To stop child abuse we must understand what drives abusers’ behaviour

Having supported the 2011-2015 Children and Violence Report of the Jamaica Crime Observatory (JCO), it was very encouraging to see its findings recently on the cover of The Sunday Gleaner. The JCO is a unit of the Ministry of National Security and a partner of UNICEF.

It is important for Jamaicans to see the facts and figures as they help us to put violence against children into perspective. Much is being done in the child protection sector but we need to do much more to reduce the incidence of violence. One of the things that we need to do is improve our understanding of the perpetrators of child abuse; so we can then persuade them to change their behaviour and that of future abusers.

Values and attitudes continue to drive abuse if unchecked

There are values and attitudes that we don’t fully understand that are nurturing and allowing this violence to flourish. We as programme planners and policy makers, sometimes think that people who behave, antisocially, must know that they are doing something wrong – but unfortunately, some do not. We need to reach these persons, because otherwise they will continue to violate our children and feel comfortable doing so.

I think the problem is a bit more complex than we think it is. A one-size-fit-all message will fail to get inside some people’s heads. We’re not dealing with a homogenous group when we look at those who abuse, who assault, who murder children. We need various strategies and messages. A different way of thinking is needed on our part if we’re to begin to influence the perpetrators. A Stop the Violence Now or Don’t hurt our children message sadly means nothing to some people.

Profiling abusers will teach us how to change their learned behaviour

Let us consider the way some men think about women. If as a boy you grew up thinking that a woman’s purpose in life is to serve men sexually, then you might not think twice about raping the girl next door if she turns down your advances. We need to understand the thinking of the perpetrator. What we need are profiles on the types of perpetrators.

Many of them think that they are not doing a bad thing, so the messages really need to go out in a more structured way explaining what is wrong for children and why it is wrong. And we have to talk to them in order to understand them. Caregivers also have to be targeted with relevant messages and engaged in discussion. You will have mothers who say ‘Well it happened to me too and I’m okay. She will just have to deal with it’; and others may say that ‘a little sex never kill nobody,’ in response to the rape of a child.

Big gaps in data must be filled to build profiles of abusers

The police have a role to play in assisting this process by providing child protection service providers with information on the characteristics of persons arrested and charged for crimes against children. Much of the data made available by the police focuses on victims and incidents, which of course is important. Better collective management of data will enable the sector to better understand perpetrators and get into their headspace to find out drives them.

It is good to see the interest that child protection professionals have been expressing and demonstrating over the past decade where data on children is concerned. This is an area of big developments but also big gaps. There really is a need on the part of the child protection sector – including justice and security – to know where data is available, to access it and to become actively engaged in feeding data into the system. Some agencies don’t have the time to put even their own data together and analyze it.

Widespread view of females as sexual objects

The values and attitudes that allow and justify early exposure to sex and initiation of sexual intercourse are like a brick wall. There persists a widespread view of girls and women as objects to be used sexually. I know a young woman who was studying, putting herself through school and she feels that she was raped because some men in the community thought that she was too nice and she had to be put in her place. Public education messages need to be informed by what we learn from these perpetrators in different situations.

Sexual abusers will, be less easy to identify or approach than other criminals, unless they are already serving time in the justice system. But as we seek to break the silence around child abuse, treat the victims and  support the caregivers, let us also focus on targeting the assailant to change values and attitudes and antisocial behaviour.


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