Sherna Alexander-Benjamin

President of the Organisation for Abused and Battered Individuals (OABI), Sherna Alexander-Benjamin, said COVID-19 should not be made a “scapegoat” for the increase in sexual and other forms of abuse against the nation’s children.

Alexander-Benjamin’s statement came in the wake of what seemed to be a recent surge in sex crimes against minors, in T&T.

The domestic violence survivor and sexual trauma specialist said while individuals were taking advantage of the presence of the virus and people’s economic and social situations, including children’s supervision and lack of the same, at the same time COVID-19 must not be used as the basis for the increase in sexual assault incidents and reports against our nation’s children.

“We must not stop here (with COVID-19), as the escalation of violence against children was an issue pre-COVID-19. Instead, we must use this opportunity to investigate why this issue exists and develop an actionable plan to address it —to protect all children now and in the future,” Alexander-Benjamin advised.

Stating there was a myriad of reasons behind sexual crimes against children, which included, mental disorders, illiteracy, religious beliefs, family dysfunction and an individual’s inability to manage their emotions etc., Alexander-Benjamin who also experienced sexual abuse as a minor emphasised: “Unconscious and conscious patriarchal ideologies drive men’s sexually aggressive behaviours, lack of sexual control, and thoughts about ownership of women and girls’ bodies.”

She said this must be addressed to change the normalisation of violence through aggressive sexual expressions as these ideologies enable a sexualised and rape culture.

Alexander-Benjamin believes efforts must be made to work with individuals and groups to change pro-violent thinking, which often manifests in the violent expressions of conflicts and violence against children and adults, ultimately centred on individuals’ addressing the assumptions and socialisation that guide their behaviours and actions against themselves and others.

“State, private and civil society actors should collaborate to develop approaches to educating individuals on ways to build healthy relationships with themselves and others and work with the children of our nation to understand the continuum of behaviours and to prevent and address unhealthy sexual incidents,” said Alexander-Benjamin.

She expressed, not only was it paramount to educate children about their bodies and to build their capacity to use their voices, but there was the need to include programmes to educate adults about breaking the ‘norm’ of keeping secrets and what they interpret as good and bad secrets.

“When it comes to abuse of any kind, there is nothing good about a secret, so this boils down to changing our language and how we communicate with ourselves and with others,” related Alexander-Benjamin.

The activist, however, did not leave out the role of women perpetrators, she said: “As a country, we must address unhealthy notions about masculinities and femininities as these feed misconceptions about perpetrators. While men as perpetrators are overrepresented, we must not leave out that women are also perpetrators. We often leave this out because men are in a more significant percentage of perpetrators.”