From the mouths of babes: child victims talk about sexual abuse

10 September 2015 - 11:00 By TANYA FARBER
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South African children exposed to sexual abuse know that family members and acquaintances pose the biggest risk – yet they still perceive of home as a "safe place" and a "dark alley out there" as a place of danger.

This comes out of a ground-breaking research project that was presented recently at an international biennial conference on children that was held at the University of Cape Town.


This is the first time in five years that the Conference of the International Society for Child Indicators was held in Africa.

Ansie Fouche a social worker and academic at North-West University, says, "All children are protected by the constitution but despite impressive legislation, it is still difficult to combat child sexual abuse in South Africa."

For girls, it is estimated to be up to a third who become victims, and for boys, it is up to 17%.

Fouche and her team conducted 105 interviews with children (who were receiving help from social workers) and were thus able to get a child's perspective on the scourge of child sex abuse in South Africa.

They found that the majority of the children "had an accurate understanding of child sexual abuse" and that the vast majority said they learnt about it at school from teachers rather than from their family.

 "When asked who potential offenders could be, most of them said family members and acquaintances. When asked who would 'never be a child sex offender', many said 'mothers, all females, grandmothers, and sisters," says Fouche.


The team found that home and school were perceived of as safe spaces, unsafe spaces were "far from home" and included "taverns, alleyways, and abandoned houses."

The children were also asked what advice they would give to policy makers about preventing sexual abuse against children.

Common answers included "heavy penalties" for perpetrators, parents who were better educated on the topic, and ways to supervise and monitor children and their families.

Bolutife Adefehinti from the University of the Western Cape, presented a "do's and don'ts" lists of child-centered research at the conference, and said it was important for researchers to emphasize to children that "there is no right answer or wrong answer – just their own opinions".

She said it was important to be flexible and "abandon your preconceptions and modify your methods as needed".

"Gain their trust and explain the project in the simplest terms possible," she said.

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