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Jul 14, 2004

Young women discuss sexual abuse

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Sexual abuse and exploitation: On a list of Belize?s social problems, it would rank at or near the top. But before a problem can be solved, it must first be exposed. And that’s what was happening today in Lord’s Bank. New’s 5′s Patrick Jones reports.

Patrick Jones, Reporting

The over one hundred girls and young women from the Belize District are discussing more important things than music and make-up. It?s the annual young women?s forum, sponsored by the Youth Enhancement Services. Coordinator Karen Cain says the two-day event has a simple objective.

Karen Cain, Coordinator, Outreach and Advocacy Department

Its an open discussion, its going to be in smaller group discussions as well, the girls can get up and go to the mic and voice whatever concerns or questions that they might have.?

?The whole purpose is to provide a voice for young women to voice their concerns and opinions and recommendations on sexual abuse and exploitation.?

And the participants held nothing back as they opened the forum with a frank discussion of those topics. Jolene Neal says activities such as this are helpful.

Joelene Neal, Forum Participant

?I most and likely think that the HIV and getting pregnant at a young age and that they are not getting the most love and attention at home.?

Patrick Jones

?How can we change that??

Joelene Neal

?By getting more of the youths off the streets and having more workshops like the one that we are having about now and to get more of the youths off more than likely.?

For Andrea O?Brien, who is one of the peer counsellors, taking advantage of young girls is just not cool.

Andrea O?Brien, Peer Councillor

?Sexual abuse and exploitation is definitely a problem. I mean the rate is very high at this point. Basically, that is why we have these things. The rate is very high and we are tying to reduce the rate. It is very hard. It?s very hard because we need them to come out.?

And that?s the crux of the problem. O?Brien says one of the first things that needs to change is the culture of silence that is all too prevalent among victims of abuse.

Andrea O?Brien

?They are not coming out as we think they should. We think they should come out in full, come out and show us that they need our help. The supporters are there, but it?s up to them to come out and show us that they need us to be supportive to them.?

Patrick Jones

?But what do you think is keeping them from coming out as you say??

Andrea O?Brien

?Mainly, the main thing that is keeping them in is discrimination. As you know we live in a small country and a lot of discrimination is in Belize.?

And until our young women feel confident enough to say enough is enough, no doubt the abuse and suffering will continue. Cain says the two-day forum is a good way to start addressing the problem.

Karen Cain

?Yes, it?s taking on the challenge of also giving our Belizean females a chance to voice their opinions as well.?

Patrick Jones

?Is sexual abuse a problem for young girls??

Karen Cain

?Of course, I think that goes without saying. Sexual abuse is on the rise all over our country. Alone for this year we have heard that there is about ninety cases since January to May. And we know that it?s a problem all over and so we want the girls to get the information, know the proper authorities who they can report this to, and where they can seek help.?

Cain says the forum is basically to let the girls know that they don?t have to suffer in silence.

Karen Cain

?It?s for them to know that organizations are out there for them. It?s for them to get what they have on their chest off yes, but it?s also for us as N.G.O. to know what are the concerns of the young people and how we can address those concerns.?

Patrick Jones, for News Five.

Cain says that the concerns and recommendations coming out of the forum will form the basis for an anti-sexual abuse and exploitation media campaign later this year. The forum has the support of the United Nations Children’s Fund and included a presentation from the director of the National Committee for Families and Children, Judith Alpuche.

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