Child sexual abuse occurs when an individual who is older or stronger than the child uses his or her power, authority or position of trust to engage a child in sexual behavior or activity. Incest, a specific form of Child sexual abuse is defined as any sexual activity between a child and a father, a brother, a member of the extended family, or a stepfather / mother substitute.
Sex offenders can be male or female and can be of any age, nationality, economic, or social origin. They may be men who are married with children, have respectable jobs, and may even be regular churchgoers. It is common for offenders to strongly deny their abusive behavior, refusing to see their actions as a problem, and rationalize their behavior or place blame of something or someone else. While it is true that many abusers exhibit deep-rooted insecurities and low self-esteem, these problems should never be accepted as an excuse for sexually abusing anyone. Most authorities agree that the real issue in sexual abuse is more related to the desire to power and control for sex. This makes the issue of abuse one which requires immediate attention, for although the scars may not show on the outside, the effect on the mind and well-being of any individual, especially a child, will last for a lifetime. In some instances, the child is unaware that that which is taking place is wrong, especially if the abuse is being perpetrated by a relative or for economic gain.
The Bible condemns child abuse in the strongest terms possible. “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea” Mark 9:42. While it does not state clearly that is against any act of sexual perversion – which obviously includes molesting children – Jesus implicitly condemns anyone who hurts a child to sure and certain punishment.
It is considered that any attempt to confuse, obscure or denigrate personal, generational or gender boundaries through sexually abusive behavior is an act of treason and a serious violation of personal property. It decries abuse of power, authority and responsibility, because they attack the heart of the deepest feelings victims about themselves, others, and God, and destroys their ability to love and trust. When King David’s daughter Tamar was raped by her half-brother Amnon, she resisted him as best she could; she argued and pleaded, pointed out that what he was doing was wrong, that they could marry if he wished, and that rape would bring ruin to them both. But her pleading had no effect on Amnon. He was too strong for her, and he raped her.
When Amnon had finished his brutal business, his feelings for Tamar suddenly changed. Now he was revolted by the sight of her, could not bear to look at her, was filled with a loathing far stronger than the lust he had previously felt. The Bible says she was left weeping and desolate. Though 3,000 years old, this story strikes a deep chord with many people, because Tamar’s story is their story, although she might not have been a child. The text suggests that she was a virgin. Sexual abuse and its traumatic effects are a widespread, and often silent, scourge. Victims often feel robbed, contaminated, and ashamed. They may lash out against God and have trouble getting along with others. They may not be able to forget or forgive, much less build meaningful relationships. Many suffer deeply, often alone in their pain and shame.
Along with the problem of child abuse, which is an ever-increasing problem, the Dominican Republic is a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children who are subject to sex trafficking and forced labor. Reports indicate that Dominican women and children are subjected to sex trafficking throughout the Dominican Republic, the Caribbean, Europe, South America, the Middle East, and the United States (United States Department of State, 2012 Trafficking in Persons Report – Dominican Republic, 19 June 2012). Additionally, child sex tourism is a problem, particularly in coastal resort areas of the Dominican Republic, with tourists arriving year-round from the United States and European countries, for the primary purpose of engaging children in sexual activities. Dominican officials and NGOs have documented cases of children being forced into domestic service, street vending, begging, agricultural work, and construction. Reportedly, forced labor of adults exists in construction, some sectors of agricultural production, and service sectors. Street children and the large population of undocumented or stateless people of Haitian descent are groups particularly vulnerable to trafficking, though authorities identified Dominican victims in the Dominican Republic as well.
The Government of the Dominican Republic does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking; however, it is making significant efforts to do so. During the reporting period of 2009, the government made notable progress in identifying and assisting child trafficking victims as well as convicting child trafficking offenders. Children are especially vulnerable to trafficking because they are more easily controlled and forced into domestic labour, armed conflict and other hazardous forms of work. Their innocence also makes for less direct resistance as they usually are initiated by persons they have learnt to trust. And traffickers are kept in business by factors including the sex industry and the growing demand for exploitable labour. The obvious impact of child trafficking often mentioned include deteriorating education, physical, mental, spiritual and socio-emotional development.
Authorities continue to face challenges in addressing official complicity, proactively identifying and protecting adult trafficking victims, coordinating the government’s anti-trafficking efforts, and addressing the demand for human trafficking within and outside of the country. (See United States Department of State, 2012 Trafficking in Persons Report – Dominican Republic, 19 June 2012) There are 50,000 women from the Dominican Republic overseas in the sex industry – the fourth highest number in the world, after Thailand, Brazil and the Philippines. (“Trafficking in Women from the Dominican Republic for Sexual Exploitation,” IOM, June 1996)
Yet, even though the church is aware of these issues, it tends to be shy to address this topic and only hopes for the best while young girls and boys are being abused or raped in our communities, sometimes by leaders and members of their own congregations. So the church seems to be focused on more traditional matters. Culturally speaking, people do not report sexual abuse; they tend to feel embarrassed or would rather avoid active involvement, adding to the tacit approval of such practices. It is actually very common to see young girls or boys moving out of their family homes to live with older partners. When it comes to the church, people see it as a taboo topic and are scared to be judged or are silent in the hope that no one will find out about their problems. And so the trauma continues unaddressed. The lack of appropriate services and the silent conspiracy do not make things any easier.
Mistreatment or abuse has a devastating effect on the victim because it influences the way they think, feel and behave during and long after the abuse stops. People abused often develop a distorted vision about God and others. Long-term sexual abuse can result in trauma evidenced by the break up marriages and families, vagrancy, drug addiction, promiscuity, prostitution, mental illness, suicide, isolation, guilt and several other problems. Depending on the severity of the incident, victims of sexual abuse may also develop fear and anxiety regarding the opposite sex or sexual issues and may display inappropriate sexual behaviour. However, the strongest indication that a child has been sexually abused is inappropriate sexual knowledge, sexual interest, and sexual acting out by that child. It is well known that the Christian community is not immune to these problems or situations. And we as church have not identified ways in which to address these holistically in the Dominican Republic.
The church needs to step up and be more assertive in creating awareness and advocating for change in our country. For child abuse and trafficking are increasing problems not only in our country but globally. The church has been called to offer hope and consolation to those in need, to be a place where people can find help and shelter physically, emotionally and spiritually. And this is what we need to do urgently.
Some ways in which we might address this as church are creating safe spaces where people can feel free to come and ask for help, training church members in how to prevent, identify and help people in abusive situations, providing information, training and workshops about the subject, and becoming active in campaigns and participating with NGO’s or other institutions in the matter.
In 2011, in an effort to make a difference, the Cuban church combined forces with the universities and the World Council of Churches to discuss some gender based topics, and there the church realized the necessity to expand the work both through its youth and men’s ministry. The leadership of the IED (Dominican Evangelical Church) has begun to explore the concept of a Men’s Retreat which will address issues of partnership and aggression with some of our female pastors have been involved in counselling persons who have suffered sexual trauma. In the wider Caribbean, the 2012 Young Adults in Mission Workcamp had some 30 volunteers from over 8 countries being sensitized to Gender Based Violence. It may be a belated beginning; but nevertheless, it is a positive place to start the conversation across the region. While we did not directly address the problem of human trafficking, one can see where a process of accompaniment and introduction to future initiatives and work about sexual abuse, human trafficking and related areas may result.
I think it is necessary to create awareness among people and make them understand how important it is to work and fight to eradicate behaviours that damage society. We are all affected in one way or another and to do nothing is to let our future and the future of the next generations drift without restrictions, faith or hope.
And so I pray that God allows us to take the necessary measures to help those in need, beyond social taboos or organizational structures to help create social, emotional and spiritual stability, and to continue preaching a gospel of love and solidarity to our people, beyond race, language or gender.
Ruego a Dios que nos permita tomar las medidas necesarias para ayudar a aquellos en necesidad, más allá de los tabúes sociales o estructuras organizacionales, para ayudar a crear estabilidad social, emocional y espiritual, y poder seguir predicando un evangelio de amor y solidaridad a nuestros pueblos, mas allá de las razas, idiomas o géneros. Amen!
Senorita Jhanderys Dotel is a trained lawyer, involved in the ministry and mission of the Iglesia Evangelica Dominicana (Dominican Evangelical Church). She volunteers with several mission organisations in the Dominican Republic.