A recent article that quoted the director of the Department for Child Protection and Care as saying "there are about 1,000 cases of child sexual abuse." The quote and content of the article were quite disturbing due to the seeming lack of understanding about the prevalence, causes and long-term consequences that children of abuse, and society, must endure.
It is a mystery as to where the number of "1,000" victims originated because anyone who has any knowledge on this topic is fully aware that this number is ludicrous. All the research indicates very clearly that the vast majority of abuse victims never report to authorities (estimated at 90 percent) and even where abuse has been confirmed by experts, 80 percent of victims still deny their victimization. A recent study of adult women in the US showed that 30 percent were abused as children and rates of abuse in Vietnam, and virtually every other country, are no exception to this pattern. In fact, studies done in India show a much higher incidence. I would think that any organization which has the responsibility to deal with this problem would at least have a realistic estimation of the numbers. And ending on a typical note, the director stated that there were not enough organizations to help these children but he "promised" to work on solutions.
Also, the director stated that the causes of abuse were financial problems, the erosion of values, pornography and violent movies. There is no causeeffect relationship between abuse and any of the reasons stated. Rather, there are many contributing factors that do correlate with the incidence of abuse. Factors which are usually present include the abuse of alcohol by the perpetrator (75 percent of all cases); dysfunctional/violent families; and, poverty all of which exist at higher rates in developing countries. Most importantly, 95 percent of sexual abuse is perpetrated by family members, family friends or acquaintances of the victim and approximately 40 percent of victims are under the age of 12. Additionally, when mental illness or developmentally disabled children are present, the probability of sexual abuse increases 10 times. Those who abuse our children are pedophiles people with personality disorders or other mental illnesses. In a study of pedophiles in the US, it was found that, on average, each pedophile claimed 117 victims.
Totally neglected in the story are the devastating, life-long after-effects of child abuse. Children of abuse suffer anxiety, depression, the inability to ever trust or maintain a healthy relationship, sexual disorders, PTSD, personality disorders and are sentenced to chaotic, unfulfilling lives. The cost to society is crime and generational abuse.
After several serious child abuse cases exposed in Vietnam over the past few years, the public was told there would be a comprehensive 10-year plan to combat this social issue. I am wondering where we are with that plan and how effective it might be considering that those responsible find it difficult to speak about the problem openly and are unable to even define the extent of the problem. Even more problematic is the fact that child neglect, child emotional and physical abuse have rates much higher than sexual abuse. Enough excuses from every corner have been heard.
It is time to act.
By Joseph Whippler
The writer is an American expat who lives and works in Ho Chi Minh City