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Tuesday, 28 March 2000
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Helping children in crisis
By Gina Mission
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Do’s and don’ts in handling child abuse cases

1. In interviewing/ talking to children, avoid the use of questions that typically result in a Yes or No answer, or those that will elicit a "flat reply." Asking them to compare two people or events is more productive.

2. If at first you don’t understand what they’re trying to tell you, encourage the children to re-state what they want to say in different words.

3. Avoid:

Sounding like a professional or preacher.
Overwhelming the child with authority and wisdom.
Joining forces with the child in criticizing other authority figures in his life.
Ending statements with "Isn’t that so?" or "get what I mean?"
Leaving the door open or talking within earshot of others.
Being nice in a "saccharine manner."
Approaching the child with misconceptions gleaned from others, or from file records defending feelings, ideas or friends that are attacked or denied by the child.

4. Allow the child to move around, fiddle or whatever else as long as it helps the child feel to be in control.

5. Listen and observe nonverbal expressions of a child such as tone of voice, gestures and facial expression.

6. Indirect approaches work best with reluctant children. For example, just sit down and draw something that might get the child’s attention.

7. Be careful about over-identifying with the child. This maybe comforting to the child but not always helpful in coping with the realities of crisis he/she faces.

8. For adolescents, written expressions are effective in expressing their feelings. Writing allows them privacy to uncover feelings they have denied or avoided. Keeping daily logs or writing letters are examples of what they can do to express themselves.

9. Try to be emphatic by leading, guiding and focusing the child in certain ways. Empathy may not always occur as a result of your relationship with the child.

10. With young children, storytelling may be helpful. The helper may initiate a story in her most dramatic voice and allow the child to see how this story relates to her situations.

(From Reading Materials on Psychosocial Interventions for Street Children, CFSI 1994)

Many, if not most, child abuse cases filed in court get dismissed on a technicality. Emilie de los Santos, assistant senior state prosecutor and vice chair of the Task Force on Child Protection of the Department of Justice, says either there is not enough evidence to establish probable cause, or the evidence is "contaminated."And in many cases, she adds, police and other authorities involved had "mishandled" the case.

....There is reason to hope that this problem won’t happen anymore, or at least will be minimized.

....Thirty people—28 from the Philippine National Police (PNP) and two social workers—recently completed a five-day pilot training on improving police response to sexually abused children.

....The training, held in Tagaytay City, was organized by Community and Family Services International (CFSI) in cooperation with the PNP, with funding from the Economic and Social Cooperation for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP). CFSI is a Manila-based social development organization addressing the psychosocial needs of "uprooted" individuals in "difficult circumstances."

Preventing new traumas

....Organizers said that, despite a number of training activities in the past for policemen working with child, youth and women victims of physical or sexual abuse and exploitation, police response to victims’ needs remains inadequate. There’s still a need, they said, to train them to handle cases in a way that will prevent victims from suffering new traumas, such as during interviews or court hearings. The pilot training was designed to fill this need, specifically with regard to sexually abused children.

....The organizers used a "multidisciplinary/interdisciplinary" approach of training. The five-day program was broken down into several different sessions intended, first, to give participants a deeper understanding of themselves as service providers, and then, to enhance their knowledge, attitudes and skills in dealing with victims. Rounding off the training was a crash course on the dynamics of child sexual abuse, rights of children and the Philippine legal system.

....Emphasis was given to the proper handling of the different stages of a case (such as police interview of victims, gathering of evidence and investigation) as a key factor in the successful prosecution of the case.

....Participants acknowledged having had previous training before they were assigned to handle child abuse cases, but said that "it wasn’t enough" or that they needed "more deepening" in handling the tasks to make them more effective and helpful to the victim.

....De los Santos said it’s not enough that a good lawyer is assigned to handle a case, but that he or she must also be given the necessary tools to do it, especially the evidence gathered by investigators. In the absence of such tools, it can be very tough indeed for even the most seasoned lawyer, she pointed out.

Mishandled evidence

....At the session on "rules on criminal procedures, evidence and affidavit making in child sexual abuse investigation," De los Santos mentioned several instances in which police investigators messed up primary evidence and made it inadmissible in court. Sometimes, she said, this happened because of ignorance of the proper procedure, or sheer failure to appreciate the importance of the investigator’s role to the success of the case.

....Admitting this inadequacy, participant Flor Mirasol, a police inspector from Daet, Camarines Norte, said, "We need this kind of training to improve our performance in interviewing child victims of sexual abuse."

....Child sexual abuse, as defined in the book Sexual Abuse, Another Pediatric Problem (Kempre, 1978), as the "involvement of dependent, developmentally immature children and adolescents in sexual activities that they do not fully comprehend, are unable to give informed consent to and that violate the social taboos or family roles."

Abuse of adult authority

....In the Philippines, Erlinda Cordero, CFSI board member and child and family welfare consultant, said official records show that the abuse usually "happens in the home." She explained that child abuse occurs when an adult uses his or her power or authority and takes advantage of a child’s trust and respect, for sexual activity.

....Dr. Alice Molina, CFSI’s child and family welfare program officer, said it’s not enough that each police station in the country assigns a police officer to handle child abuse victims. She stressed that these victims need special treatment. "Child sexual abuse leaves deep-seated effects on the psycho-emotional or physical state of children that have long-lasting implications on their personality development," she explained.

....Quoting child abuse cases documented by Bantay Bata, an organization providing direct services to children, Molina said the victims usually become scared and distrustful toward adults, they run away and are afraid to return home. They bear signs of physical injury. They also become angry, mentally or emotionally disturbed, and are likely to have recurrent nightmares and to nurse guilt feelings.

....She said rehabilitation requires different "interventions" to help him or her seek justice and recover from the effects of the abuse.

....Training participants were told that those involved in the investigation or prosecution of a case should also realize the importance of encouraging the victim’s family to confront and accept what happened to their children.

....Mirasol admitted that, despite her 24 years of service as a policewoman, it was only now that she came to realize the "horrors" of child sexual abuse. In her place of assignment, she said, not every child sexual abuse case gets reported because, in the case of girl victims, the mothers sometimes don’t believe their own daughters’ tale of abuse.

....She narrated some cases in which young girls, accompanied by their teacher, or aunt, came to the police station to disclose the crime but would later ask her not to pursue further investigation to "protect" their mothers, who are economically dependent on the abuser.

...."It’s very frustrating to have to listen to a young girl’s story of abuse and not being able to do something," she said.

Legal shields

....There is no lack of legal shields to protect children from physical or sexual abuse. Article 34 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child provides that the state shall protect children from sexual exploitation and abuse, including prostitution and involvement in pornography. In the Philippines there are two laws protecting the Filipino child: Republic Act 7610, or the Special Protection of Children against Child Abuse, Exploitation, and Discrimination Act, and RA 7658, or the Special Protection of Filipino Children Act.

....Despite the existence of these laws, child abuse cases in the Philippines are increasing.

....Data from different sources cited by CFSI show that child sexual abuse in the Philippines has "reached alarming proportions." From 1996 to March 1999, the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) recorded 10,183 cases of sexual abuse and exploitation. Of this figure, 1,327 are for acts of lasciviousness, 3,086 for incest, 4,963 for rape, 68 for attempted rape, 189 for pedophilia, 468 for prostitution and 15 for pornography.

....The End-Child Abuse, Prostitution and Trafficking (ECPAT) placed the country’s number of prostituted children in 1996 at 20,000. Quoting estimates of an unidentified NGO, ECPAT placed the number at 40,000 in 1992 and 60,000 in 1993. In a 1997 ECPAT report, the figures for prostituted children ranged from 60,000 to 100,000.

....The ESCAP-CSFI 1998 baseline survey report, "Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children in the Philippines: A Situation Analysis," reported that the number of prostituted children as of 1997 was estimated at 100,000, of whom 5,000 were in Metro Manila. These children were among the estimated 1.5 million street children in the Philippines. The report disclosed that as many as 3,266 children between 7 and 15 years old were added to the number of prostituted children each year.

Meeting the challenge

....Such figures pose a big challenge to handlers of child abuse cases, and to those seeking to help the victims.

....But, with the training they have received, many participants feel confident they can meet that challenge. For one, Mirasol, the policewoman from Daet, feels relieved to know that there are agencies that can help her convince a victim’s family of the importance of their support in seeking justice for the child victim.

....SPO3 Aurora Moran, of the Masbate provincial police, is glad to know more techniques on how to be a "child-friendly" police investigator. Police Inspector Josefina Raro of the Albay provincial police, says she’s now better equipped to interview a child victim.

...."They are very serious with their assignments and workshops," Molina said of the participants. On the first day of the training, she said, when the session called for participants to reflect on themselves and their work, almost all of them admitted to have realized the importance of their role in helping child victims get justice. "It is very touching to see them resolve to do better, and renew their commitment."

....After learning better techniques and useful information on handling child abuse cases--from the laws governing child abuse, legal analysis and documentation, forensic investigation and monitoring, to various interventions in helping the victim--participants hope to be able to respond to child abuse cases more appropriately.

....Mirasol uses a statement of De los Santos to summarize what the training ultimately instilled in her as a police officer: "Good handling of child abuse cases is about commitment to serve, and knowing all the aspects of your work."