Child abuse ruins lives. St Helena’s Human Rights Action Plan says that the effects can last decades:
- Many who are abused or bullied self harm and/or attempt suicide.
- Members of the wider family may suffer stress-related illness.
- Those who work for a bully may also sue or suffer stress.
- Abused children may not do well at school and this can affect their earning potential and employment prospects for the rest of their lives.
There are costs to wider society too – not least, that an abused child might well grow up to abuse other children. And there is a heavy financial cost, spelled out in the island’s human rights plan:
“Children who are sexually abused or bullied are more likely than others to become abusers or bullies themselves as adults. In addition, research published in the American Journal of Psychiatry says that ‘childhood abuse doubles the risk of developing multiple and long-lasting episodes of depression’.”
These long-term problems have long-term costs:
- prison costs
- counselling costs
- medical cost for treating the abused child’s injuries and depression.
The UK charity Childline runs a telephone helpline service for children and teenagers, offering confidential help or just a chance to talk.
Its website says the counselling service is only for children in the UK, but a spokesman told St Helena Online that any young person on St Helena who made contact – by phone or email – would not be turned away.
The charity says abuse can include acts that an adult may not consider serious, but which are very damaging:
“Sexual abuse is when a child or young person is pressurised, forced, tricked or coerced into taking part in any kind of sexual activity with an adult or another young person. This can include kissing, touching, intercourse or oral sex. It can happen to anyone – boys and girls. If you are being sexually abused it’s not your fault and you’re not alone.
“No one has the right to do things to you that you don’t like, even your boyfriend or girlfriend. It will take courage, but if you speak out about it, there are people who will listen to you and help you.
“Any person might be capable of sexually abusing someone, but it is more likely that sexual abuse would be by someone you know. The abuse might even be by someone you love and trust, like a member of your family. A person who sexually abuses can be male or female, old or young.”
The St Helena Human Rights Action Plan sets out priorities for action:
- introduce rehabilitation and counselling for offenders, to reduce recidivism (a repeat of wrongful behaviour)
- renew and extend the island’s No Means No campaign
- raise awareness that underage sex is unacceptable and dangerous – to give children the confidence to say No
- continue regular publicity about children’s rights in island law
- develop a programme of psychological support for the survivors of abuse
- help schools prevent sexual and other abuse
- continue to train teachers and youth workers to spot signs of abuse and report it.
The report also advises pooling information on sex offenders, and urges St Helena Government to consider employing a co-ordinator to manage intelligence on sex offenders.
SHG has already begun taking action on a range of recommendations under the plan, and the head of the prison service, Peter Coll, has applied for funding for further work. Advice is also being sought from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London.
Childline – UK charity offering confidential help by phone or email