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Crime stats

Silence and pitfalls in services: Child victims of crime left out in the cold

New research looks at services to assist survivors and why they are not adequate

Tanya Farber Senior science reporter
A shocking increase in murders of children has been recorded by the police. Stock photo.
A shocking increase in murders of children has been recorded by the police. Stock photo.
Image: 123RF/Artit Oubkaew

The recent harrowing crime stats showed an increase in the first three months of this year of more than 37% when it comes to the murders of children.

While the data is hard to comprehend, hidden behind it are the stories of thousands of children who survive the crimes committed against them, leaving them with psychological and often physical scars too.

Children are abandoned, raped and sexually assaulted, and according to new in-depth research by the Children’s Institute at the University of Cape Town, they often cannot rely on the services meant to protect them.

Perpetrators go unpunished while survivors carry the burdens through life.

The study, titled “Closing the gaps in services that respond to violence against women and children”, found victims mistrust law enforcement organisations and fear being victimised and ridiculed for speaking up.

“Their concern that relatives, community members and religious leaders would dismiss their cries for help is real too,” said researchers Prof Shanaaz Mathews, Dr Neziswa Titi and Lucy Jamieson.

“Children also find it especially difficult to report perpetrators who are close relatives or friends as a result of emotional ties and connections, and feel a sense of responsibility to protect their families from the stigma associated with sexual abuse.”

They said drawing on the support and expertise of community members, religious leaders, teachers, law enforcement agencies and other sectors of society to understand these service providers and how they operate is critical.

“Because of this scourge, service providers and responsive services experience empathy fatigue. But this fatigue should not cause more harm to victims and survivors,” Titi said.

For children who experience daily exposure to sexual and gender-based violence in the home, the scourge has become 'normalised'

“Service providers have a duty to protect women and children against secondary trauma and their behaviour shouldn’t further silence victims and survivors.”

The researchers said response services such as law enforcement agencies and non-governmental organisations are mandated to provide specific services, and members should be adequately trained to respond to victims of violence and offer the support they need.

Another problem is that in many homes such violence has become “normalised”.

The researchers found that for children who experience daily exposure to sexual and gender-based violence in the home, the scourge has become “normalised”.

However, they said, “reassuringly, children and adolescents don’t consider the experience of sexual and gender-based violence as normal”, even if society isn’t problematising it enough.

They said the issue of silence around such crimes should be urgently addressed and a whole society response is needed.

TimesLIVE


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