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Father Shay Cullen is an Irish Columban missionary who has worked in the Philippines since 1969. In 1974, he founded the Preda Foundation, a charitable organization dedicated to protecting the rights of women and children and campaigning for freedom from sex slavery and human trafficking.

The invisible enemy: An unseen virus and sexual abuse

The invisible enemy: An unseen virus and sexual abuse

Purple scarfs cover the eyes of women taking part in a flash mob in front of Romania's Internal Affairs Ministry in Bucharest on March 1. About 50 women took part in the protest called 'The Rapist is You!' against sexual abuse, aggression and violence against women. (Photo: Daniel Mihailescu/AFP)

Published: March 13, 2020 07:36 AM GMT
The same energy used to control Covid-19 should also be deployed to stop abuse of children and women

Think about it. It is amazing that one tiny, invisible smart virus, a product of evolutionary processes, still mutating and changing its profile, can avoid detection and spread itself far and wide with impunity. It is able to bring the human species to its knees, to overpower nations, halt economies, crash the stock market, stop the flow of products and goods, paralyze communities, empty malls, ground  airlines, close schools and all sport gatherings.

It has the power to confine millions of people to their homes, rooms, apartments and cruise ships. Thousands are in hospitals and many have died. Its power can motivate governments around the globe to take action and stop overnight the once free movements of people. It’s almost more powerful than nuclear war and we can’t even see it. We have to believe that this unseen enemy of the human race is out there, lurking and waiting to infect. It has killed 4,720 people already worldwide. Is its danger overestimated? I will get to that later.

No new complicated laws are needed to control the right and freedom of citizens to travel and enjoy complete freedom of movement. But this once sacred freedom is now curtailed by instant decree. Covid-19 is king. The innocent suspects of being carriers, without medical proof, are locked up and quarantined, and in some countries they will be fined large sums of money if they do not obey. So now banning convicted pedophiles from traveling to poor countries should be easy to do. This is a proposed law I suggested and was filed by Maureen O’Sullivan before the Irish parliament. Two years and yet to be acted upon. Now, without a law, anyone with coronavirus can be stopped from traveling. 

People everywhere are very sensitive to and acutely aware of this dark and dangerous threat to health that can cause death to the most vulnerable. There is nothing much we can do other than be quarantined, avoid groups of people to curtail its spread, wash our hands frequently, stand back six feet from people that might be infected. It can change human behavior, drastically alter social contact and bring about new attitudes and understanding among people. They face a common threat. Many people are worried. It has struck and is striking fear and anxiety around the world. All are afraid of the single, tiny unseen enemy, more powerful than all the armies in the world.

Yet there is a greater threat and actual evil which has infected the whole world. Until very recently, people did not care much about child and women sexual abuse until the #MeToo and anti-child abuse movement began. Yet it touches the tip of a great iceberg of abuse. The abuse, violence and oppression of women and children were highlighted on International Women’s Day on March 8. Yet this violence causes more lifelong pain, suffering, sickness and death than Covid-19 ever will.  Soon it will die out. But the lifelong suffering and pain endured by silent, downtrodden victims of sexual violence will not.

In Mexico, 10 women a day are killed, while hundreds more unreported murders go unnoticed. It was reported by the Center for Women’s Resources recently that at least one woman or child is abused every 10 minutes in the Philippines. Cases involving 6,315 women and 6,054 children were reported. Only 6 percent of victims report abuse to the authorities. Rape and abuse are like a worldwide pandemic.

The UN special rapporteur on the sale and sexual exploitation of children, Maud de Boer-Buquicchio, briefed the Special UN Human Rights Council on March 2, declaring that child sexual abuse and prostitution of children is in every part of the world. The sexual abuse of children over the internet is perhaps the very worst form of child sexual abuse, she said. “Children continue to be sold and trafficked within their own countries and across borders for the purposes of sexual exploitation.” 

She also said that “children are coerced into participation in pornographic performances online. Young girls and boys are lured with false promises and coerced into sex trade, domestic servitude, forced labor, begging and forced marriage.” She reported that 28 percent of child victims were under 10 years of age.

Such violence, allied to government and public apathy, is more destructive and hurtful to human lives than a dose of the coronavirus from which most people recover with treatment and go on to lead normal lives. Victims of abuse do not. 

There is no known medication that will cure a person of Covid-19. Everything is being tried and a vaccine is in the works. There is talk about the seasonal influenza killing more than the 4,720 victims of Covid-19. In the United States alone, as many as 18,000 people have died from seasonal influenza since September last year, according to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. According to the International Federations of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers & Associations, as many as 290,000 to 650,000 die from it yearly worldwide. The fatality rate of seasonal flu is about 0.14 percent, whereas Covid-19 has a potentially higher fatality rate of about 0.2 percent.

However, we have to take everything in perspective and do all that can be done to contain the spread of Covid-19 and save lives, but so much more has to be done as the world slowly awakes to the horrific prevalence and frequency of the sexual abuse of women and children. The same energy and government action used to control Covid-19 should also be deployed to stop and contain abuse of children and women.

Irish Father Shay Cullen, SSC, established the Preda Foundation in Olongapo City in the Philippines in 1974 to promote human rights and the rights of children, especially victims of sex abuse. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official editorial position of UCA News.

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