Recent reports indicate that one in two South African children have experienced some form of sexual abuse before the age of 18, says Joan van Niekerk, national coordinator of Childline, an organisation that assists children who have experienced abuse.
Tragically most cases of abuse go unreported. The full extent of statistics therefore remains unrecorded.
"Boys significantly under-report sexual abuse as they fear ridicule and also because much of the abuse on boys is male on male, they fear questions about their sexuality," says Van Niekerk.
Child protection units
"The 'decentralisation' – effectively the disbanding – of our child protection units in the police during the middle of the last decade has created enormous problems for reporting child abuse. Although the units have been reinstated, the majority of children have to report initially to untrained police officers, who are under pressure to reduce crime statistics. They find it easy to persuade parents and caretakers not to go ahead with charges, or simply turn children away. This makes a mockery of our crime statistics when it comes to crimes against children," says Van Niekerk. She adds that most offenders are in a position in which they can “gate-keep” the child’s access to help and justice."
Children are also frequently taught not to question authority and may believe that adults are always right. Perpetrators of sexual abuse know this and take advantage of these vulnerabilities in children.
According to Childline, the notion of "stranger danger" is misleading. People often think that children are only abused by strangers, but sometimes the person who abuses children is a friend of the parents or a family member. The Teddy Bear Clinic, which treats children who have suffered abuse, states that 21% of children are abused by their biological father.
Incestuous acts can be physical, verbal, or emotional and can include sexual touching and fondling, oral, anal or vaginal penetration, having children pose undressed or perform in a sexual fashion on film or in person. It involves forcing, bribing, threatening or pressuring a child into sexual activity or awareness.
According to Women Against Child Abuse, incest is much more than the transgression of a child’s body and soul, it is the absolute betrayal of their trust in the very people who are supposed to be their protectors and caretakers. While children suffer the sexual abuse, perhaps the most severe form of their abuse is their loyalty towards and love of their abusers.