OPINION: Prevention of child abuse is a social responsibility we must all undertake

Journalism student Danielle Champ says we all have an obligation to report possible child abuse

It was not until lockdown that I became aware of how many times my downstairs neighbour flushes their loo. My terraced house splits into two flats shared by six people, which makes listening to clatters, bangs and flushes an involuntary task. But it was these simple sounds of human habitation that helped curb the loneliness of lockdown.

There were some additional quirky behaviours of those around me that, under normal circumstances, I would not have otherwise ignored. Like my flatmate’s excessive eating habits, or how the kids from across the road stalk their cat to find the secret hiding spot it ventures to when the humans are not at home.

For the most part, lockdown reimagined what it would mean for communities to find a way stay in tune with each other. Sadly, for many, these quirky behaviours were more sinister and redefining community has had tragic consequences.

Although we have seen posters and adverts of social service organisations throughout the pandemic remaining open and ready to assist the vulnerable, the reality of child abuse statistics across the UK is an abhorrent endemic of its own.

According to Norfolk Constabulary’s chief constable Simon Bailey, there continues to be an increase in the number of child abuse cases across Norfolk as a result of the Covid-19 lockdown. Of course with schools opening up again, social workers are now on the frontlines to ensure that their services are easily accessible as they expect reports to continue to flood in.

However, abuse towards the vulnerable is not a new phenomenon.

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Only last year the media was reporting on Operation Hydrant; an investigation into the sexual abuse reports against children in the 70s and 80s. The investigation received backlash from the then secretary for foreign and Commonwealth affairs, Boris Johnson, for pumping money into historic crimes. So not only can we say that sexual abuse and exploitation has been happening outside of lockdown, there is also only so much trust we can place in authority to see that justice for the victims is served.

So who should be responsible for protecting our children?

Stricter laws imposed against sexual predators has been a quintessential facet of social equality throughout the past decade. The #MeToo movement was also pinnacle in this, with many women dethroning powerful men who believed their games could be played above the rules.

It takes a great deal of courage to speak out against someone who has violated another’s personal space in the most heinous of ways, even when you have the maturity to understand what is happening and the language to communicate that trauma. For children on the other hand, sexual grooming is coated in candy and the language to differentiate between trust and exploitation nuanced and deceiving. How then, can we expect children who are victims of sexual abuse to speak out against their perpetrators?

Breaking this down to the basics means interrogating the level of responsibility we hold for ourselves to look out for one another; to take that brave step into sticking our nose where it may be told it doesn’t belong.

While I was serving a church in South Africa back in 2017, one of the youth pastors was arrested for possession of child pornography and sexual exploitation of high school boys.

How did a man who was held so highly in his own community get away with committing such a vile crime so close to home? Whether anyone knew the reality of the torment those young boys experienced and still chose to ignore the signs is a question we should not have to ask at all.

But imagine the change in trajectory of the lives of these boys had someone asked just a few more nosey questions.

It should not take a pandemic to shake us into realising the role we play in combating child abuse. We live in a country where the housing plans force us to listen to each other flush our loos, so surely we live within close enough proximity to hear when help is needed.

If we hope to flatten the curve of child abuse, there should be a measure of accountability that we hold for each other, and an equal measure of responsibility that we hold for ourselves to ensure that the kids of tomorrow grow up stronger and braver in ways we might never know.

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