Ever since I have been coming down here I have heard stories of sexual violence in communities. I had a shocking experience very early on with Alma. We were supporting an outreach program with a facility for children with special needs. I went out for a day on family visits with the social worker and on one of the visits was at a home (1 room shack) where we were checking on a 15 year old girl with a fairly severe “disability”. The social worker told me quite matter-of-factly that the girl was being sexual abused by her father. When we arrived I saw that both the father AND the mother were high on rubbing alcohol. It was about 11AM. They couldn’t even answer our questions. The social worker was very harsh with him, threatening to report, not his sexual abuse, but is inebriation to the police.
Then I saw the girl and her able bodied younger sister sitting in the mud behind the home and my heart melted. I felt as close to being able to kill someone as I have ever felt.
Last week I was in our communities in Bolivia and the issue came up again and again. A girl was raped in one of our communities and sexual abuse is not uncommon. We asked the community to request “children’s defense” a local agency to come out and speak with them but they didn’t. We asked the agency themselves several times but they ignored us until we asked the mayor to call them and finally they came. When they did they didn’t strike me as the type of people would have any purchase here – well dressed urban types, lots of technology maybe not so much empathy.
There are hundreds of organizations in Peru who claim to work on sexual abuse. Tomorrow, here in Cusco we have been invited to a meeting with Plan/Because I am A Girl and local government authorities. With so much attention to the issue why is it still common in indigenous communities and why have none of these groups made a difference?
Our curriculum is based on values. Respect, kindness, and empathy are baked into everything we do. We work very hard to bring parents, particularly fathers into the education process and home visits by our teachers are done monthly. I like to think that the curriculum that we are teaching and the way in which we teach it may have an impact on the incidence of sexual abuse over the long term.
In the meantime we will be hiring a psychologist part time next year to go out to all of our communities and try to asses a number of traumas including sexual abuse. We will have the psychologist train our teachers and perhaps do presentations to the students and parents. We will attempt to incorporate specific metrics around abuse into our measurement criteria.
I think that because we have spent so much time in our communities, have gained their trust and because our teachers live there, we may have an opportunity to put a dent in this terrible situation.