We have yet to recognize that sexual abuse is a multifaceted problem which requires coordinated attention from the different social sectors.
by Lorna Norori (Confidencial)
HAVANA TIMES – Sexual abuse is a destructive circumstance experienced daily by our children and adolescents – females as well as males. The majority of cases occur in places that are considered secure and protected, such as the home, school or church. The perpetrator is almost always a trusted family member, a person close to the victim, or at least well known to them; this person manipulates their affection and trust, and abuses their power and authority as part of their strategy for abuse.
The factors mentioned above are often decisive in perpetuating the sexual abuse over a period of weeks, months or years. Also decisive are the myths that sustain and cover up its occurrence, to the point where any revelation of it appears unbelievable. This is precisely one of the reasons why the children and adolescents who are victims take pains to guard this unhappy secret, even after the abuse has ceased.
The traumatic effects are as diverse as they are deep, and many times incomprehensible to the family, institutions and society. One very serious possible consequence of sexual abuse is an undesired pregnancy, an occurrence so frequent here as to rank Nicaragua first among all the Latin American countries in pregnancies among girls 10 – 14 years of age. According to the Nicaraguan Health Ministry, this is due to the fact that: 1) girls begin to have sexual relations ever earlier; 2) the mothers aren’t watching out for their daughters; 3) mothers don’t talk to their daughters about contraceptive methods that can prevent pregnancy.
Clearly, in the government’s view, those guilty of the undesired pregnancies are the girls and their mothers. They completely ignore the fact that the pregnancy was caused by a sexual crime, since according to the Penal Code, a sexual act with those under 14 is considered rape. “Whoever has carnal access to, or encourages consent for such on the part of a person under fourteen years of age; or whoever for sexual reasons introduces of obligates them to introduce a finger, object or instrument in the vaginal, anal or oral cavity, with or without consent, will be sanctioned with a sentence of twelve to fifteen years in prison.”
Still more serious is the fact that in Nicaragua all alternatives for terminating a pregnancy are penalized, thus denying the girls and adolescents the right to make decisions regarding their bodies and exposing them to different risks, since, in the medical view, their bodies have still not reached the necessary stage of development to support pregnancy and birth.
For many years, I’ve attended girls and teenagers who’ve been sexually abused, resulting in a forced pregnancy. It’s painful to have a girl of 12 beg me in anguish: “take this away, I don’t want it!” It’s hugely cruel that an adolescent of 14, abused by her father since she was 9 should scream at me between sobs, anger and desperation: “Get it out! Take it away, because I don’t want it!” while striking herself with her fists.
I’ve also had sessions of accompaniment with a woman of 25, mother of a thirteen year old boy, who tells me of her emotional and affective contradictions (part of the scars of trauma). She was abused by her uncle from the time she was 8, and when her mother found out she was pregnant, “she beat me so I’d tell her who it was; then she took me out of school and I never went back. I gave birth and I didn’t want to nurse, I didn’t want to hold him, and my mother beat me so I’d accept him. I couldn’t, because I always felt hatred towards him, I felt sick with disgust for that man, and I’ve never been able to have any good feelings towards that child. My mother has been his mother and I’ve never wanted him to come close to me.”
To judge and condemn children and teens for this is abominable, because they’re the only ones who know how they live and how they suffer. After feeling guilt for the sexual abuse, they feel guilty for not having spoken up about it, for rejecting their pregnancy and their newborn babies, because the baby is the most concrete expression of what they’ve experienced and marks for them the abuser’s absolute possession of them, since this forced maternity is going to last their whole life.
The discrimination that they experience adds to their scars, because the pregnancy is public evidence, a visible shame that makes them feel guiltier because it extends to the family. The community talks about it, the school won’t accept them any longer among their group of students.
She “can’t” continue her schooling; she has to care for her child. Such common expressions only serve to define the sentence levied on that girl or teen. In 2014, the Movement against Sexual Abuse conducted a study among male and female adolescents regarding sexual abuse of children and teens. The study explored their view of teen pregnancy. Over ninety-four percent (94.32%) felt that girls who are pregnant should have the right to continue their studies, also recognizing that they’re not ready for maternity and that they’ll need support to continue their lives.
This is good news. What we need now, effectively, is a policy of attention to the problem of sexual abuse among girls and teens, a policy based on the recognition of their rights, not on the myths that punish and cast blame on the girl and teen victims. What is needed then is for the Health Ministry to change their view of the problem, and make visible the fact that the cause of pregnancy in girls of 10 to 14 is sexual crimes against them. The deputies in the National Assembly need to let go of their fears and their own interests and sympathies to fulfill the responsibility that pertains to them of protecting girls and teens, restoring their right to decide about their own bodies when presented with a forced pregnancy.
We need to recognize that sexual abuse is a multi-faceted problem, and as such requires coordinated attention from the different social sectors. The State by itself will always have a limited role and as such cannot by itself guarantee the desired and necessary results.
In 2015, they announced that pregnant girls and teens would be accepted in their normal classrooms. However, the measure fails to take into consideration the probability that other families are going to send their daughters with instructions to stay clear of that girl or teen because “you could get it too” or learn things that they shouldn’t. This forms the basis of the stigma and the discrimination. For that reason, to see this as a resolution for the problem is to have a limited view of it: the origin isn’t attacked; there’re no prevention of sexual abuse; the delinquents who got them pregnant aren’t pursued; and there’s no recognition of the rights of these girls and teens to not have to experience an undesired pregnancy and forced maternity.