UWI takes real steps to respond to child sexual abuse
The experience of Child Sex Abuse (CSA), has very real negative effects on victims’ behaviour, psychological state, academic performance, and ultimately affects the wider society.
These were some of the major conclusions of research conducted by a team of experts led by University of the West Indies (UWI) Professor of Gender and Social Change, Rhoda Reddock. The findings were shared at the second annual 'Break The Silence (BTS) Educator and Child Abuse Symposium' at (UWI) School of Education on April 25. The event was a collaboration between the UWI’s Institute of Gender and Development Studies (IGDS) and the School of Education (SOE) Library to mark Child Abuse Awareness month usually recognised in April.
The symposium, which was opened by Director Dr. Jennifer Yamin-Ali, targeted educators, school social workers and guidance officers who were presented with the overview and findings of the BTS research project and also saw the launch of the BTS Teachers Toolkit. The toolkit provides youth-friendly guidelines and activities for upper primary and secondary school teachers to raise awareness and encourage discussions about how gender, CSA and HIV intersect.
According to BTS project leader Professor Rhoda Reddock, “The BTS toolkit is one of the very practical outputs of the research project. From inception, we knew we wanted to develop new protocols, policies and strategies for preventing and responding to CSA and childhood incest in Trinidad and Tobago. With the reports of child sex abuse and incest consistently rising over the years, it is clear that public awareness and commitment to address this issue has increased. The BTS campaign is wide, it is backed by the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) which has extended it to the wider Caribbean region. As an action-research project, we are very pleased to be getting the practical work done and the teacher training is a vital part of that.”
Clinical Psychologist Dr. Nirvana Maharaj, who presented on the psychological impacts of CSA also highlighted the critical role of teachers commenting that, “intervention often begins and is facilitated through a teacher’s recognition of a disturbance in the child’s level of functioning.” Also presenting at the symposium was Dr. Korrine Louison, Head of the Psychological Testing Unit, School of Education. She addressed the issue of the negative impact of CSA on brain development and also made the case for early intervention noting that the earlier the age of inception and longer the duration of CSA, the worse its impact.
Based on the findings presented at the symposium there were strong calls from the experts and attendees alike for:
-The strengthening of social, psychological and mental health services as preventative measures to address child sexual abuse and other root causes of problems like school dropouts, youth gang culture, violence and criminality;
-Gender-sensitive parenting programmes to support parents in addressing the challenges of 21st-century parenting, especially parents in low-income circumstances;
-Age-appropriate gender and sexuality education in schools;
-Strategic measures to increase understanding of the gender and the effects of gender socialisation in homes, schools, media and the wider society.
The public can get involved by using the online resources, purchasing BTS memorabilia, reaching out for guidance on organizing a community or school BTS activity or joining the BTS network.
For more on the Break The Silence campaign, visit www.sta.uwi.edu/igds/breakthesilence
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