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Haunted by nightmares - Children exposed to violence and sexual abuse not sleeping, says specialist

Published:Thursday | November 1, 2018 | 12:00 AMJason Cross/Gleaner Writer
Dr Elizabeth Ward

Nightmares are common occurrences among Jamaican children who experience acts of violence or regular sexual abuse, Dr Elizabeth Ward, chairman of the Violence Prevention Alliance, has said.

Examining the latest police data on the number of children murdered or sexually abused since January, Ward emphasised the need for the Government to speed up the implementation of the much-talked-about Safe Spaces for Children programme.

According to police statistics, from January 1 to October 31, 2018, a total of 353 major crimes were committed against children across Jamaica. That figure represents 128 fewer major crimes than occurred during the same period in 2017, when it was 481. Of the 353 children, 38 were murdered (24 males and 14 females). This indicates a 21 per cent decrease when compared to last year, when 48 of the nation's youth were killed.

Ward said that children who survive these harrowing experiences face severe mental challenges.

"They get nightmares and can't sleep at nights. They get flashbacks, and they don't know how to process the information and understand it. The frontal lobe in their brain is not developed, so their emotions are run by fear, anger and anxiety. If they are not in a safe environment with safe people who protect and take care of them, they will not know how to react," Ward told The Gleaner.

In such cases, she recommended that children get help during and after traumatic events.




"Sexual assault causes very severe trauma for children. The sexual assault is often from somebody that they know. There is a small percentage that are strangers, but it is usually somebody in their environment," said the doctor.

"Even worse, there are some people who don't take action against perpetrators - they cover it up - and that again has another set of emotional trauma that needs to be dealt with."

Ward believes that if children who experience trauma have a safe space to go, it will help with their recovery therapy.

"Safe spaces are needed to allow people to exercise and have fun time, preferably with friends and family. It has to be supervised, structured activity. They shouldn't just be on the field with a ball, but there should be a programme of life skills. There should be a way for them to get there and get safely home," she said.