Sexually abused children left in the lurch
The scourge of child sexual abuse (CSA) is vast, with 23 488 reported cases in 2017-2018 alone according to statistics released by the South Africa Police Service.
These horrifying statistics demonstrate the crisis we face in terms of the extent of sexual offences committed against our children.
They also highlight the need for social work intervention to child survivors of sexual abuse and their caregivers in terms of the Children’s Act No 38 of 2005.
Unfortunately, a lack of resources and poor implementation of policy have allowed this scourge to continue.
Our children remain at high risk of being sexually abused despite the fact that South Africa is a forerunner in the development of policy and progressive legislation to protect children against such abuse.
Service providers in non-profit organisations (NPOs) rendering services to abused children also struggle to translate policy and legislation into direct service provision as empowerment services are often hampered by a lack of adequate funding and resources.
Service providers are seemingly unfamiliar with the policies and legislative frameworks as developed by the government.
This has a negative impact on service provision. It could be argued that if service providers had more knowledge of the array of policy and legislative frameworks, they would be in a better position to act as advocates for sexually abused children and their caregivers.
Due to service providers’ lack of knowledge about policy and legislation, sexually abused children don’t have easy access to adequate empowerment services.
These children are in desperate need of such services because they often suffer from a wide variety of consequences including post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, suicidal tendencies and inappropriate sexual behaviour, fearfulness, withdrawal, hostility and aggression, low self-esteem, guilt and shame, physical symptoms, cognitive disability, developmental delay and impaired school performance.
The policies developed by the government provide guidelines for the implementation of services and the protection of children from sexual abuse.
Consequently, more needs to be done, not only to render empowerment services to sexually abused children but also to empower service providers to render effective, efficient, accessible empowerment services to those affected by CSA.
The development of policy and legislation is only one responsibility which government has fulfilled when it comes to protecting children from sexual abuse.
Much work is still required to provide adequate, accessible services with consistent, sufficient and available resources to sexually abused children and their caregivers where it is needed.
Service providers at the coalface of service provision display feelings of frustration and indicate the government’s apparent failure to provide sufficient services and resources to those affected by CSA.
So what can be done to address these challenges?
In my view, the government should step up and assist and support service providers at NPOs to adequately translate policies and legislation related to CSA into direct empowerment services.
This should be done by providing training on policy implementation and providing access to resources to improve such services.
The Department of Social Development (DSD) should facilitate improved collaboration with NPOs to understand the circumstances of service provision from the view of those at the coalface thereof.
They should also train service providers as to how the various policies and legislation are assimilated for improved service provision. These collaborations should pave the way for the DSD to understand the nature and extent of the resources required by NPOs to implement policy and legislation effectively.
In addition, the South African Police Service should improve the scope of their data collection and the statistics they make available regarding the types of sexual offences committed against children; as well as the areas in which these atrocities occur.
This will assist NPOs to improve awareness and prevention programmes to address the real extent of the needs of victims of sexual offences.
Should these factors not be recognised and addressed, our children will become even more vulnerable to being sexually abused and the rate at which this happens will remain of grave concern.
This is particularly concerning because young girls use their sexuality as a commodity as they enter into sexual relationships with older men for financial gain ─ a phenomenon referred to as “blesser/blessee” relationship.
In these relationships a girl child would want to fulfil her material needs by ascribing to the sexual gratification of an older man; thus placing her in a vulnerable position, not only to be a victim of sexual abuse but potentially also as a perpetrator thereof.
It is significant that these “blesser/blessee” relationships serve as a platform to provide for families, often fulfilling basic needs, such as food, as there may be no other means of income in the household.
Of even greater significance is the increase in child-on-child sexual abuse which means that children are becoming even more vulnerable as their peers now pose a threat to their safety.
They are now at risk of being both victims and perpetrators of sexual abuse. This further highlights the urgency for services providers to be empowered to translate policy and legislation related to the child sexual abuse into direct and impactful service provision.
* Dr Cornelissen-Nordien is a practice education coordinator and lecturer in the Department of Social Work at Stellenbosch University (SU). This article is based on her recent doctorate in Social Work at SU.
* The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.