Making change in Chile
Valeria Arredondo is the Technical Lead at Paicabi— a member organisation of Family for Every Child – which for 23 years has been fighting against the sexual abuses that harm the development and well-being of children. Amongst other things, Paicabi works to mobilise communities to help children recover from sexual violence, to challenge the cultural norms that feed it and to prevent it from happening in the first place. But there’s always more that can be done. In conversation with Family for Every Child, Valeria explains in this interview what some of the key priorities are in the fight against sexual violence.
What is Paicabi’s vision, and how do you achieve it?
Paicabi’s mission is to promote and defend children’s rights. Throughout its history, Paicabi has been concerned about one of the most severe violations of rights: sexual violence. Our work includes generating awareness regarding the types of violations and when they’ve occurred; and we intervene either with the children or with the family. We also do damage control – in psychological terms, in legal terms, and in social terms.
You’ve done work surrounding sexual abuse affecting boys. Why is a distinct focus on boys important?
There’s a cultural problem at the core of this issue. The language used supports the idea of boys being the sexual assaulter. Also, the way in which a boy experiences an assault is different from that of a girl. We need a better understanding of the cultural beliefs that both support these abusive practices and prevent boys from reporting their own victimisation. It’s really hard for boys to report their abuse because culturally, they’re not recognised as being victims.
Gender norms are a critical element because there’s greater visibility for girls in relation to their status as victims. It’s more visible and better-prevented at home, in the community and at school. There’s more talk about sexual abuse as a risk for girls than there is for boys. For this reason, a boy finds it really hard to recognise himself as a victim. Secondly, usually the sexual abuse that boys experience is perpetrated by another male. This adds additional stigma – along with the stigma of being a victim – related to their sexual orientation as a result of this experience. That’s damage generated by the family and by society.
There’s also the issue of normalised abuse within relationships. The use of force and intimidation in child-adult relationships are linked to gender and they facilitate abuse, not only sexual, but also physical and psychological.
How should we create a better future for boys? What are the priorities?
I think there’s a big lack of research. It’s important to learn more about these phenomena and to be able to distinguish between them. Sexual abuse that takes place with a girl is different from a sexual abuse against a boy. Sexual abuse between peers (boys of a similar age who are minors) is different to sexual abuse between an adult and a boy. It’s different when a child has has other experiences of further abuse, too; something known as polyvictimisation.
Today we can talk about sub-phenomena within the abuse itself. Others are emerging very strongly: commercial sexual exploitation as a form of sexual violence, for example. That’s a complex way to violate some children – boys and girls – who have already had experiences of abuse and who end up in commercial sexual exploitation because there haven’t been social interventions when they needed them.
We also need to investigate and prove that some interventions have better results than ones that aren’t effective. Another urgent matter would to identify preventive elements that are rooted in the reality of each community.
What’s something you’ve learned at Paicabi that could help children in other countries?
We’ve been working directly with families and children for 23 years; so we have a lot of experience working with families, communities and children who have been victims; with direct intervention and recovery programmes. Another area of expertise is around publicising the phenomena of sexual violence affecting children – and that includes boys who sexually assault other boys as well as young people who practice sexual abuse behaviours. As part of Family for Every Child, our extensive experience in this area is something we’re excited to be sharing with other members on an international level.