Women are the greatest survivors, the most resilient and the most abused. The abuse starts in childhood and they carry it all their lives. Angel,13, still very much a child, needs attention, care, protection, therapy, education and love of a family. She was in the play therapy room of the Preda home for abused children laughing happily, playing with the group of other children, some as young as 11 and 12 years old. They were sharing toys, making jigsaw puzzles, hugging dolls and reading picture books.
Angel and these other children — Joy, Beth, Anna — and many others had their childhood stolen from them, their basic human rights brutally violated by their own relatives and neighbors. They will grow to be strong women, empowered and resilient to face the world but they will be scarred for life.
In their physical bodies they were no longer children, having developed into women long before their psychological age. The theft of a normal happy childhood is the greatest of crimes especially when it is the result of multiple acts of sexual abuse by relatives and neighbors. That is what has happened to these children and 35 others in the Preda Foundation’s home for abused children and many more in the Philippines and worldwide.
In the first three months of 2016, as many as 2,147 cases of child abuse were reported to the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), more than one–fourth of which was of a sexual nature. In 2015, there were 4,374 child abuse cases reported, showing that there is a dramatic increase in the sexual abuse of children.
The spread of child pornography on the Internet and smart phones is one cause and the Philippine National Telecommunication Commission which has close ties with the Internet Server Providers (ISPs) does not properly or fully obey or implement the law that orders them to block such illegal images. They are a big part of this evil trade of children being abused. The few reported cases of sexual abuse of children are just a tip of a great iceberg of cold abuse and neglect. There is entrenched cover up, denial, lying and fear that prevent the reporting of child sexual abuse and the vast majority of victims get no support, help or therapy.
Women have to live with the reality that the vast majority of child abuse cases are not reported and the victims have to live with the pain for the rest of their lives. They are traumatized and endure that into adulthood. One in every three girls is sexually abused worldwide. One study says one woman is raped every two minutes. Violence against women starts very early in this male-dominated world, and the abuse of women and children is so common and greatly ignored. Worldwide, as many as 100,000 children are trafficked and lured into the sex tourist business every year. An estimated 350,000 young Filipino women are exploited as sex-workers at a young age.
Local governments that give permits to the sex bars and brothels support and encourage exploitation and abuse of women. It makes the role of women to be satisfiers of the sexual demands of men. The sex bar in turn induces Filipino men to abuse underage girls and then sexually abuse their own children.
Thousands of young girls are trafficked abroad to Southeast Asian countries as sex workers. They are frequently exploited and abused and many are in heavy debt bondage while others are not paid. So long as a woman is enslaved like this, can anyone of us be at rest or silent?
The violence they suffer cause deep psychological damage, physical hurt and subject them to venereal diseases and HIV-AIDS. The UN reported that less than 40 percent of the women who experienced violence sought help of any sort. How much more children who are being abused and never get heard. Studies by David Finkelhor, Director of the Crimes Against Children Research Center, show that:
• 1 in 5 girls and 1 in 20 boys is a victim of child sexual abuse;
• Self-report studies show that 20 percent of adult females and 5-10 percent of adult males recall a childhood sexual assault or sexual abuse incident;
• During a one-year period in the U.S., 16 percent of youth aged 14 to 17 had been sexually victimized;
• Over the course of their lifetime, 28 percent of US youth aged 14 to 17 had been sexually victimized;
• Children are most vulnerable to CSA between the ages of 7 and 13.
International Women’s Day is useful to bring the issue to the attention of the governments and the wider public. There has been improvements and change but too little and too late for millions of women worldwide. What is needed is a sustained campaign to challenge the male dominance, the police, the abuse, exclusion, and the cover-up, the complacency and the gross inequality suffered by many women who have been abused as children. It is their resilience and courage that has carried the world.