Opinion & Analysis

Foster the empowerment of women and children

11:16 PM, April 2, 2019

Philippines:Everyone should be advocates by inviting abuse victims to tell their story and help them.

There is a rising tide of "people power" in the world today, and it is female power. Women are standing up and speaking out as never before and more people are sitting up and listening to what they have to say. Their message is basic, straightforward and its most important words are: freedom from abuse, equality, justice, education.

Across the world, the #MeToo movement is empowering women and girls to stand up and challenge those who have harassed, abused or exploited them. Women themselves are challenging the historical oppression they endured for so long in submissive docility. They are now speaking out, holding their abusers, mostly men, to account and finding the courage to call them out and bring them to justice.

It takes bravery, too, to shake of the shackles of slavery and walk free. We are in a new age but the real struggle for the rights and equality of women and children lies ahead.

Jenny, a 14-year old girl from a slum in Manila, had very little in this world. The poor are the most vulnerable. She was not well loved at home, feared her strict father and joined a street gang.

The gang introduced Jenny to Juan Gonzales. He appeared to befriend her, gave her money, a cellphone, new clothes and took her to restaurants. He was grooming her and one day he took her to a hotel room and sexually violated her. He warned her not to tell anyone and gave her money. She was confused, shocked and felt guilt and obligated because he paid her.

The abuse went on for many months and Jenny was scared and submissive and wanted to end it and had nowhere to turn. One day in a school seminar, she heard about the rights of girls to be free and self-reliant and how to report any physical or sexual abuse. She sent a text message. "I want to be free, help me."

Jenny contacted the Preda Foundation charity that helps sexually exploited women and girls. Soon she was in care and protected from the threats of Gonzales.

Jenny had emotional release therapy for weeks. She poured out her anger and hatred of Gonzales. In time, she grew in self-confidence, was empowered and determined to file a criminal complaint against him.

A few weeks ago, the court decision was promulgated. He was found guilty beyond reasonable doubt and sentenced to life in prison. Justice was done and many more children will be saved from his abuse.

It was made possible by a public awareness and advocacy campaign for the rights of women and children. We all should be advocates inviting victims to tell their story, listening, believing and helping them.

There are many thousands of similar cases like that of Jenny and they can be helped if they are believed, encouraged and supported when they want healing and justice.

While many women and girls are fighting back against violence and sexual abuse, many more are unable to. It is estimated that 35 percent of women and girls worldwide have suffered sexual or physical violence from a male. In some countries, research puts that figure at 70 percent. It causes misery, depression and powerlessness.

Where does it all begin if not in the home? It is a vicious circle of violence begetting violence. Male children who witnessed their mother being beaten by their father, and who themselves experienced violence, were found to be likely to perpetuate violence against women in their adult life.

It is what children experience, see and hear from their parents that has the most profound influence on them in later life.   

On March 6, at least 20 minors aged between 14 and 17 were admitted into the Preda home for abused and trafficked girls. They had been rescued from a sex hotel and resort where foreigners of all nationalities were supplied with trafficked children for their sexual gratification. Many of the girls had suffered sexual violence. They are now recovering and following the example of Jenny.

Think about this: It is reliably estimated that 71 percent of trafficking victims worldwide are women and girls. Out of every four children trafficked three are girls, the majority of whom are trafficked for sexual exploitation.

Statistics tell the truth. When we look at the extent of abuse worldwide, we see a horrific reality.

It was established in 2018 that about 15 million girls have experienced sexual violence and rape at least once, if not more, in their lives and nine million of these adolescent girls were sexually assaulted in the past year alone.

Unlike Jenny and the other children in care at Preda, only one percent ever asked for help. Migrants and refugees in Europe and the United States are also at risk. They need help and protection.

Less than 40 percent of exploited women and children ever seek out help. Most of those who do ask for help from teachers, family and friends. Less than 10 percent of these women and minors asked for help from the police.

It’s not so long ago when women and child abuse was ignored totally. Now, there are laws to protect them but they are seldom implemented. Local governments in the Philippines give permits to operate sex bars and hotels. It’s legalized sexual exploitation.

There is much to do to educate society on women and children’s rights and eradicate misogynist attitudes and provide genuine help and support for abused women and children everywhere. May the wave of protest keep rising until the evil is overcome.

Irish Father Shay Cullen, SSC, established the Preda Foundation in Olongapo City in 1974 to promote human rights and the rights of children, especially victims of sex abuse.

Source: UCAN

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