Suffer the little children

Marshay Matthews lights a candle at the event.

Close to 200 children from Mitchell’s Plain between the ages of 2 and 18 are receiving counselling at Safeline Child Abuse Treatment and Prevention Centre in Beacon Valley.

In light of Child Protection Week, a service, attended by MEC for Social Development Albert Fritz, Mitchell’s Plain police station commander Brigadier Cass Goolam and Ward 79 councillor Solomon Philander, among others, was held at Christ the Mediator Anglican Church in Portland for all abused and murdered children.

The service was conducted by Reverend Ruth Swartz, rector at Christ the Saviour Anglican Church in Lentegeur and archdeacon of the Mitchell’s Plain Anglican Archdeaconry. This was the fifth year Safeline had hosted the service at the church for the community.

Rochelle Philander, director of Safeline, said the aim of the organisation had been to provide holistic counselling and supportive services to children and victims of sexual abuse and their families to bring about healing and restoration.

Ms Philander said 380 children across Cape Town were part of their programme. These were children who had been sexually abused, raped, sodomised and groomed, she said.

“This is very worrying for us as an organisation, and sadly this behaviour is increasing. As an organisation we are creating awareness in the community, yet we are still having these incidents.

“So, what is happening is that there is fear among families. As we know, poverty is an issue, so children and family members often fear for the perpetrator because he contributes to the household or they are part of gang,” she said.

Ms Philander said some children did not have a good relationship with their parents, so they would not trust them with the information of the sexual abuse that had happened. “So when children tell parents about an abusive incident, their first reaction is ‘jy lieg’. So, how is that child supposed to trust you as a parent?” she said.

Ms Philander urged parents to teach their children a secret code, word or phrase when they were in trouble, danger or were in an uncomfortable situation

At the service, a candle ceremony was held in memory of the 19 children, among them Stacha Arends from Tafelsig, who had been killed in the province this year.

Mr Fritz said no government could replace the role of parents, and that it took committed and responsible parents to be an effective first line of defence for children.

“I express my sincere condolences to the families who have lost children through violence and murder. The Department of Social Development will continue to support families and children with services rolled out at our six regional offices and 40 local offices”.

The Plainsman spoke to clinical psychologist and Plainsman advice columnist, Carin Masters, who believes reasons for the increased sexual violence had various contributing factors.

“I think that children are often not protected enough by parents and caregivers and are often left to their own devices, and/ or people still feel as many of us had experienced in the past, that the child will be safe and protected in the community and neigbourhood.

“This is no longer the case as our country has become bedevilled by perpetrators who see children as prime victims for abuse because they are defenceless and easy to abuse and to discard,” she said.

Ms Masters said one of the main causes for this kind of behaviour are individuals who grow up in very abusive home environments where they themselves may have been victims of abuse, sexual or other.

“They re-enact their abuse on those less powerful than them in order to project the sense of powerlessness they felt when they were abused as children. This is known as identification with the aggressor, a defence mechanism developed unconsciously in order to master the initial frightening experience.”

Ms Masters said sexual assault of any nature had had a severely negative psychological impact on the victim.

“This impact is further exacerbated if the victim is a minor. Sexual assault or molestation is a trauma and creates a traumatic response in the victim. The short and and long term effects of sexual assault are profound and life-altering for the victim. These include depression (often including suicidal or self-harming behaviour), anxiety (phobias, panic disorder, obsessive symptoms) , disturbed sleep,” she said.

At the end of the service, Mr Fritz, the police and Mr Philander tied green ribbons with messages and prayers onto the church fence, and then released balloons with the parents.

“As we continue to commemorate Child Protection Week and beyond, we urge the public to report any cases of child abandonment, neglect and missing children to any of our regional and local offices,” he said.

Residents can contact the Department of Social Department Hotline on 0800 220 250.