Children in poor communities who are usually neglected by parents and wanting attention, gifts and what they think is "love" are the most vulnerable to abuse. (Photo by Angie de Silva)
We read and see reports about the terrible number of child sexual assaults and how few perpetrators ever get convicted. Hopefully, that will change in the Philippines with the appointment of highly trained female judges to family courts.
One day in September 2013, Rosie, a child of 12 years old but with a mental age of 5 or 6, was grabbed by the partner of her mother, slapped on the face and sexually assaulted. Rosie cried in pain as her assailant inserted his fingers into her private parts.
A neighbor heard the cry and went to the window of the small hut and witnessed the abuse. The abuser was arrested and Rosie was referred to the Preda Foundation home for abused children, where she received care and support.
She became an empowered young girl and testified strongly and clearly. With that and the testimony of witnesses, Judge Tinagaraan Guiling found the perpetrator guilty beyond reasonable doubt under the Child Protection Law of the Philippines.
The judge sentenced the perpetrator to reclusion perpetua, which is at least 20 years' imprisonment, and ordered him pay moral damages. That was a big victory for Rosie and for child justice.
The public, and legislators in every country, should understand the devastating trauma and life-long consequences of child sexual abuse. Judge Guiling clearly understands.
A 10-year-old child in any culture cannot give consent and cannot really know the full impact of sexual abuse by a dominant adult. For rape to happen, judges in some European countries like France and Finland insist that there must be proven violence and coercion and, in some situations, that the victim must resist and fight back.
A 10-year-old child fighting a 23-year-old is extremely unlikely. Philippine law is less stringent and the law tends to consider the plight and circumstances of the victim and the power and influence of the adult abuser.
The legal and cultural tolerance with stringent demands to prove violence and force against the victim ought not be condoned anywhere. It is not a crime to be taken lightly with the burden of absolute proof of force on the victim.
Men of all ages are constantly grooming and luring children to have sex with them. Highly impressionable children, usually those neglected and unloved by their parents and wanting attention, gifts and what they think is "love" are the most vulnerable.
These children are easily lured over the internet, on Facebook and other social media sites into going with a male pedophile who abuses the children by using intimidation and threats or gifts. Children do not understand the sexual act or foresee its consequences.
The age of consent — 12 years old in the Philippines — ought to be raised to at least 16 and any sexual abuse of a younger child ought to be punished as rape.
At the Preda home for abused children, hundreds of victims are healed over the years and we know from their cries and screams, and from listening to their life testimony, just how much they suffer.
The deepest and most primal experience is that of emotional pain or fear, of being dominated, threatened and abused, but they bury it within, banish it from their memory and avoid anything that would remind them of it.
But the experience is with them for life and is always there even as the victims sometimes convince themselves that it didn't happen or that it was their fault.
The abuser frequently tells them, "You made me do it." The child is made to feel shame and guilt and thinks she or he is guilty. They hide the truth from themselves, their family and the world. The child has to cope and live with this buried pain inside.
The buried experiences of abuse cause sicknesses and neurotic behavior. In later life, most survivors struggle to come to terms with the crime that was perpetuated against them as children when memories return to haunt them.
Some do cope with it, although like millions of victims they carry the pain within. That's where release therapy is very helpful. It gets out the pent-up emotions of anger, frustration and hatred of the abuser. The victims offload it all and are freed, lighthearted and happy.
Another very important part of the healing process is the pursuit and winning of justice for the abused child. They need help, strong laws and child-friendly judges.
Jesse was 10 when she was sexually abused by a neighbor in August 2011 in Bataan province. She was traumatized and depressed when she was brought to the Preda home, where she received a warm welcome, affirmation, friendship and encouragement from the staff and other girls.
After a few weeks, she asked to have emotional expression therapy and then poured out all her anger and pain. Jesse soon overcame her fear of her abuser and asked to pursue a legal case against him.
Despite court delays, she fought on with the support of social workers until she bravely testified and answered questions on cross-examination. Eventually Judge Amelita Corpus, having weighed the evidence, found her abuser guilty of statutory rape beyond reasonable doubt.
It was a big victory for Jesse and all abused children. The child rapist is now in jail for at least 20 years. Justice was done under Philippine law. That is another victory for children and the Preda team.
Many more court cases have been filed and won by Preda on behalf of abused children, and dozens of pedophiles are serving life sentences where they cannot abuse any more children.
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 sexual abuse.