Our guest blogger today, Human Rights Day, is Yvonne O’Neal, a member of the L.O.V.E. (Liberate Ourselves, Value Everyone) Task Force on Non-Violent Living at the Church of the Holy Trinity in New York, NY.
My Facebook friends know that I post a lot about violence against women. Comments on these posts are very rare, while mundane posts garner lots of likes and commentary. No one wants to talk about violence against women and children. We prefer to turn a blind eye to the violence around us. But violence is everywhere. It is difficult to write about sexual abuse of children; about young boys and girls being trafficked into labor and the sex trade by their own mothers and fathers. Rape and incest are not polite topics of conversation. Because child victims are voiceless, they are invisible – but it is time to make the invisible visible. During these 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence Campaign, we mainly talk about women, but rarely about girls, and almost never about boys (men are victims, too). This, too, must change.
The home should be a safe haven for girls and boys, but this is where most of the violence takes place. There are so many forms of violence that harm our children. Children are insulted, they are beaten, they are rejected, threatened, sexually molested in their homes. Sadly, when a boy or girl is raped, it is usually by someone they know and trust. It can be a neighbor, an aunt or uncle, a cousin, a sibling, another child, a teacher, a priest, a law enforcement officer. Sometimes it is mommy or daddy.
As part of the commemoration of these 16 days, I attended a program by the Value Caucus at the United Nations on healing sexual domestic violence. The program included a powerful documentary: Secret Survivors: Using Theatre to Break the Silence; it was the impetus for writing this blog posting about violence against children. These were profoundly moving stories of adults who had been sexually molested as children. The sad facts are that 20 percent of women and 5-10 percent of men report being sexually abused as a child, according to UNICEF. One story from the film is that of a girl who whose dad would come in to her room at night. She went away to boarding school, but that didn’t stop him. Her father came to the school after midnight, was let in, and spent the night in his daughter’s room. The dorm prefect observed how nice he was. The girl spoke up and said he was not, and told about how her father had abused her. The head of the school called the father. The first thing he asked was, “Is she pregnant?”
Not many cases of sexual abuse of children are reported because not many children speak up. And even when reported, perpetrators are not held accountable. Where can our children be safe? Too often, they are not safe at home. Nor are they safe at school. Remember Newtown? The one-year anniversary is just days away. All children should have a right to be safe at school. School-based violence is not a problem confined to schools; it is a complex, multifaceted societal issue.
And no country, state, or community is immune from interpersonal violence. It occurs across all demographics – age, racial, ethnic, social and religious. Millions of children around the world are at risk. Tragically, children with disabilities are the most vulnerable. UNICEF notes that “there is significant evidence that violence, exploitation and abuse can affect the child’s physical and mental health in the short and longer term, impairing their ability to learn and socialize, and impacting their transition to adulthood with adverse consequences later in life.” And the damage transcends individuals – it has broader impacts on families, communities and nations.
What can we do to end this insidious violence? First, we must end the silence! We must speak out and be advocates for change. At my parish, we have the L.O.V.E. (Liberate Ourselves, Value Everyone) Task Force on Non-Violent Living, founded by Dr. Victoria Jeanne Rollins in January 2012. L.O.V.E. is a vital program, reaching within and beyond religious and secular dimensions and agencies, towards an embracing, interdisciplinary community approach through sharing insights, determination, and cooperation in the common purpose of safe and abundant living for all.
We must protect our precious children. We must listen to them. They are not the future: our children are the here and now. The much-touted Millennium Development Goals did not have elimination of violence against women and children as one of its goals. As the United Nations considers the post-2015 agenda, we must advocate for a goal that ensures that children are free from violence and exploitation.
The Child Fund Alliance reports that:
- Almost half of all children experience some form of physical violence before they reach the age of 8.
- An estimated 215 million children are involved in child labor, of which 115 million are engaged in hazardous work.
- 150 million girls and 73 million boys worldwide are raped or subject to sexual violence each year.
We must do something to change these horrific statistics. Together, we can be game-changers. Together, we can make a difference. Together, we can end violence against women and girls and boys.
Many thanks, Yvonne, for this post and your tireless efforts to end violence of all kinds.