Friday, May 15, 2009

Sexual Abuse

This post should begin with an image of an African child being raped.

I am a white male in his 40s living in a very small African island nation in the Gulf of Guinea, where I ended up having wandered the globe for several years.

Jo, the coordinator of Papillon, a support group in the UK for African and Afro-Caribbean people who have been on the receiving end of sexual abuse and which meets at the Terence Higgins Trust HQ, the Lighthouse, in London, has asked me to write about sexual abuse for the Papillon website ... and I don't really know where to start as there are at least three aspects the sexual abuse of children I want to cover ...

a) my own experience within my own family
b) sex tourism
c) African abuse of children - sexual or otherwise

Since Jo approached me I have talked with several people here and, even outside the war zones of Africa, the sexual abuse of children in Africa is more common than widely assumed.
I will start my list above in reverse order. But first let us do away with some common assumptions ...

The age of sexual consent, whether hetero- or homosexual, is not uniform across the world. In the UK 16 year olds can have sex, get married, cannot buy alcohol, drive a car or go to the cinema to see an over-18 rated film or vote. In other countries homosexuality is forbidden (sometimes a capital offense), the age of heterosexual consent lower, arranged marriages permitted etc etc. However, the age of heterosexual consent is generally considered to be no lower than the age at which puberty sets in. Post-pubescent homosexuality is linguistically defined as pederasty, and, although it can be equally as damaging emotionally and psychologically as the abuse of pre-pubescent children, paedophilia, should not be confused with the latter - let's say the age of heterosexual consent is 14 ... is that paedophilia. However, if it against a person's consent, then it is sexual abuse.

But the sexual abuse of pre-pubescent children happens.

The spread of the Internet has led to the widespread distribution of paedophilic material (mainly photographic), both hetero- and homosexual. And this has led to far more prosecutions of (non-IT savvy) paedophiles who leave a data trail behind them.

Not so in the developing world where the Internet structure is so much weaker, , where most people don't even have a telecom connection, where most people don't have access to a computer.

The use of child "soldiers" in Africa is widely reported. A typical case is the Lords Army insurrection in northern Uganda (spilling over into soutern Sudan and the D. R. of Congo - and just in case it has passed your attention the Lords Army is a barmy quasi-religious movement led by a barmy self-proclaimed "Messiah"). Less-reported is the sexual and other abuse (drugs, violence etc) that these children suffer.

But let me move closer to home where we don't have civil strife, wars, famine etc.
On Sunday, very kindly, a colleague who I will refer to as R. visited me at my invitation to talk about the sexual abuse of his six year-old daughter by a 17 year-old neighbour. I remember when it happened - he was, obviously, angry and upset. But there is effectively no criminal justice system for "minors" here and no penal institutions for minors. The guilty party walked away scot-free.

Making headline news in a local newspaper last week was the case of 70 year-old French citizen resident here accused of sexually abusing teenage girls. No real proof - latest heing he pissed off the local police who invented the case. Who knows?

Which leads me on to Subject b) above - Sex Tourism.

Several European countries have now passed legislation whereby an abuser can be prosecuted in their home countries for sexual abuse of children in overseas countries. Until now this has mainly involved abusers who have travelled to SE Asia to procure sex with minors.

It happens in Africa too. Less European tourists come to Africa than SE Asia. The police systems are weaker, the judicial systems are weaker, the penal systems are weaker than in SE Asia..

But it happens.

Which will now leads me onto a) my own experience within my own family.

"I almost didn't marry your father when I discovered he had two full plates of false teetth" (as well as a bald pate and a pot-belly - not a very physically-attractive character - but I think she was dazzled by his intellect).

But this was a euphemism - she knew he had served a prison sentence (of, I believe, one year) for sexually abusing two boys he had been tutoring. Not sure when this was. He was born in 1922 and so became a legal adult in April 1940, soon after the beginning of World War II. He studied for his B.Sc. in chemistry at the University of Aston, Birmingham at night school and mostly definetly served as a Gas Identification Officer going out after German air-raids to see if any of the bombs dropped contained gas and giving lectures to other home service workers about gas (I well remember all the paraphenalia stored in the attic - including a kit of samples containing mustard gas etc for his audience to smell!).

The story goes that he worked in a "protected industry" - a factory producing paint for the armed forces. However, my aged but youthful (in her 80s but still drives and recently got hooked up to the Internet - she is a story/post to herself) Aunt Gwen recently related to me how he mysteriously disappeared for a year during the war and then just reappeared one day - so even though I had assumed the sexual abuse offense occurred in the early'50s before my parents married in 1958, it was probably during the war ... and with a criminal record, was considered unfit for military service (though I doubt he would have passed a fitness test!). I later learned that, as family worked for the local newspaper, a report of the conviction was suppressed.

I learned of his paedophilic/pederastic/incestuous tendencies in the '70s. My father was into amateur photographic processing - we had an improvised dark-room with the right chemicals, an enlarger etc. Rolls of negatives lay in a bowl on a shelf in the dining room. I invited a friend home for tea after school and waas showing him these roles of negatives.

Suddenly, holding a strip of negatives up to the light, I see an image of a 15/16 year old boy, the son of family friends of my parents, naked in woods near our town. I quickly roll up the strip of negatives, hoping my school-friend hasn't seen it, and after he goes home and before my father arrives home from work, confront my Mum.

She "confessses".

And then slowly I begin to wonder ...

"Why did my father sit me on his lap when I was a young child?"

"Why did he come into the bathroom so much when I was taking a bath as a teenager?"

"Why did he touch my leg so much when he was giving me driving lessons?"

What else happened that I may have mentally blocked out?

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