|Northwestern Ontario Women's Centre
184 Camelot Street, Thunder Bay, On
Stopping Sexual Abuse in Costa Rica|
by Monique Russell
There is a collective sigh as the last little boy finishes his presentation. He has told a story about a nine or ten year old girl who was sexually abused by her stepfather, and the abuse was only discovered when she became pregnant. This presentation marks the end of yet another elementary school workshop run by the staff from Defence of the Children International in Costa Rica.
The children were asked to present stories of sexual abuse, as they understand it. Every story had a female victim and an older male abuser. It is a familiar story that although still horrifying, it is one that the world is relatively comfortable with. The power struggle is clear, and people are strangely willing to accept that older men can and may abuse weaker or younger females. However, according to the staff of DCI and other human rights organizations, a form of sexual abuse that is sadly often overlooked is when children abuse other children. It is much harder to imagine children hurting other children in this way, to distinguish abuse from children’s games or even what path of treatment is most appropriate.
In an attempt to begin a global change in attitude, DCI Costa Rica recently held an International Training Seminar on sexual abuse in San Jose, Costa Rica. Representatives from 10 different countries were invited to present their research on sexual abuse and to work together to create an international protocol on sexual abuse. The proposed “declaration of San Jose on Sexual Abuse” will be an agreement on the best methods to monitor and prevent sexual abuse within public and private institutions, such as residential schools, orphanages and remand homes.
The initial presentations made by each country reminded how cultural differences present immense challenges when trying to create an international protocol. In some parts of Africa sexual abuse was simply never discussed, let alone treated or prevented. In some regions the tradition of marrying very young women presents an additional challenge. In Eastern Europe it is suspected that much abuse goes unreported because of the reluctance of children to step forward and make a report. Overall, the incidents of reported children against children abuse were incredibly low especially versus the estimated number of incidents by staff and children of the various institutions.
The protocol that is being created will include guidelines for the detection, reportage, and treatment of sexual offenders, with the goal of creating a world free from the sexual abuse of children. It is expected to be completed in 2004.
DCI is a non profit organization dedicated to promoting and defending the rights of children and adolescents in Costa Rica.
Monique Russell is in San Jose, Costa Rica on an internship through Human Rights Internet.