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Men’s sexual violence against children [The Fiji Times, 2 Dec 2004]


Almost weekly, there are horrific accounts of men raping or taking advantage of young girls, often mere children.

Often, the perpetrator is a relative or friend of the family of the child. Even more terrible, in an apparently increasing number of cases, the criminal is the father or grandfather of the girl.

The impact on the  child is often traumatic, physically and psychologically devastating, with the scars taking years to heal, if they ever heal at all.

Increasingly, under pressure from women’s organisations (such as the Women’s Crisis Centre and the Fiji Women’s Rights Movement) cases are ending up in court, where the judiciary also is increasingly and rightly taking a harsher line with those found guilty.

Men are of course the culprits. And men are the leaders of all the most powerful political, social and religious organisations.

Are our men leaders doing enough to condemn these crimes?  Are they doing enough to identify and tackle the root causes?

They surely need to – for the abominable nature and increasing frequency of this crime suggests that there is some horrible rottenness which has crept into the very core of the social fabric of our communities.

What are the causes?

  Misconceptions are sometimes encouraged by the media reporting of the trials. Sometimes, the reporting suggests that there is a consensual “sexual relationship” taking place.

Men complain about not being able to help themselves, because sexual urges took over, perhaps because their wives were absent.  Sometimes, the criminals blame the victims allegedly for encouraging them.

Most times, the excuses are spurious because the rapes are violent painful acts perpetrated on innocent children.

Why are males increasingly committing this sexual violence on young girls?

Our collapsing  societies?

  Experts know that most of these sexual crimes (whether against young girls or adult women) are not about sex between consenting persons, but about violence perpetrated by males, often as primitive expressions of power.

In animal species, sexual aggression by males against all females, genetically related or otherwise, is the norm.

In humans, sexual aggression by males is kept in check firstly by internal discipline reinforced by social mores and rules, reinforced by a sense of self-respect and security.  Secondly it is kept in check by the clear understanding that culprits breaking the associated laws will be severely punished if found guilty.

InFijitoday, for all our major ethnic communities, both these forces have seriously weakened.

For many there is a heightened sense of economic, political and physical insecurity; a sense of social alienation, a loss of self-respect and feelings of lack of control over their lives.

Different ethnic communities may have different mixes of reasons for this.  It would be interesting to compare and contrast the causes of indigenous Fijian insecurity with the causes of Indo-Fijian insecurity.

Whatever the cause, one unfortunate by-product may be that some males (why only males?) are lashing out violently, usually against the weak and vulnerable.  And rape of women, and especially young girls, is one despicable expression of this macho violence.

Secondly, there seems to have been a collapse of moral values and standards, and lessened fear of breaking the law.

In part this may be attributed to the immense social upheavals that have taken place and are still continuing after the 1987 and 2000 coups, with blatantly illegal activities continuing to be publicly justified by some leaders, without censure.

It cannot be surprising to find that the internal coherence of our communities has drastically weakened.

Not only has the legitimacy of social, political and religious leaders been called into question, but the reverse side of the coin has been a lessened sense of accountability of leaders to their societies.

Many in high places are publicly known to unashamedly engage in all sorts of socially unacceptable behaviour (including those of a sexual nature), without fearing or facing any  social censure from their communities or the law of the land.

Inevitably, if male leaders are not taken to task, then ordinary males cannot but be encouraged to think that it is OK (or even worth bragging about) to engage in the otherwise socially unacceptable behaviour.

Media portrayal of children  as sex objects

  It is unfortunate also that there are other powerful forces at work in our society which encourage the treatment of children as sex objects, by violence or otherwise.

There is the daily advertisement of women’s cosmetics and all kinds of goods, using child models, projected as sexually provocative.

There is the barrage of television programs, videos, dvds, and films which deliberately portray young girls as sexually attractive and sexually active.

There is a vast number of movies circulating inFiji, full of gratuitous violence and rape of women, old and young.

And goodness knows how manyFijipeople are being subject to pornographic internet advertisements, of basically criminal pedophilic activities, against both girls and boys.

Is it possible for ordinary sexually active males to be inundated with this barrage of sexual  images and violent models of behaviour, without their own thought processes and behaviour not being affected?

There is increasing evidence of the close relationship between media content and violent behaviour of the viewers.

To censor or not?

  The tough question is: is it desirable and/or possible to control or censor this mind-bending brainwashing through the media?

We live in an era where the telecommunications revolutions (in cds, dvds, internet) driven by the energetic free capitalist markets have ensured that profits are to be easily and plentifully made, anywhere in the globe, by indulging consumers in all their fantasies.

Should content that encourages violence against women be allowed without regulation or censoring (even if they can be identified)?

Of course, modern westernised liberals will howl at any attempt to regulate what they regard as their “entertainment”- whether coming over public television, radio or the internet, and especially within the boundaries of their homes.

But where do civil liberties end, and the acceptance of socially destructive forces begin?

There can be no easy answers.  But at least, our societies need to debate the possible issues associated with the high incidence of sexual crimes in our midst, especially that against children.

For almost certainly, the problems are more severe than they appear.

Tip of the iceberg

  As the staff at the Women’s Crisis Centre well know and report, for every one case that hits the public limelight, there are many that are just not reported.

The girl victims are sometimes too ashamed to tell anyone.  Sometimes, they tell but are not believed, even by their own mothers.

And sometimes, families just cover up, because of the social stigma associated with such crimes.

Are the crimes increasing?

  It has long been debated whether the sexual abuse of children (like domestic violence against women) is actually increasing, or whether the higher incidence is a result of a higher proportion of the victims and their families willing to come forward to report the crimes.

This is an extremely difficult question to resolve.  It would require a meticulous survey which must necessarily compare rates of incidence per thousand population today, with the same statistic in some year in the past.

Even if one could obtain accurate estimates of the current incidence, much would depend on the older generation being willing to be honest about their recollection. It would be likely that the guilty persons or their relatives might still be alive.  There would be an unwillingness to bring up “old issues”.  And there may well be fear of being sued given that the guilt almost certainly could not be proven, years or decades after the event.

The apparently increasing incidence of these crimes may even partly be a symptom of the good work by organisations such as the Women’s Crisis Centre, the Fiji Women’s Rights Movement, and a few concerned religious organisations, in educating our communities.

But does it matter whether the incidence is increasing or not?  Put simply, the current reported high rates of incidence and their disgraceful nature are cause for serious alarm and surely cannot be tolerated.

What can men leaders do?

  These crimes against our children know no racial barriers, no classes, no religions.  In some groups, it more hidden than others.

But one thing is not to be disputed.  The culprits are almost invariably males.

It is incumbent therefore for our male leaders in society- political, social, religious, and corporate – to take the lead in highlighting, publicising, and condemning these crimes.

The issue should be on every organisation’s agenda, policies of zero tolerance emphasised, and attempts made to identify, discuss, and tackle the possible root causes, especially those associated with the collapse of our social coherence and values.

Women’s organisations are virtually fighting an uphill battle on this front, and largely on their own.  The men-dominated organisations need to take the lead in battling this crime.

This is not happening currently to the extent desirable.

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