Anna-Lisa Paul and Bobie-Lee Dixon
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St Anthony’s breaks silence on child sexual abuse
In 2003, a UNICEF report stated that an estimated 3,500 children die of abuse before reaching the age of 15 years, each year. These and other statistics on child sexual abuse are far too frightening for many to face, but someone must face the growing problem. The Institute for Gender and Development Studies’ St Augustine Campus has embarked on a research project geared at spreading awareness of the sexual abuse that hundreds of children suffer throughout the Caribbean.
They have brought their message to schools across Trinidad and Tobago and St Anthony’s College has embraced the opportunity to participate in this awareness drive. The walls of St Anthony’s College have become a mural in progress. There, children paint messages of hope for victims of child abuse while poems and posters adorn the school’s gymnasium. One student read a poem as his friends supportively cheered: B—Better days will come. E—Enjoy a new life, free from harm... L —Love yourself, acrostically calling on us all to Believe. Another student sang Michael Jackson’s Heal the World with teachers, students and guests joining in song.
At this school even the water rockets launched sported the unmistakeable blue and white teddy bear that is the cause’s icon, and a student looking on was inspired to construct a Web page to spread awareness. Others have hung notes of love and support written on cut-out teddy bears. Even today this is the scene at the school after its Break the Silence rally on June 3. In the aftermath, one teacher took time to reflect and admitted,
“It was a very emotional journey.” For other teachers it was gratifying to experience working beside the students, seeing them passionate about a cause that affects them. Students chimed in that, for them, the greatest thing was feeling that they finally had a voice. A representative of the school’s administration reflected “It is good that we can empathise ... and give these children a voice. It also gave me a chance to share these children’s pain.” By considering the plight of the innocent children in our society who have been victims of child sexual abuse, St Anthony’s College hopes to be better able to help them heal.