The rising reports of sex crimes such as rape have become a thing of worry especially as its victims cut across every constituent of our demography. It has become very dangerous to assume that some population groups are less vulnerable to these crimes or that their premeditation can be perceived by victims and their families. Sex crimes are one of the causes of fundamental human rights violations. The right to life, good health, freedom and safety are always heavily compromised for people who are victims of sex crimes. Moreover, when its victims are children, the situation is usually more complicated. This can be due to factors such as delay in reporting the crime, absence of evidence against the perpetrator, the level of grievousness of the crime, the age of the victim, the relationship with the perpetrator and the child-victim’s family dynamics. Many child-victims never accurately understand sex crimes, how to report them, when to report them and to whom to report them. Worse still, children are not skilled to pick up the warning signals of sex crimes and as such, have remained prime targets.
This therefore brings “’Sex Crimes’ Education” to bear, for children, in addition to Sex Education programs still being proposed for inclusion in schools’ curricula. While Sex Education has the role of educating children on their reproductive health alongside building healthy relationships, reducing teenage pregnancies and adopting safe sex practices, it does not always meet all their sex educational needs, especially the ones involving sex crimes. Information about sex crimes will reduce the risk of child sexual abuse, enlighten children about their rights and also re-direct them to their responsibilities of reporting sexual crimes before or after their occurrences and their perpetrators.
As it stands today, information about sex crimes is usually made available to children when they have been committed and in many cases, against them. Disturbingly still, the number of children who have this information and in the right context seem relatively fewer than the number of children who don’t. Sadly, this situation has not been attenuated by the prevailing societal laws and their requirements. The Police for instance, recommend early reporting of sex crimes as a means of their mitigation, albeit child sex abuse trends have shown that “early reporting” alone is far from sufficient in curbing sex crimes’ occurrences. In other instances, the legislative law makers prescribe a time frame within which victims of sex crimes can report them and get justice in a criminal court and after which, the option is no longer available to them. A case in point is the US Law named “Statute of Limitation” which allegedly is responsible for the low level of arrests of sex offenders against children, in that region. Evidently, the need for children to know more about sex crimes has become more urgent considering that “The Law” and its “Enforcers”, seem to adopt and proffer more of corrective measures than preventive ones in mitigating them.
Talking to children about sex crimes can be very tricky and many times, unsuccessful. However, understanding the social-safety imperative of this type of education should be enough motivation to learn how to communicate it. The first step is making children understand the meaning of sex crimes in age-appropriate terms. For instance, defilement or rape is viewed as a form of sex crime in which the victim is penetrated in the mouth, anus or vagina, by the perpetrator while other forms of sexual assault such as groping, voyeurism, sexual insults or virtual sexual torture, require no penetration of the victim. Bringing this information to children in a way they can relate with it and use it productively is the “Million Dollar Question”.
How then do we talk about sex crimes to our children? How can we ensure our children have relevant information that can help them make life-saving decisions when faced with the threat of being sexually exploited? For starters, children should be exposed to their rights, early in life. The rights of a child are those things a child is entitled to, such as the right to be educated, the right to have a name and the right to express themselves without being repressed, just to name a few. But beyond these, children also have the right to decline any show of affection from anyone. Children should know they can reject hugs, kisses and any touch that makes them uncomfortable. They should also know that they have the right to report sex crimes committed against them in their own words and get justice without delay. For instance, children should know that they can report people who throw sexual slurs at them just because they are going through puberty, without being instructed to ignore the insult. Similarly, children should be reassured that any report they make about sex crimes, will be handled seriously and promptly; even when they are not the victims. Nevertheless, it is equally important that children know about rights they do not have. For instance, children have no right to give their consent to any sexual relationship, irrespective of how they feel about the person neither do they have rights to keep secrets that can jeopardize their own safety or that of other children.
In addition, children should be repeatedly warned that no one should insert any body part or object into their vaginas, anuses or mouths, irrespective of their relationship with the person or the prevailing circumstance of their meeting. The message could be as simple as “Do not allow anyone stick his or her finger into your mouth, buttocks or in between your thighs”. A message as this can help children decipher sexually abusive persons and situations, more easily. Vulnerability to sex crimes should be discussed regularly with children. Factors such as being alone without any trusted adult’s presence; unsupervised internet use; consuming alcohol; abusing drugs; exposure to pornographic content (films, music videos, music lyrics or literature); dressing indecently or keeping secrets that can endanger their well-being among others; will always make children vulnerable to sex crimes. Similarly, the concepts of “Grooming” and “Complicity” should be expounded to children. Grooming is any activity that subtly or forcefully manipulates a person especially a child, not to resist abusive sexual relationships. Complicity on its part and in this regard, is when a third party is privy to a sex crime committed against a child but refuses to stop it or report it. Children should know that anyone who grooms them or is complicit in a sex crime committed against them; is a perpetrator and must face the full wrath of the law. Need we say that behaviours such as grooming and “complicity in child sexual abuse” are some reasons why many sex crimes against children have remained under-reported.
While these measures may not be exhaustive enough to safeguard children from the dangers of sex crimes, it is important that appropriateness, relevance and consistency be applied in whatever method is chosen to communicate them. Beyond this, parents must be physically, emotionally and virtually available for their children. Child neglect is a reason sex crimes thrive in homes and schools. In addition, our laws should also begin to adopt more proactive and preventive steps in stymieing sex crimes against children. For example, instead of only prescribing jail time for sex crimes’ perpetrators, punitive measures should also be deliberated upon for individuals and institutions which provide care for children but willfully or negligently refuse to provide knowledge of child rights and sex crimes to them.
CEO, Shield of Innocence Initiative,
Ibadan, Oyo State, Nigeria