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Sex In The Schools, Sex in the Children's Society

A Comment on the Guardian Editorial of Monday, July 11th,

By Linda E. Edwards
July 12, 2005

"Children are aware of sex in the schools, female students respond to male teachers a certain way. Guys watch their female teachers a certain way. If a teacher is pregnant or getting married, students are aware of sex. You put males and females in the same classroom, their hormones kick in, so we should prepare them early for handling this in a mature manner". So spoke a psychologist whose name has slipped from my memory. He was speaking at a conference on Teen Sexuality, in Antigua, sponsored by the CFPA(Caribbean Family Planning Affiliation) of which I was the training officer. This was in 1988.

I held discussions on teen sexuality throughout the Caribbean, from Bermuda to Grenada and Belize, but never in Trinidad and Tobago, which has its own Family Planning Offices and programs. I held one of my best sessions in St. Lucia, sponsored by the Catholic Church, and the Catholic Church of St. Maarten (Dutch) changed the dates of a retreat so that I could meet with parents to talk on the sexuality of their children. And Trinidad and Tobago was doing its own thing, at the confluence of three great religions, none of which treat with women as grown and thinking adults, and many of which treat with children as little more than parental property.

Now add to the Guardian's statistics for this week, the following, also reported in the papers.

  • The stabbing death of the Tobago schoolgirl, by her twenty-two year old lover in Charlotteville last week. She too, was fourteen. (Statutory rape)
  • The alleged rape of a fourteen-year old girl by the Simon man, who on release from jail, came by two days later, attacked her mother and chopped both her sisters, leaving one dead.
  • The countless cases of incest for which parents and stepfathers are tried and jailed.
There are, in addition, countless cases of "interfering with a child" that parents cover up for fear of social stigma. One such case resulted in the grandparent pressing charges, and the man being arrested, but her village was urging her to "forget that nuh man".

Trinidad and Tobago, we have a problem far, far more serious than some of our other crimes, generally directed towards men, that get immediate and focused attention in the media. This problem is the much ignored epidemic of sexual exploitation of children.

I said in my commentary on the Pixie Lakhan case that had she been the son of a businessman who had not come home as expected, every stop would have been pulled out, and her disappearance would have been attacked with full force, but she was a mere girl, a girl condemned to walk home, so it seems to have been treated with scant concern, at first.

Sex is not merely in the schools, it is an epidemic of sexual exploitation of children by the entire society, some cases of which, end in violence and death-Charlotteville, Petit Valley; but many of which leave an underlying climate of violence- the violation of a child.

Now, back for a minute to those CFPA workshops of the late 1980's.

I am conducting a workshop for nurses in St. Vincent, my first of a long series. I used the T-Group technique to get women talking of their sexual experiences, these are nurses already working in FP. My thesis is that you have to be comfortable with your own sexuality, to be able to intelligently discuss that of others; in this case, the teenagers who come to you seeking help. So we sit around in a circle and begin to talk of our own sexual experience- our first contact with sex. What more than 85 percent of the women reported (we agreed to talk with our eyes closed) would constitute rape.

Yet these women, harbouring these secret pains for all these years, with no counseling help because of societal attitudes, were the finest nurses, but had a barrier in counseling young people about their sexuality. My task was to help them overcome that barrier, so that they could more effectively help others.

I would guess that the statistics in Trinidad would be about the same, but for different reasons. In the Eastern Caribbean, I attributed that to ignorance and the influence of rigid Christian Church attitudes. In Trinidad and Tobago, we have three sets of religion with rigid sexual attitudes, but all of which have subservient roles for women.

In my workshops, I created a story of a bright nine year old, very aware of what was going on in her world who asked her parent, "Daddy, am I old enough for sex?"

"Of course not," the father replied, "that is adult business".

So the child diligently studied, and refrained from sexual contact.

After graduating from high school, she said "Daddy, am I old enough for sex?"

"No daughter, that is adult business, You go to university first"

She comes home with a B.A. Honors.

"Daddy, am I old enough for sex?"

"Not in my house," he thundered "And good girls live in their parents homes until they are married."

Now. My question to both Family Planning groups and the society at large is this: Suppose she never married, when would a good girl be old enough to deal with the sexual needs of her own mature body?

The answer to this question speaks volumes about societal attitudes to the sexual development of children.

Too many parents focus on sex by condemning their children's curiosity. Too many parents ban all talk of sex, a topic of major interest to children. They see it all around. They see parents pregnant. They see families break up and new unions formed. They see, repeatedly, examples of girls who are pregnant in schools.( Too often, the parent pulls her out of school, drastically terminating her education. It happened at Woodbrook Secondary, when I taught there in 1963, and this was a girl from a prominent family.) It has only increased in the last forty-two years.

The adults in our society seem to have attitudes to children gaining sexual knowledge that falls into these categories:

  • Ignore it, it will go away. (It will not).
  • They too 'farse' and fresh with themselves. (This in response to a biological series of changes that are today triggered earlier by hormonally enhanced foods.)
  • My child is a good girl. She does not need to know about that now. (Wrong again, the earlier she knows the less likely she will be to fall for the casual sexual exploitation of children so rampant in the society. Knowledge can protect her even from her father.)
  • Tell the boys what they need to know but don't teach the girls yet.(Sparrow's calypso- Put Your Daughter Inside Ms. Miriam comes to mind.) The boys, however, practice the exploration of their sexual curiousity on the good girls. The bad girls are too smart to fall for that.
Compounding the problem is the role teachers are expected to play. If there is no formal program of sex education in schools at the elementary level, how does a teacher explore the possibilities of sexual abuse with a child who shows signs of being raped? Without a formal, legal requirement to report suspected child sexual abuse, the teacher who does something about it is going out on a limb. With the procedures in place, she is still going out on a limb, because she is going against the grain of the male dominated culture that seems to propose the idea that finding one "in the school yard" is best. Kindergarten?

A teacher in Tobago was killed for reporting this sort of situation. Teachers, who are subjected to the constant buffeting of society, and so easily blamed for all of its ills, are on shaky grounds when it comes to actively reporting sexual abuse of children.

It is another sad comment on us that children of the poor are the most vulnerable to sexual abuse. A rich child would not accept a dollar or a candy bar for sexual favors. Such a child is likelier to pay a couple hundred dollars to someone else to do the math homework. Wealthier kids are likelier to have a parent at home in the deadly hours between the end of the school day and nightfall. The poor single parent working two jobs is not home to supervise her child. People living in unsecured shacks are even more vulnerable. Again, a single female parent with a new man in her life, is, in the words of my sister who choose never to do that, "getting a man for her daughters too." Dr. Rawle Edwards also pointed that out in the video "Shattered Lives".

Intense sex education for children was undertaken in the Eastern Caribbean as a result of two factors. Tourism exposes the vulnerable children of those islands to people from far more sophisticated cultures, who may offer money as a temptation to sex. And they have money.

AIDS was on the increase in Antigua and other tourist places in the 1980's and so we went around the island, a unique combination of medical, clergy and social worker staffs to educate people, and to ask that they pass the education on to their children.

Trinidad, long tending to stand aloof from the "small islands" has a proliferation of money and foreigners, and an increased incidence of AIDS, coupled with the socio-religious restrictive attitudes previously mentioned. It also has the greatest gap between the haves and the have-nots- another factor in sexual exploitation.

Men use money and power to demand or take forcefully, sexual favours from women. Thus young and vulnerable women and children are their targets. Women, poor and powerless, have always been unable to escape this. Now the poor and powerless women have come to include children. Again, this is not new, just getting worse. A twenty-one year old went to jail in 1985 or raping a four year old child, who died as a result. I remember responding angrily to the graphic descriptions of court testimony carried in one daily paper. Things have not gotten better. In fact, they are worse now.

Finally, two points. We are not alone in this terrible situation. We are part of the global picture of increased child sexual exploitation. Young children go missing in Trinidad, and are never found. I continue to believe that they, boys and girls, are sold into sexual slavery, and shipped out of backwater bays.

Unlike Rev. Cyril Paul, I am not ashamed of Trinidad and Tobago. I see many problems that we have, that have been there all along, that have become worse through our ignoring them or through tackling them from the edges. Increase wealth has brought increased problems, but the problems were there all along. Nibbling away is not a solution to major problems.

When we let a prior leader of the country get away with allegations of sexual exploitation of the women in his office, when we allow a foreign technocrat to also get away with such allegations, when our Calypsonians have never, as far as I can recall, created a calypso upholding the virtues of women, but instead, are celebrating over and over the predatory exploits of men, when a popular talk show host, in commenting on daily event, asks a caller what she is wearing, and she too responds in loose talk, while school children are listening; when the society condemns with venom the kidnapping of young business men, but only now condemns by lead editorial, the sexual exploitation of young women, we are a deeply troubled people. Exposure to the light of day kills some types of germs. Exposure alone, however, is not enough. We must educate children in matters of sexuality so that they could be safe. We teach them to cross the road safely, and lock the house door, for the same reason, so that they could be safe.

The Guardian has begun this exposure. Let us hope that other news media will take it up, and at the same time, I hope all media will examine the roles they may be playing in subconsciously pushing sex, unacceptable sex, at young children. I hope every hospital's maternity wing, and every doctor, reports the fact of a pregnancy in a girl under seventeen. Chances are, she was being sexually exploited. I hope every neighbour who "sees things" or "suspects something" will report it. I hope every police officer, in every station, learns or is trained to take these reports seriously. The children we save will run the country in which the current adults will grow old.

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