Fighting abuse: Debi Ray-Rivers and Jon Brunson of SCARS, who spoke at WindReach yesterday. *Photo by Kageaki Smith
Fighting abuse: Debi Ray-Rivers and Jon Brunson of SCARS, who spoke at WindReach yesterday. *Photo by Kageaki Smith

WEDNESDAY, MARCH 28: A charity set up to protect children has urged schools and youth clubs to ensure they have effective policies to prevent abuse.

SCARS says every establishment that children attend should have a framework of policies aimed at minimizing the risk of child sexual abuse.

The charity, which stands for Saving Children and Revealing Secrets, was formed last October by Debi Ray-Rivers and Jon Brunson.

And in the last five months they have visited schools and sports clubs across the island to help raise awareness of child sexual abuse as well as provide guidance on what can be done to prevent it happening.

Global statistics indicate that one in four girls and one in six boys will be sexually abused before their 18th birthday.

While 88 per cent of abuse is never reported.

Mr Brunson, SCARS’ executive director, believes the problem in Bermuda may be worse than the international figures suggest.

He told the Sun: “This is a call to action to parents and places that look after children to get in place checks and procedures to reduce the chance of a child being abused. Some youth organizations and schools have very good systems in place already but some do not.

“We try to provide guidance on what they can do to minimize the risk of a child being sexually abused. This can start at screening volunteers and doing background checks.

“It can also involve training for volunteers of what signs to look out for if a child is being abused.

“We also advocate the rule of three. This ensures that there is not an occasion when a child is alone with one adult.

“Eighty per cent of abuse takes place in one adult one child situations, so these should be avoided.

“Clubs that take their young members abroad should also have a chaperoning policy in place to ensure there are appropriate numbers of male and female staff compared to children.

“We would like to get to the point where parents are demanding that places where their children go have these policies in place. And the youth or sports clubs should actually advertise the fact they have these policies in place on their website as a means of deterrence.”

Links

So far Mr Brunson and Mrs Ray-Rivers have visited six schools in the public and private sectors. They have also forged links with the North Village Community Club, The Royal Hamilton Amateur Dinghy Club (RHADC) and WindReach.

Rear Commodore at the RHADC Neil Redburn said: “We have on average 400 children go through our junior sailing programme each year.

“We have had an effective child protection policy for a number of years and it is something we take very seriously.

“SCARS is a natural extension of this and fits in with our child protection philosophy and that is why we will use SCARS to help train our coaches further.”

Mrs Ray-Rivers, the charity’s founder and executive director, told the Sun: “We have received a very positive response so far from schools and youth clubs.

“We want to increase public awareness about child sexual abuse so children are less likely to keep it a secret.

“Ultimately our aim is to improve the safety of children.

“Through our experience it is very prevalent but the sad reality is that nobody wants to talk about it. It is still very much a taboo subject in Bermuda.

“But if we don’t report it we are protecting the offender and harming the victims.”

Erica Fulton, Executive Director of WindReach said: “We had SCARS come in to talk with us at WindReach so that we can all be more aware of child sex abuse and what each of us can do to help prevent it.

“We want to be part of the dialogue that addresses such an important topic.

“We have individuals of all ages and abilities who use our programmes and facility and so it is essential that we show everyone that we care about their safety and that we aim to keep them protected from any threats, no matter what form.”

Linda Parker, head of Bermuda High School for Girls said: “BHS has become involved with SCARS as we advocate its objective to reduce the risk of child sexual abuse by raising awareness and enhancing legislation.

“Children who are victims of sexual abuse are literally left with scars that are psychological, physical, emotional and social in nature.

“As a school, we support the protection of innocent children from this tragic reality that exists in societies, locally and globally.”