A 68-year-old church elder from Curepe was arrested and charged yesterday for sexually assaulting a 13-year-old member of his church.

According to police, the man was charged with four counts of sexual touching and one count of sexual penetration of a minor by WPC Brathwaite of the Port-of-Spain Child Protection Unit.

Police said a report was made in July 2020 by the child that while she was attending church in Port-of-Spain, the elder sexually assaulted her. The victim told investigators the incidents happened between November 2019 and April 2020. The child said she attended Saturday youth sessions at the church and the elder would wait until she was alone in the room to assault her.

The man was taken to the Port-of-Spain Magistrates’ Court yesterday to answer the charges.

This sexual assault was just one in a series of recent cases that have gone before the courts.

On Thursday, a 52-year-old man was charged with five counts of sexual penetration of a minor. The victim was the man’s 14-year-old daughter.

Police were informed that on November 5, the man took the victim to work with him at a security company. When a supervisor saw the victim on the compound, she informed the man that a child could not be there. The man took the child and left.

However, an internal investigation launched by the security company unearthed a video showing the man sexually assaulting the child. Police were called in and the man was summoned to the company’s head office where he was arrested.

The victim told police she had been abused since November 2019.

On Monday, Carenage residents also beat a paedophile allegedly caught assaulting an 11-year-old boy. The 34-year-old man was tied to a utility pole until police arrived. He was taken to the Port-of-Spain General Hospital where he is in a coma while receiving treatment in the Intensive Care Unit.

In an interview yesterday, Break the Silence research officer Marcus Kissoon said state-mandated COVID-19 lockdowns have left children more vulnerable to abuse in the places where they are supposed to be the safest: their homes.

Kissoon said while data on cases of child sexual abuse were difficult to obtain, the cases reported by the TTPS are alarming.

“The least safe place for children, when it comes to this kind of abuse, is the home or wherever they are supposed to be protected and that becomes alarming,” Kissoon said.

“We see children being affected at a time when people are supposed to be hyper-vigilant and hyper-aware about safety, we see children being affected by their primary caregivers, people who are in direct contact, in direct care of them—the men of the family, the male friends of the family and in this particular case, a religious leader who is supposed to be looking after the wellbeing of people and especially that of vulnerable children.”

Kissoon said the cases of abuse by relatives show society has failed its children. He said the value systems that enable abusers to feel power over their victims must be changed, adding that change must come on the community level.

“We have to acknowledge the fact that shame and silence go hand in hand, communities refuse to hold themselves accountable and take responsibility for the children of the community’s safety … and say ‘Listen, I believe something is going on, I know something is going on let me interject’ and that leads us to accept this bystander approach where someone knows something about it and refuses to say what is going on,” he said.

Kissoon drew a parallel to domestic violence cases, where neighbours witness abuse but do not intervene. He said the abuser is welcomed to lime with his neighbours and his abusive behaviours are not addressed.

“I think communities need to hold themselves responsible for the safety of their neighbours and more so now, the children. We need to challenge the idea of the bystander, we cannot afford to live in that bubble, especially now where children are basically trapped in homes and trapped in communities.”