting communication-related findings of the survey: several forms of sexual abuse described here take place in an atmosphere of secrecy and are kept hidden.

The research revealed evidence of new trends in child sexual abuse and also patterns of abuse. Communication-related trends include: Cell phone pornography was reported as a growing problem among children. Children use the cameras on their cell phones to take sexual images of themselves and their friends and then distribute the images. Also, internet abuse was noted as increasing: There were reports of children being approached by predators through social networking sites.

In summary, the study identified interlocking factors that perpetuate abuse as follows: harmful sexual cultures (implicit social sanctioning), males with sexually abusive behaviours, females with complicit behaviours, officials with collusive (condoning) behaviours, lack of awareness of effects and consequences, lack of collective public/professional outrage, ineffective systems for reporting and responding to abuse, patriarchal values which place protecting male status and privilege above protection of the child, and disempowerment of children.

Legislation to adequately protect children was generally regarded as ineffective and was seen as being compounded by the failure of the criminal justice system. Respondents pointed to "a severe shortage of skilled persons to intervene and provide therapeutic interventions for victims". Another issue raised by many respondents was the complicity of professionals who are aware of abuse and do not act to report it or to protect the child. Furthermore, while, in theory, children should be able to tell their non-abusing parent about sexual abuse or any adult in a position of authority or trust, the study suggests that most children would not risk disclosing to a parent or other adult - they would most likely tell a friend.

Recommendations cited in the report include:

1.Develop a regional (and country-level) strategic plan for building abuse-free childhoods based on a "whole of society approach".

2.Treat child sexual abuse as a public health issue, which would "push the problem higher up the political agenda and would enable governments to access funds from different sources to tackle the problem."

3.Adopt the "child/family friendly approach to budgeting, social planning and economic development", which advocates making the support of the family and the well-being of children the responsibility of every Ministry; it involves identifying multi-sectoral targets and requires the ring-fencing of budgets to achieve progress.

4.Introduce child-sensitive justice systems for child sexual abuse crimes (e.g., reconsider the approach to mandatory reporting, which requires adequate infrastructure for implementation and monitoring, and "is unlikely to result in the social transformation needed to stop" child sexual abuse).

5.Introduce specific interventions based on evidence of their effectiveness in other contexts that can be adapted for the region and which are not high-resource dependent - e.g., build capacity and infrastructure for child protection.

In addition to these recommendations, the report details other suggestions and ideas put forward by research participants and through stakeholder consultations - many of which revolve around behaviour and attitude change.

Child_Sexual_Abuse_in_the_Eastern_Caribbean_Final_9_Nov.pdf - Published Version

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