03 February 2011

Focus on child sexual abuse

How does one begin to understand and respond to the high level and brutal nature of sexual abuse of young children in South Africa and neighbouring countries?

How does one begin to understand and respond to the high level and brutal nature of sexual abuse of young children in South Africa and neighbouring countries? What is it about our society that renders so many children vulnerable to abuse? What induces perpetrators from all walks of life to sexually abuse young children, even infants, often with appalling violence?

Synthesising research
As the editors – Linda Richter, Andy Dawes and Craig Higson-Smith – say in the first chapter, "this volume is the first attempt to synthesise southern African research, treatment and policy literature" on the topic.

  • Section I: Talking about child sexual abuse. In Chapter Three, for instance, co-authors William Bird and Nicola Spurr examine news reports of the infamous "Baby Tshepang" rape case in Upington in October 2001. "These reports play a positive role in drawing our attention to abuse, but the sensationalism that often accompanies these reports is deeply problematic," the authors say.
  • Section II: Understanding child sexual abuse, including cultural issues such as gender roles, school-based violence, child trafficking and the myth that sex with a virgin can cure HIV/Aids. In Chapter Seven, Rachel Jewkes argues that the virgin cleansing myth is not a major influence in child rape, since most men who perpetrate such abuse probably do not even know their HIV status.
  • Section III: Legal and policy responses, such as the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the African Children’s Charter and various African national constitutions and their practical applications. Case studies include the story of two child rape survivors whose ordeal was prolonged by the lack of support they received through the police and justice systems.
  • Section IV: Clinical and therapeutic responses. "While there are far too few facilities to assist abused children and their families," the authors write, "those that do exist make a very significant contribution to abused children". This section examines community-based initiatives such as the Soweto Child Abuse Liaison Group, founded by Mama Chrissie Mkhasibe and staff at Chris Hani-Baragwanath Hospital, the Teddy Bear Clinic in Gauteng, the Family Support Trust in Zimbabwe and how the recent civil war victimised women and children in Mozambique.
  • Section V: Reflections and conclusions from the various chapters. In the penultimate chapter, Ann Levett, who produced some of the first South African work in this field during the 1980s, challenges the reader to debate and take apart the common assumptions about child sexual abuse – in other words, to search for new approaches to an old problem.


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