I am a survivor of sexual violence. It happened to me when I was seven years old and living in Linstead, St. Catherine. My parents knew what happened and were supportive, but it wasn’t until I was in my thirties and living in Canada for school, that I felt comfortable talking about it publicly. It was at a ‘Take Back the Night’ rally designed to empower survivors. It was only after I came back from Canada that I started discussing my assault with my brothers, and I have been close to them all my life.
Should a little girl living in Linstead today be assaulted, I cannot say that her experience would be drastically different, because I think we are still not having those conversations about sexual violence out in the open. Linstead is part-town, part-country, and I think it is still pretty conservative in certain ways, like much of Jamaica. It’s also a small town so everything becomes public knowledge.
Not enough has changed to protect the victims
When child abuse happens, one of the worst things is that victims become almost demonised in the process of seeking justice, even when their family actually tries to support them. We act like speaking about the abuse is the problem, not the abuse that was done to the child.
So what happens? They push the child to forgive the man, or she will push herself because she has heard how we talk about other victims and she doesn’t want people to talk about her in that way. Or she downplays what happened to her because she feels telling her story is making everybody upset. Or people come to her and tell her how hard the man’s life will be if he has to go to prison. Or the family decides they won’t take it to the police, because if they do things will only get worse for the child. Some parents actually blame the child. So the victim decides to shut up about it.
But what about me? I’m the child, I’m the baby. While you adults are so busy wrestling with all these issues, who is protecting me?
“Should a little girl living in Linstead today be assaulted, I cannot say that her experience would be drastically different, because I think we are still not having those conversations about sexual violence out in the open.” – Carla Moore, survivor. #ENDviolence pic.twitter.com/ypWeiLqs4R
— UNICEF Jamaica (@UNICEFJamaica) August 7, 2019
I felt that I was the one who did something wrong
We need to eradicate the idea that is OK to tell our children that if you are silent then nothing happened. It happened whether you spoke about it or not, and your child has a right to be heard because if something happens then you must protect them.
These are the kind of things that make people suppress the pain for years. As a victim you should not have to wait so long to talk about it; you shouldn’t have to wait so long to get help for it; and you shouldn’t have to wait so long to heal from it. You should be comfortable doing what you need to do to make yourself whole again. Your family, community and society should all offer that to you.
Even though I had a family that was supportive of me, all of the things in my head and around me told me that I did something wrong. It’s urgent that we change this.
Create a space for the conversation
Not having a space to talk about it, and holding it in for so long did a lot of damage to me. I think even if it makes us uncomfortable, when you think about the long-term damage sexual assault does to young girls, we have to create a space for the conversation.
It does not matter if it makes us feel uncomfortable, it does not matter if we have to shift the social norms. We just have to do it. We cannot go on where one in five women might be wounded in this way and not do something drastic to change things. We have to change things so women can start to heal earlier, before it becomes entrenched, before the trauma starts ruining their relationships, before it cripples their self-esteem, before it basically undoes their core sense of self. We deserve better.
I just want to help prevent another little girl from having to wait so long to speak about what happened to her.
To the people who want to silence child abuse victims like me:
What about me? I’m the child, I’m the baby. While you adults are so busy wrestling with all these issues, who is protecting me?
— UNICEF Jamaica (@UNICEFJamaica) July 31, 2019
What is UNICEF doing?
The 2002 and 2008 Reproductive Health Surveys both report that 20 per cent of young women below 19 say that their first sexual encounter was forced. UNICEF will focus increasingly on advocating for increased measures for the prevention of sexual violence against girls. To strengthen the national response we are currently holding a series of consultations, including with survivors, to produce a clear situation analysis, identify gaps and make recommendations for actions that need to be taken.