An estimated one in five children or more around the world suffer some form of sexual violence, with abusers in the overwhelming majority of cases being somebody the child knows and trusts. Statistics do not tell the full story, however, as most cases of sexual violence against children are not disclosed to anyone, with at least 90 percent of cases not reported to the authorities. But sexual violence, one of the worst crimes against children as it violates so many of their rights, will continue if the root causes that allow it to exist in the first place are not challenged.
The artwork below has accompanied our research on sexual violence in closed institutions, namely religious institutions starting with the Catholic Church, and the United Nations in relation to crimes committed by peacekeepers and other civilian staff.
In 2014 reports emerged that the United Nations, the bastion of human rights, had mishandled complaints by children in the Central African Republic who said they had been sexually abused by UN peacekeepers. The overriding motivation of the UN was to keep the allegations out of the public domain and to punish the staff who had leaked the information to external sources. The welfare of the children affected, and holding perpetrators to account, was overlooked.
The image here featured in our campaign to end sexual violence against children by UN peacekeepers.
Child sexual abuse in religious institutions is rife across the world, and more and more cases continue to reveal that this centuries-old problem, which has always been shrouded in secrecy, cover-ups, and a lack of accountability, is as present as ever. Bearing the brunt of the problem are the children, who have little power to stop the abuse or opportunities to seek justice. Our work to end sexual violence in religious institutions started with a focus on the Catholic Church, in which a systemic lack of accountability, obscure and rigid internal structures, and a chronic lack of political continue to delay any reform.
The image here featured on the cover of our global report on justice, accountability and reform in the Catholic Church.
In the face of the Catholic Church’s sexual abuse scandal, the Vatican should choose full disclosure of information to civil authorities over self-preservation. Such transparency is the bridge between intention and achievement, and with this, the church would become more honest and law-abiding for the sake of its followers and its own damaged credibility. If not, the Catholic Church will remain as closed and stagnant in its inaction and inability to effectively respond to the scale of the abuse as it always has been.
The image here featured on the back cover of our global report on justice, accountability and reform in the Catholic Church.
Like all bad things left unsaid, uncovered, unchallenged or even actively suppressed, they are allowed to fester like a dirty wound — and sexual violence is no exception. In every single chapter of every sexual abuse story, silence plays a leading role in making sure the abuse goes on and carries on. It is a consequence of a power imbalance whereby the vulnerable, defenceless, small[er], weak[er] — in other words, the abusable — are dragged into victimhood and kept quiet. They are not expected to stand a chance, and it’s this that abusers hone in on.
This image originally featured in an article titled The Art of Secrecy in Sexual Violence.
Efforts to protect children from sexual violence, despite being well-intentioned, can often result in restrictions on children’s rights in the name of protection. This is the case with the internet, whereby attempts to stop children from being exposed to material considered ‘inappropriate’ - with filters, blocks, parental controls, and surveillance - can inadvertently restrict their access to websites with information useful to their health and wellbeing, including on sex and relationships education, which addresses questions of consent and abuse, and can support children’s role in their own protection.