Child sexual abuse is a global problem
Robbed childhoods, difficulties in intimacy later in life and survivors who can be perpetrators, because it is a self-perpetuating problem, are all symptoms of the effects of child sexual abuse (CSA).

In response to my two recent articles about child abuse and protection, one Today's Zaman reader sent a letter saying that it was very informative and thought provoking. The reader revealed: "I am just beside myself with emotions. I too was a victim of childhood abuse and have learned to move past the pain…" Another Today's Zaman reader wrote: "I wish I'd known more about the signs to look for and 'grooming' strategy when my children were young. Now, knowing what I do, I can look back and recognize my ex-husband's behavior for what it was. Gifts and money given, open bathroom and bedroom doors and many other signs were there!"

In my piece "Prevention and protection" (Nov. 2, 2012) I shared some of the practical signs to watch for, which I learned at a recent workshop presented by Rich Ramirez, an officer of Child Protective Services in the US. The presenter also described the profile of an abuser and guidelines for an establishment or individuals to follow for the reporting process. We would be misled if we were to believe that the stereotype of a dirty old man in a raincoat is the only danger as it leads to a false sense of security regarding possible offenders who don't appear so threatening. Often the abuser appears like a normal, decent person; possibly she or he can be a leader who is well thought of in the community. Talking to the person, you'd never suspect them of anything and can't pick her or him out as fitting a certain profile.

It is disturbing to hear that the most likely offenders are workers in schools or religious and community programs, or volunteers who transport children, babysitters, etc. Be aware of the older students or adults the kids hang around, etc. You are kidding yourself if you are relying on "stranger danger." This will leave your family, your establishment -- be it a school or church or club -- unprepared.

Trusted adults -- both male and female -- can easily mislead children, and most incidents of CSA take place in the context of an ongoing relationship between the abuser and child. The process starts with gaining their favor, giving attention the child misses elsewhere. This is known as "grooming."

When you suspect CSA or have been informed by a child, the reporting process is important. Ramirez outlined these steps in his workshop:

· Develop some kind of reporting process for receiving concerns/reports from adults or children about unacceptable behavior.

· The process should provide step-by-step guidance for actions to be taken if there are concerns about a child's safety and welfare.

· The process is regularly and openly communicated to all staff and volunteers as well as families of children served by the agency.

· Checking out the claims should be done by those with experience (e.g., Rich Ramirez), not a group of leaders with no previous experience.



The protocol should include as a minimum: a policy of accepting all reports of abuse, current or historical, regardless of perceived validity or severity; a protocol for the safe reporting of allegations of child abuse; a designated person or office tasked to receive all complaints; written response policies that contain clear statements about confidentiality; and preliminary investigation protocols to determine if there is a need for internal investigation.

It is also important to develop processes for reporting allegations to the appropriate authorities -- whether it occurs in the home country or other countries; written protocols regarding investigations; and trained, unbiased individuals to investigate staff or engage with specialized groups for this.

People to interview:

· Victim

· Alleged offender

· Witnesses

· Those whom the victim indicates are witnesses or can contribute to the investigation

· Those whom the alleged offender indicates are witnesses or can contribute to the investigation

Some countries have more developed programs than others. The challenge in Turkey is the lack of one-stop evaluation centers especially designed to assist in the evaluation of children and families by the system. The International Society for Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect (ISPCAN) reports that the Turkish state structure currently approaches child abuse from only the criminal perspective rather than a rehabilitative one. There is a severe lack of resources in the field of social services, while law enforcement and prosecution agencies enjoy excessive resources. Overall, all state agencies have very poor training in how to respond to child abuse and neglect. However, this is gradually changing.

Our natural instinct is to protect our loved ones -- no matter what it takes. We should ensure that state agencies are prepared to help us do just that.

CHARLOTTE MCPHERSON (Cihan/Today's Zaman) CİHAN
Last Modified: 2012-11-05 10:00:08
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