The ongoing high profile court hearing in the United States involving disgraced former gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar has been painful to watch.
Dozens of women daringly broke their silence and relived the nightmare of how Nassar, once regarded as a leading sports physician, took advantage of their childhood trust and innocence and sexually abused them.
The accounts are sickening to say the least.
Account after account revealed how Nassar molested the young gymnasts under the guise of providing medical care.
Michigan judge Janice Cunningham told the court yesterday that more than 265 victims had been identified and that there was an infinite number of victims in the state, America and all over the world.
Nassar, who is already serving 60 years in prison for possession of child sex abuse images, has been sentenced to another 175 years in jail.
And yet his penalty could never repair the cruel injustice meted out to these women when they were merely innocent girls pursuing their dreams.
As the sordid details were revealed in courtrooms across the US, officials here in Barbados were examining the scourge of child abuse at a symposium entitled, Confronting Child Abuse, Recognition, Reporting and Response.
There were no heart wrenching stories from victims like those revealed in Nassar’s case, but officials made it clear that child abuse cases here were no less real.
For while most of us regard child abuse as a heinous crime and we often recoil in horror and ask, ‘how can people be so evil?’ we just as easily turn a blind eye and maintain our silence.
Nonetheless the figures are damning, even though as UNICEF’s Children’s Champion and former Magistrate Faith Marshall-Harris reported, they are grossly under-reported.
For the 2015/2016 period, the Child Care Board reported 1,446 cases, up from 1,171 for 2014/2015 and 1,045 the prior year.
Last year between April and December, more than 33 suspected cases of child abuse were referred to social workers, including 26 cases of sexual assault and seven of physical abuse.
Even without the final figures for 2017, it is clear that we have dropped the ball in terms of ensuring that our children are safe and secure from the criminal minded.
We have to do more than talk and shake our heads in shame; we have to commit to undoing ugly beliefs that a ‘sugar daddy’ keeps food on the table or that it is ok for a hurting child to keep quiet and accept ‘hush’ money while the court dismisses a sound case against a blatant molester.
No one can deny that tough legislation with stringent penalties is needed to help arrest the problem, but as Marshall-Harris also pointed out, legislation alone cannot solve the problem.
“What we really need is a cultural revolution. That is, we have to change the culture of how we see children, how tolerant we are of abuse,” the former magistrate said.
Naturally, it will take time to change the existing culture and to get children and people dealing with them to speak up against any type of abuse – psychological, physical or sexual. But the traditional taboos must be broken.
Child abuse in all its forms is heinous and its consequences are devastating. Children should be loved and nurtured, not molested and abused.
Sadly, strangers are not often the culprits; it’s trusted fathers, stepdads, grandfathers, uncles and other close male relatives and now, increasingly, teachers, members of the clergy, coaches and doctors caught engaging in the evil habit.
We become silent partners in the crime when we adopt a laissez-faire attitude or come up with excuses such as, ‘it’s none of my business’ or worse yet, ‘it is not affecting my child’.
The culture of raising children has to be improved in Barbados. Almost everyone has some involvement with children – parents, teachers, day care providers, aunts, uncles, and neighbours. We all can help to protect our little ones.
If you suspect a child is being physically or mentally abused or neglected, don’t hesitate to report the situation.
Children themselves need age-appropriate information that helps them to recognize when an adult, even a trusted one, is out of line.
The time has long passed to move beyond the outrage. We have to expose this mess; our precious children are depending on us.