Child sexual abuse in Jordan

2-7 out of every 100 children are subjected to sexual abuse at the hands of parents/guardians, siblings, relatives, administrators and school teachers. (Photo: Freepik) CAP #2:
AMMAN – Child sexual abuse (CSA) is a global health crisis that threatens children all over the world, and Jordan is no exception. There are almost no reported studies regarding sexual abuse of children in Jordan, a topic culturally deemed taboo and that many prefer not to talk about because it is “too painful”. اضافة اعلان

However the statistics are here and they are staggering; and what they unanimously found was that Jordanian children are just as vulnerable and likely to be sexually abused as their counterparts worldwide.

The first reported study that solely and comprehensively focused on sexual offences against children in Jordan was not published until 2015. It found a 1:1 male to female victim ratio with a mean age of 12.5 years, with 37.1 percent of reported sexual abuse cases being cases of rape. Another study found that 27 percent of male university students in Jordan had reportedly experienced some form of sexual abuse before the age of 14.

27% of male university students, in Jordan, have reportedly experienced some form of sexual abuse before the age of 14.(Photo: Freepik)

A 2007 UNICEF study focused on violence against children in Jordan concluded that 2-7 out of every 100 children are subjected to sexual abuse at the hands of parents/guardians, siblings, relatives, administrators, and school teachers. In one third of cases, the offence was inflicted by neighboring adults, older children, and schoolmates, and in one percent of children subjected to sexual harassment the offenders were janitors and maintenance workers.

Another study found that girls are more likely to be sexually abused by a parent/legal guardian and/or siblings, while boys are more likely to be sexually abused by school teachers, administrators, and schoolmates.

A 2018 study found that Syrian refugee boys, especially younger ones, are at a particularly high risk of sexual violence. The reason why boys are at a higher risk was found to be that sexual abuse against them posed no threat to family honor.

A 2010 report that looked at torture and sexual abuse in Jordanian orphanages included harrowing stories of orphans who, under an alias, reluctantly shared their memories of incidents of sexual abuse they had suffered in these centres. In the report, a 23-year-old girl who went under the alias Maha tearfully stated: “Children used to have sex with each other. I was sexually abused on several occasions by older kids when I was 10 at Dar Al-Hanan in Irbid. At Fatima Al-Zahra’a center where I moved when I was 12, I was subjected to sexual harassment by a female supervisor.”

Even with those disturbing statistics and stories, reporting sexual abuse remains minimal because we are still under the absurd notion that the sexual assault of girls brings dishonor to her family, and the sexual assault of boys impugns their masculinity.

Warning signs of CSA

Spotting child sexual abuse it not easy for multiple reasons. One is that if the perpetrators are old, they most likely take steps to hide their actions, and if perpetrators are other children, it is unfortunately not always taken seriously and sometimes even ignorantly brushed aside as some normal part of child discovery and development; a take that is nothing short of sadistic. Another reason could be that these signs may not always mean that a child is/was being sexually abused, and might emerge as a result of divorce, a family death, problems at school, or other traumatic and anxiety-inducing triggers and events.

Physical signs of CSA can range from unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases (STIs), to signs of trauma to genital areas such as unexplained bruising or bleeding on bedsheets, underwear, or other clothing.

Behavioral signs range wildly. It is important to note that not every child who experiences sexual abuse shows the same signs. For example, some children show excessive interest or having age-inappropriate knowledge of sexual topics and/or demonstrate sexual behavior. Other signs could be exhibiting regressive behavior such as bedwetting or thumb sucking, and avoiding taking off clothes to change or bathe. Other signs could be acting reserved/not talking as much as they normally would, being overly compliant, and spending an unusual amount of time alone.

(Photo: Freepik)

Another red flag to always take seriously, especially if this is a new behavior, could be the child not wanting to be left alone with certain people or being afraid of being separated from thier primary caregivers. So, if a child tells you that somebody is making them feel uncomfortable, even if they cannot or do not know how to tell you why, listen.

Emotional signs of CSA range from moodiness and/or increased aggression, nightmares, increased anxiety or fearfulness and worry, changes in eating habits, exhibiting an unhealthy self-image and decreased self-confidence, and loss of interest in activities, school, and friends. A child may even exhibit signs of self-harm and show signs of unexplained health problems. such as stomach aches and headaches.

While these signs may seem overwhelming, even contradicting, to look out for when caring for a child, the most important thing to note and keep in mind is sudden changes in behaviour.

Children are not likely to come forward about being sexually abused, whether because they were threatened or because they are simply unaware of the severity of what happened to them, so it is up to us to look for signs and save them from further trauma.

The best advice to give, really, is to listen to your instincts. If something seems off with the way that a child is behaving even if you cannot seem to put your finger on it, it is always best to trust your gut and be on alert for any further signs, as well as to try to talk to that child in age-appropriate ways.

Signs that an adult may be hurting a child

As important as it is to look out for signs exhibited by children who are possibly sexually abused, it is equally important to pay attention to and be cautious about an adult exhibiting some of the following alarming behavior: trying to befriend a child through talking to them about their personal problems or relationships, rather than taking an adult role in their life, touching a child in front of parents/guardians despite being shown that that is unwanted, and not respecting boundaries even when they are told “no”.

They might also make up excuses to be alone with the child and spend more time with them than what their role in that child’s life requires. They may try to even restrict other adults’ access to that child. Another sign could be giving excessive amounts of gifts to a child without reason or occasion. Finally, they may express abnormal interest in the child’s sexual development, commenting on their sexual characteristics and/or sexualizing normal behavior.

Long-term effects of CSA

While any child could potentially be at risk of sexual abuse, some children are more vulnerable and at higher risk of experiencing it, such as children who were sexually abused in the past, or children who live in families where there is child neglect.

Studies have found that disabled children, especially ones who have difficulties with language or speech, are three times more likely to experience sexual abuse. In addition, children whose internet use is not monitored can fall victim to being groomed by sexual predators on social media platforms, web forums, and chat rooms.

The implications of child sexual abuse are likely to be long term, potentially causing lifelong physical and emotional damage. Abused children are more likely to grow up suffering from anxiety, depression, eating disorders, and PTSD. They are also at a higher risk of engaging in criminal activity, being passed around sexual networks and being sexually exploited, misusing alcohol and drugs, and more likely to commit suicide as young adults.

Further examining and investigating child sexual abuse, in the hopes of disclosing as many cases as possible, has proved, worldwide, to be an essential step in setting children free from the horrors of sexual abuse, helps hold perpetrators accountable and prevents them from sexually abusing more children.

Our current handling of CSA based on ancient sentiments has only served the perpetrators of such horrific acts, who managed to get away with sexually abusing children around them for an embarrassingly long time.

Offering a safe space for these children to speak up and further providing them with not only legal justice but physical and psychological care in the short and long-term is long overdue.

It is important to take all data and statistics into consideration and use it to inform policy and further develop new and update existing prevention strategies that focus on reducing sexual abuse among children in Jordan.

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