With rampant sexual abuse countrywide, children are often unaware that they are being abused. Armed with a teddy bear, four women from Limpopo are giving these children the chance to speak up about abuse.
With horrifying cases of rapes or sexual assault against children being reported daily, four women from a non-profit organisation (NPO) called ThinkTwice have embarked on a journey to educate children about sexual assault and how to avoid and report it.
Visiting rural pre-schools in the Vhembe district, the women use a teddy bear to show children parts of the body where others should not touch them. This daily routine has already uncovered several cases of sexual assault, often by someone who is supposed to them.
“The teddy bear is used to demonstrate the various forms of sexual abuse. When a child indicates they are being abused, we refer the cases to the Thohoyandou Victim Empowerment Programme (TVEP),” says Sharon Bugana, ThinkTwice team leader in Vhembe.
Threats and bribes
As with many cases of sexual abuse, Bugana says children often do not speak up because they have been convinced by the abuser that it is “normal”, or they believe they have done something to deserve the abuse. There are also bribes and threats involved, which results in deep fear.
ThinkTwice also highlights to adults around these children some of the indicators that a child may have been, or is being, abused. These include changes in mood and behaviour; avoiding the abuser or activities they once enjoyed; and physical problems caused by external or internal harm, which may include sudden-onset health problems.
“Our first aim is to protect children from abusers and rapists, who most often tend to be someone close to them and in a position of authority or care,” Bugana says. “ThinkTwice has uncovered pre-school teachers or owners being aware of the abuse, but are afraid to speak up for fear of losing a customer.”
Bugana also notes that most children are not aware that they are being abused, but when they see sexual abuse demonstrated using the teddy-bear, many start talking. “Children don’t realise that inappropriate touching is abuse,” Bugana asserts, adding that once they are asked if someone has touched them in places pointed out on the teddy bear, they engage and the abuse can be reported.
ThinkTwice members also note the conditions at the pre-schools, ensure licensing and operating documents are valid and review what the children are being fed.
Says Bugana: “If we educate children early about what abuse is and how to speak up, we have a better chance of protecting them. Abusers who know that a child is empowered to speak up may think twice before harming them.”