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Experts' Advice on Preventing and Responding To Child Sexual Abuse

17 April, 2016
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Last week, the claim shared via social media that five children were allegedly raped by a member of staff at the private Futures British School in Cairo, Egypt caused an uproar and prompted the Ministry of Education to launch an investigation.

The mother of one of the five children became aware of an issue when her three-year-old boy was unusually quiet upon returning from school, and complained to his mother about a severe pain in his genitalia. After a visit to the doctor, they discovered that his genitals were swollen. On asking her son if someone had touched him or taken off his pants, the little boy said that a man had taken him and his friends to a room on the roof, where he raped them.

Futures British School has released a brief statement saying that the story is unverified and they are taking "all required legal actions."

While this unverified story has received immense attention, the existence of NGOs like SAFE Kids Egypt, focused on chld sexual abuse, remind us that events like those alleged here are not necessarily isolated incidents. At a time when parents and carers are especially alarmed, BECAUSE reached out for their advice.

In a culture where sex is a taboo, and sexual education and awareness is a rarity, speaking up about rape or any other form of assault is not a piece of cake. Yet awareness among youngsters could indeed avoid similar situations, says Mariam Nader, a counselor and programs manager at SAFE Kids. The NGO is one of the rare organizations focused on spreading awareness and good practice amongst children and their carers.

"Children need to be trained on how to act on the spot," Nader stated.

Some situations are very difficult to prevent, as children are normally rewarded for obedience to adults. So informing a child of what is inappropriate from others could allow them to recognise a situation in which they should refuse or take a strong reaction.

A child's relationship with his or her family makes a pivotal difference in such a situation, the counsellor explained. One problem that assaulted children face is the possibility that their family may not believe their story. In other instances, when the family does believe the child, they do not know what next steps to take.

So recognizing changed behavior is an important possible indictaor, according to Nader. If, for example, a child refuses to go to school, a parent should not simply shout and force it, but rather try to understand why.

"Parents should give a child a safe opportunity [to speak up]," Nader stated.

Another factor is how messages of awareness are delivered to a child victim of sexual abuse. "Feelings of guilt and self blame hit a child upon assault," Nader said, adding that that they often wonder if there is something wrong with them individually. This means it is recommended that the child should attend awareness sessions among other children, rather than conveying messages to him or her on their own.

Looking at the child's reactions to messages in group sessions, along with a child's individual history and personal environment, helps a carer determine how much one-on-one therapy may be needed.

"Consequences of child molestation do not immediately impact the child if they are too young to understand what is happening," stated psychologist Lina Shaker. However the long-term effects are difficult to underestimate. According to Shaker, a few years later the victim is likely to begin to realize and understand the traumatic incident that she or he has been subjected to. Without any awareness or support, and without therapeutic help, this process can be very distressing. Having to deal with feelings of shame, anxiety, anger, depression, and fear alone can be very unsettling to the victim and may lead to self-harm, loss of self-identity, and sexual acting out.

"Our dream is to make awareness [of sexual abuse] a part of school curricula, where all teachers, children and parents get the education," Nader said. In addition, the legal landscape needs improvement.

SAFE Kids are taking steps to spread awareness and education of children through an abuse prevention curriculum that was approved by the government in 2014 for private schools; this should also reach approval for public schools this year. And as this recent story seems to show, this can't happen soon enough.

Image: Lisa L Wiedmeier, CC BY-SA 2.0

Tags SAFE Kids egypt sexual assault rape child rape child sexual assault prevention awareness Futures British School