The enemy in your yard - Thousands of children being abused by persons they know and trust
Scores of Jamaican children are being abused each day by persons they know and trust - the enemies in their homes.
The Office of the Children Registry (OCR) has received 56,000 reports of child abuse between its inception in 2007 and the end of 2014.
These include 20,146 reports of child abuse against parents, step-parents and adoptive parents between 2012 and 2014. Over that 24-month period, the OCR received 4,084 reports against non-relatives.
Women are the main culprits, with 12,787 accusations levelled against mothers, stepmothers and adoptive mothers between 2012 and 2014, compared to 7,359 against fathers, stepfathers and adopted fathers.
It is on this basis that social scientist Hylton Grace is cautioning parents and guardians to be very careful who they allow in their homes around their children.
"Ninety per cent of the time the children usually know the perpetrators, so one of the first things parents and guardians need to do is have a healthy suspicion," said Grace.
"People who abuse children will want to be where children are. So a man who serially dates women with children could very well be a red flag."
Grace further highlighted that child sexual abuse usually occur in one child/one adult situations and, therefore, parents should be mindful who they leave their children with; even family members.
"The woman who has the boyfriend who is kind, loving and supportive and says he doesn't mind babysitting, he doesn't mind taking care of the children. What woman wouldn't want that? But it is some of those kinds of situations that set up the person to offend," charged Grace.
Some child abusers are said to be methodical in how they go about grooming their prospective victims, and this involves engaging the child in certain adult conversations; such as giving rude jokes around them.
"If you realise that someone often shares these jokes in the presence of a child and wants to engage the child, like asking them what they think of this, or do they treat the child 'special', and kind of go out of their way to do things for them. Those are some general red flags," added Grace.
Head of the Child Development Agency, Rosalee Gage-Grey, believes Jamaica's culture of every family friend being introduced to the child as an uncle or an aunt might also be putting children at risk.
"Paedophiles, for example, when they move into a community they don't strike; they build rapport, they integrate into the community and they are usually your benefactors, so when they do commit an offence nobody believes."
Gage-Grey is encouraging parents to be extremely vigilant in looking for signs such as someone always giving your child gifts.
It is believed that this act of gift-giving can lead to the child feeling obligated to this person and, therefore, when they do something inappropriate the child might feel guilt-laden and think they should not say anything.
"So you have three children but this person is always interested in just this one. And every time they come they are always bringing gifts for just this one, you have to start looking at these things," said Gage-Grey.
"Don't take it for granted that your new boyfriend is not an abuser, because you don't know, so you have to be vigilant.
"But, importantly, give the children the benefit of the doubt. If they say something has happened; until it is proven otherwise, it has happened."
With it being close to the time for children to take their summer break from school, Registrar of the OCR Greig Smith is advising parents not to leave their children at home alone or with other children, as this amounts to neglect.
Smith is also warning against the use of social media by both parents and children to broadcast their location and if they are alone or not.
"We want to encourage children that once they have suspicion that someone is doing something that is not right, and touching them on body parts that they are not supposed to, saying things to them, sending them Facebook and text messages, we encourage them to break that silence by calling the Office of the Children Registry," said Smith.
That call for persons to report instances of child abuse seems to be getting through to Jamaicans, and Grace is convinced that there has been a cultural shift regarding sexual abuse as the public is now more vocal about the topic.
"We have come a long way as persons have now become advocates and are openly discussing sexual abuse against children, even on national television.
"This has the perpetrators running scared as they know that law enforcement is on to them and persons are now reporting incidents to bodies such as the Centre for Investigation of Sexual Offences and Child Abuse, which are monitoring their every move," said Grace, who recently addressed guidance counsellors and teachers from junior high and primary schools in the St Catherine.
They were participating in a seminar at the Ministry of Education Conference Centre in Old Harbour.
The seminar was hosted by RISE Life Management Services as part of its European Union-funded national intervention programme Finding My Voice, designed to assist children, teachers, guidance counsellors, parents and community members on ways to prevent child sexual abuse.
Report child abuse anytime
The OCR is now open on Saturdays and Sundays from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. to facilitate all individuals who want to make a report.
Even if you don't have any credit you can send a 'please call me' to the OCR at 878-2882.