“Be careful of Clive.”
That was the warning to a young girl from her aunt who suspected that it might be unsafe for her to spend time alone with the man who had already been sexually abusing her for months. Her aunt did not confront the man. She did not discuss her suspicions with other family members. She did not report her concerns to the police or a child protection agency. She told the young girl to be careful, but did nothing more to ensure her safety.
This person did not fulfill her duty – the duty of an adult to protect a child – and that young girl became a survivor.
In Canada, each province and territory has a Child Protection Act* because children cannot protect themselves. According to each Act, if a person has “reasonable grounds” to suspect that a child is in need of protection that person must report the suspicion and all information to the local police or child protection agency. This responsibility extends to all adults. Even if, wrongly, we choose to believe the responsibility falls more heavily on the shoulders of anyone who performs professional or official duties involving children. Even if, in some cases – because of the nature of the job – a child may feel safer disclosing abuse to professionals such as:
- Health care professionals including doctors, nurses, dentists, psychologists, and family counselors
- Educational professionals including teachers, school principals, guidance counselors, early childhood educators (ECE), daycare staff, and youth and recreation staff
- Religious officials including ministers, rabbis, and other members of the clergy
- Law enforcement professionals including peace and police officers
- Social workers
Every person has the duty to report if he or she suspects the abuse of a child. There are no exceptions.
So, what are some of the things from which a child requires protection?
- Neglect: the failure to provide adequate care and/or supervision
- Emotional and Psychological Abuse: revealed in children as anxiety, depression, withdrawal, self-destructive or aggressive behaviour, and/or delayed development
- Physical Abuse: injury inflicted by a parent/caregiver or another person; or resulting from neglect or lack of supervision
- Sexual Abuse: when a child is sexually molested, sexually assaulted, or sexually exploited by her or his parent/caregiver or by another person; or the parent/caregiver knows that there is a risk of sexual molestation, sexual assault, or sexual exploitation and fails to protect the child
The Child Protection Act of Ontario states that if you suspect a child requires protection, to fulfill the duty to report you must make the report directly. You cannot rely on another person to report abuse on your behalf. In fact, anyone who fails to make a report is guilty of an offence.
We know that children cannot protect themselves. The key principles of each Child Protection Act – the promotion of the best interests, protection, and well-being of children – are there to remind us of this. Therefore, if you suspect abuse, fulfill your duty: report it. You may protect a child from becoming a survivor.
* Written with excerpts from the Child and Family Services Act, R.S.O. 1990, c. C.11
Always remember that you may have been victimized by sexual violence, but by searching for help you have started your healing.