NGO warns against ‘victimising’ sexually abused children

Prema-Devaraj-wcc-abuseBANGI: The Women’s Centre for Change (WCC) has warned officers in the criminal justice system as well as parents, family members and guardians against further victimising children who have already suffered the trauma of being sexually abused.

WCC Penang programme consultant Prema Devaraj said trivialising the sexual abuse could lead to intensifying victims’ trauma besides causing them to lose faith in the relevant agencies meant to help them seek justice. It could negatively impact their healing process as well.

“If you don’t take care of them then they will drop out of the criminal justice system and if they drop out of the system, then the perpetrator is free to perpetrate (the crime) again,” she said at a forum called “Hard Talk: A-Z Children in Contact with the Law” at the Judicial and Legal Training Institute (ILKAP) here today.

She said secondary victimisation often occurred when sexually abused children found themselves face to face with less than supportive attitudes from the various agencies they were reaching out to in seeking justice for themselves.

She said there were three stages where secondary victimisation often occurred i.e. during disclosure of the sexual abuse, during reporting and investigation, and during the court process.

She said children who finally picked up the courage to tell someone they trusted about the sexual abuse, were often either not taken seriously or told what happened to them was not even considered a crime.

“They will tell the child things like ‘no need to lodge a report, just don’t play with that uncle anymore’,” Prema said.

She said secondary victimisation also often occurred during the reporting and subsequent investigations of a case of sexual abuse.

“Sometimes the officers or medical personnel will laugh or make comments. And if there’s no physical evidence the child has been sexually abused then the emotional trauma is very serious.”

The court process, Prema said, could also be “very intimidating for a child” especially if there were delays or postponements to endure.

“The child is also not properly briefed. Some of the questions abused children often ask is: ‘will I see the bad man? Will his family be there? Will there be reporters?’.”

She said sexually abused children were further traumatised when they were expected to tell their version of the crime in court.

“It’s very hard to have to relive what happened by giving details and it’s even harder to tell the story to the defence (team) who is trying to poke holes in it.”

She said in order to avoid being guilty of further victimising sexual abuse victims, families and guardians as well as officers of the criminal justice system including medical officers who compile evidence from the victim’s body, must listen to him or her, and provide necessary and adequate information regarding what was going to happen in court.

“There must also be specialised officers who are sensitive to the victims as well as inter-agency collaboration.”