A paediatrician said that for every one case of child sexual abuse reported, nine go unreported.
This is precisely why any information, Dr Zahilah Filzah Zulkifli, said was good information.
At a forum titled “Child Sexual Abuse – What Are You Doing To Stop It”, Dr Zahilah emphasised the importance of training both adults and children on this matter.
“We need to talk about it so there will be awareness as, at the moment, there are still many who don’t know what child sexual abuse is,” she told the forum at Tengku Bainun Children’s Creative Centre here last night.
Dr Zahilah, the head of the Scan (Suspected Child Abuse and Neglect) team in a government hospital, pointed out that the signs of child sexual abuse were not always what people thought they were.
She added that majority of the victims did not even show any sign of penetration as superficial wounds in children took only 20 to 40 hours to heal.
“Many also think that abused children would show signs of depression, but this is not always the case as the children might be too young to understand what was happening to them.
“It’s called coaching. Some children are shown pornographic videos, and promised ice cream, for example, if they perform the act to gratify the perpetrator.
“And we have this culture where children have to follow what is told by adults and not to question them.”
Adults need to be trained to identify if a child has been sexually abused, and how to support the victim at every stage, from reporting to testifying.
Children, on the other hand, must be equipped at the very least, with knowledge about “good touch, bad touch”, so they will know if they have been touched inappropriately.
“Some parents are not so sure what child abuse is all about and because of this, they worry that if they report the case and get it wrong, they may be liable to a lawsuit,” said Dr Zahilah.
This is not the only problem. Dr Zahilah, who has worked on many child sexual abuse cases, said parents, mothers especially, from the lower-income group, tended to stay away from reporting as the perpetrator might be someone who puts bread on their table.
“I’ve had mothers who told me they had suspicions that their child was being abused, but they didn’t know what to do as the perpetrator was someone who was providing them with financial support.
So when it comes to outing the perpetrator or sending the abused child to the welfare department, they would often choose the latter as they have other children to care for.
The other panelists agreed with her.
Farah Iylia Fauzi from Protect and Save the Children Association, said they received 38 cases of child abuse this year alone. However none of the accused perpetrators were convicted in court.
“Our legal system looks beautiful on paper, the implementation though…we need to do something. This is why everyone needs to be trained so they know what to do.
“We also encourage reporting as we need the numbers so that something can be done. But the problem is the low-conviction rate.
“If we report, but there is no conviction and you see the perpetrator getting away scot-free. It’s very frustrating, especially for the parents.”
Petra Gimbad from Projek Layang-Layang, armed with years of experience dealing with child sexual abuse cases, said awareness among adults was extremely important as they needed to be able to provide support once a child opened up about what was happening to him or her.
“To a large degree, what is the point of instilling awareness among children only to have them realise that there is no system of support around them.
“Something more is needed to be done, structurally, to empower as well as support children,” said the former child protection officer.