Opinion: Treacherous ground

POSTED: 06/22/14 10:57 PM

Prime Minister Sarah Wescot-Williams said on Wednesday that she “condemns in the strongest possible terms” the act of abuse against “what appears to be more than one of our children.”

Hardly anyone would disagree with this statement – if it were about confirmed abuse, but that is not the case here. The prime minister apparently referred to the arrest of a man who is suspected of rape and sexual abuse of young boys. It seems that the presumption of innocence went out of the window with this statement and that is regrettable – the situation is sensitive enough as it is.

Wescot-Williams commended the parents who came forward and made an official complaint. No problem there. As we wrote earlier, victims (and their families) of sexual abuse sometimes feel a (completely unjustified) burden of shame and embarrassment, so it takes indeed some guts to file a complaint.

That there are people preying on small children all over the world, as the prime minister observed on Wednesday, is of course correct. It is also correct that St. Maarten is no exception, so the child abusers are among us, so to speak.

However the call from the prosecutor’s office and the Court of Guardianship, repeated by Wescot-Williams, to report abuse “even if you have a suspicion” – is treacherous ground. This is not to say that people should not make these reports, but to point out that these issues require careful handling.

There are plenty of examples from countries like the Netherlands where one report about sexual child abuse resulted in a witch-hunt across the country whereby unjustified allegations were flying far and wide. Hysteria did not even begin to describe the situation.

While Wescot-Williams said that children do not quickly make up stories about sexual abuse there is also a flip side to this medal. That is that parents, custodians, caregivers and family members sometimes refuse to believe a child when it comes with a complaint about sexual abuse. Then what?

In that case, children must have an address, other than the police station, where they feel comfortable to tell their story to professionals.

For all intents and purposes, let the investigation in the current case run its course and in the meantime give children an address where someone will listen to them.


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