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Burtine Thomas | Sex offenders in the Church

Published:Saturday | August 3, 2019 | 12:00 AMBurtine Thomas/Guest Columnist

As I viewed the programme ‘All Angles’ on TVJ on Wednesday, July 31, 2019, I felt compelled to share my views.

One strong point that came out is that the Church’s silence is deafening on the matter of sexual abuse. How disheartening.

Sexual abuse in the Church has been swept under the carpet forever. I agree with those who are of the view that there ought to be a loud voice against sexual abuse and the perpetrators must be brought to justice.

Research has shown that persons who abuse children are generally victims of abuse themselves and will continue the vicious cycle if they do not receive professional treatment and counselling. Children’s first exposure to sex generally occurs within the family, a close trusted family friend, caregiver or neighbour.

Parents need to be much more alert. Our children are being sexually exploited at summer camps, school and within the Church. Parents need to provide that avenue for open communication so their children will feel comfortable to share just about anything with them, including inappropriate touches, secret words, gifts, and eye and body language that cause them to feel uncomfortable.

As parents, we must become more observant of our children’s behaviour and emotional tone when they are around adults. Children are not able to hide their feelings as well as us adults, so we should look out for signs of uneasiness, fear, anxiety or distress.

Adults who are desirous of working with children must undergo thorough psychological assessment as well as have their background checked before they are given the go-ahead to be among children. Paedophiles are able to move about sometimes unnoticed, from one job or church to another, without sanction. These paedophiles need help. They must be taken out of the system, face charges, and receive therapy and ongoing supervision.

Too many of our children are hurting and not able to function as people who can form and maintain positive, wholesome relationships, as they have been abused and are like damaged goods. Sexual abuse can leave deep, negative scars that have the potential to damage an individual for life.

SEXUAL GROOMING

Parents must not allow adults to be too close to their children, give them gifts, or want to take them out on trips. Sometimes the abuser uses gifts to lure children into sexual grooming.

The summer holidays are a prime time when a number of our children fall prey to sexual abuse. With parents having to work, children may be left unsupervised by a responsible adult, have to go next door to the neighbour’s house or spend time with grandparents and other extended family. Parents, be careful where you send your children. if you realise that your child is resisting when you send them somewhere for holiday or even to a particular shop or with the taxi driver, take the time to find out why is your child resisting. It could be that the person whom you have so much trust and confidence in is a child abuser.

Some symptoms of the abused children are restlessness in their sleep, fear of going outside alone, excessive sadness, poor hygiene, irritability, substance misuse, social withdrawal, bed wetting, poor academic performance, sexualised behaviours, speech disorders, hyperactivity, among other actions.

It is okay if you suspect that someone (whether in the Church, school or community) may be exposing your child to inappropriate sexual touch, language or any form of sexual behaviour to tell them stay away from your child. Do not be afraid and become silent.

Children are generally afraid to tell anyone about abuse, and that is why so many predators continue the gruesome act for years, which results in physical and psychological damage to our children. Some of them are threatened, feel a sense of guilt and shame, and suffer in silence.

EMPOWER YOUR CHILD

Parents must empower their children to speak up and not be fearful of men and women who seek to abuse them. They must be encouraged to speak up the very first time an attempt is made to touch them inappropriately. It is okay for them to be feisty to the adult and shout at them.

One of our sad realities is that so many Jamaicans are aware that the child is being abused but prefer not to get involved for fear of being tagged as an informer.

I call on the Church, school and society to become more responsive to the safety of our children. There is a play titled Ananda Alert which is a powerful, real-life story that the entire Jamaica needs to see. We need to stop covering up and making excuses for those adults who are bent on abusing our children.

The Church cannot become more concerned about protecting its image and glossing over the hurting child. Which is more important? I want to encourage the Church to address the issue of child abuse openly and create programmes that will cater to the needs of abused children. The Church ought to be like a hospital providing healing for the wounded.

Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and tburtine@gmail.com.