By Sasha Harrinanan Thursday, April 12 2012
Parents owe a duty of care to their children and can therefore be held criminally liable if they fail to report sexual abuse of a minor.
This warning to parents and guardians of children came yesterday from Public Relations Officer of the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service, ASP Joanne Archie.
Quoting from the Sexual Offences Act, Chapter (11) Section (28) Archie said, if a person is convicted of failing to report a sexual offence against a minor, he/she would be “liable on summary conviction to a fine of $15,000 or to imprisonment for...seven (7) years or to both such fine and imprisonment.”
Archie reminded the public about their legal responsibilities to children under their care during yesterday’s daily police briefing at Police Administration Building, corner of Edward and Sackville Streets, Port-of-Spain.
“We are appealing to parents and guardians. Please, you owe it your child to observe, listen and act now. To the neighbour or anyone who has information that a child is being abused, it is not sufficient to say it is not your business...Please call us. You may be saving a life,” Archie encouraged.
Noting that police can only investigate what they are told about, Archie encouraged anyone with knowledge of child abuse or neglect to make a report, be it via the police tips line 555, 800-TIPS (8477), at any police station or to the police service’s Victim and Witness Support Unit (VWSU).
Archie cautioned adults, there is no such thing as “typical” child molesters, therefore children should be taught about “good touch, bad touch” and be assured they would not get in trouble for telling someone if they have been abused.
“From our investigations,” Archie said a “child molester can be male or female, married or single...well-known and liked by the child, (another) child, adolescent or adult of any race...religious belief and..sexual preference.”
Archie said sometimes people are afraid to report cases of child abuse because they too are being abused.
“That is why we are appealing to parents to come forward and report whatever abuse you may be experiencing too. We are here to help and we’ll ensure you get the proper help and counselling,” Archie assured.
In circumstances where a child may be too young to talk or incapable of speech, parents/guardians need to pay keen attention to any abrupt changes in behaviour, unexplained marks, cuts and rashes on the child’s body, physical discomfort, limping, bleeding or itching, as well as genital pain and discharge.
Detailed knowledge of where and with whom your children spend their time, Archie explained, was another important part of keeping them as safe as possible.
“You need to observe the persons who befriend your child. If you’re sending a child to a home to play, you must know who are the persons in that house, there must be an adult to properly supervise your child.
“It’s normal in our culture for (persons) to want to give a child a gift. All we are saying is parents and guardians must be observant. If it’s happening once too many times, if that person, whomever they may be, might want to take that child out on several occasions, you need to be vigilant,” Archie stated.
Today’s announcement of the signs of child abuse, how to prevent it and how to report it, formed part of a new public awareness campaign in the police service.
The campaign is being led by the Victim and Witness Support Unit, whose manager Margaret Sampson-Browne, yesterday met with her team to devise a strategy to curb the number of cases of abuse.