Higher incidents of incest and sexual abuse against children are being recorded by the T&T Police Service. Latest statistics reveal that between January and April 2011, there were 161 reported cases of incest, rape and sexual offences against children in the country. This marks an increase during the same periods in 2010 and 2009. Whether these new statistics are attributed to the Government's aggressive child protection campaign or recent research and social interventions by Professor Rhoda Reddock and Dr Sandra Reid, of the University of the West Indies, it is clear that incest and sexual abuse remain on the front burner of the Government's social reform agenda.
Although the Government has established a 131 hotline for citizens to report incest and child abuse, legislative reform is also needed to curb such deviance. In the first part of this feature, senior journalist Radhika Sookraj explores the plight of three victims of incest who live in south Trinidad. Sookraj also looks at the archaic sexual offences laws, as well as the struggles being faced by officials in the Government's Child Guidance Unit and the Child Abuse Unit, as they grapple to help children deal with the life long effects of incest on the individual and the school system. The second part of the feature will assess the ramifications of sexual abuse and the attempt being made by the Government, non-governmental organisations and academia in addressing the problem.
Victims of incest
It was a scandal that rocked the Woodland community in south Trinidad several weeks ago. A 12-year-old girl claimed that her biological father cajoled her onto a bed, while her mother was at work, and performed oral sex on her, before raping her. It was not the first such incident to occur in the household, as the 42-year-old father had also allegedly molested the girl's 14-year-old sister as well, more than a year ago. A close relative who requested anonymity said the man often fondled his two eldest daughters. Because they have eight mouths to feed, the children's mother often went to do domestic work to supplement the family's income. In a brief interview last week, the young girl said she was afraid that her father would be sent to jail if she had told anyone of the rape.
She said: "I didn't know what to do. I didn't know that he did that also to my sister. I hate myself. I should have tell her (sister) that Daddy told me that if I say anything they will send him to jail. "I didn't want to live in an orphanage," she wept. "I feel dirty and sometimes I think that I should not live. "It was only last month that we had counselling in school and they told us that if we had a secret, we should write it on a paper and send it to the counsellor. "I wrote that down and then Miss approached me and I told her everything." At first, the girl's mother refused to believe it. But when her elder sister also confessed, the 40-year-old woman broke down in tears. "Here it is I am trying to help and this is what happens...I failed my children," she cried. The 42-year-old suspect is now on the run.
A neighbour, who requested anonymity, said they were not surprised by the incident. "His father also do that to his sisters...He grow up like that and this is why he do that," he said. "All of them know what was happening...Don't let them fool you." He said the man was hiding out in south-east Trinidad, yet the police could not find him. In another incident, a 16-year-old and 13-year-old of Fyzabad were also molested by their stepfather. Their mother, who eventually ended her relationship with the man, said she now could not provide for the two teenagers and their siblings, aged two and five. "After the girls told me what he did, he threw them out and said he did not want them in the house...I left with them," she said. "We rented an apartment for $1,600, but now I got laid off from my job and I cannot pay the rent...I need a job."
In yet another case, a 33-year-old welder of Point Fortin was also charged with molesting a 12-year-old. It is alleged that between April and May this year, the welder began touching the girl, after which he raped her on several occasions. That matter is now before the courts. Although these incidents have been reported, social workers in the St Patrick and Victoria regions said there were many other incest cases which went unreported. A source who requested anonymity says often times the victims of incest feel guilty about reporting the assailant. "This person is someone that they trust...He would play on this trust," the source said. "Too often the mother cannot deal with this. The relationship between mother and daughter breaks down. The child feels neglected."
The official said there was also an unwillingness by neighbours and relatives to report the incident. "Neighbours feel it is not their business...Close relatives believe if they ignore it, everything will go away," the official said. "The child suffers and may grow up to become a sexual deviant." Social activist in the La Brea community Sister Maria Clarke Paul, in a recent interview, said there were cases of incest in the community. Clarke who operates a shelter in La Brea explained that high poverty levels and unemployment were making La Brea a very depressed area. In the Marabella and Claxton Bay areas, sources in the Social Welfare Department said there were two cases whereby children were exposed to pornography. "We found that one of the boys, aged five, was displaying abnormal behaviour and we later found that his parents would often look at X-rated movies along with him," the official said.
WARNING SIGNS OF CHILD ABUSE
Abused children often show sudden and marked changes in behaviour that are tell tale signs that they may be abused. Some behavioural signs to look for are:
• Withdrawal from activities, friends and family;
• Display of inappropriate/overt sexual behaviour;
• Unusual interest in, or avoidance of all things if a sexual nature;
• Visible sadness;
• Poor hygiene, unkempt appearance, malnourishment;
• Marked decline in school performance;
• Self-destructive or self-abusive behaviour or suicidal thoughts;
• Aggressive or disruptive behaviour; and
• Avoidance or dislike of visiting a particular relative or family friend.
Anyone who observes these behaviours in a child must notify the school principal/teacher/social worker in your community, or call Childline at 131 or 800-4231.
LAWS ­ON SEXUAL ABUSE
Sexual Offences Act 1986 Part One, Section 4.
1. A male person commits the offence of rape when he has sexual intercourse with a female person who is not his wife either-
(a) without her consent where he knows that she does not consent to the intercourse or he is reckless as to whether she consents to it; or
(b) with her consent where the consent-
(i) is extorted by threats or fear of bodily harm to her or to another; or
(ii) is obtained by personating her husband; or
(iii) is obtained by false and fraudulent representations as to the nature of the act.
2. A male person who commits the offence of rape is liable on conviction to imprisonment of committing the offence of rape.
3. A male person under the age of 14 years is deemed incapable of committing the offence of rape.
Sexual Offences Act 1986 Part One, Section 15.
1. A person who indecently assaults another is guilty of an offence and is liable on conviction to imprisonment for five years.
2. A person under the age of 16 years cannot in law give any consent which would prevent an act being an assault for purposes of this section.
3. In this section, "indecent assault" means an assault accompanied by words or circumstances indicating an indecent intention.
Sexual Offences Act 1986 Part one, section 6.
1. Where a male person has sexual intercourse with a female person who is not his wife and who is under the age of 14 years, he is guilty of an offence, whether or not the female person consented to the intercourse and whether or not at the time of the intercourse he believed her to be 14 years of age or more, and is liable on conviction to imprisonment for life.
2. Where a marriage is invalid under Section 13 of the Matrimonial Proceedings and Property Act, the invalidity does not make the man guilty of an offence under this section because he had sex with the wife, if he believes her to be his wife and has reasonable cause for the belief.