The happiness of finding freedom

by Fr. Shay Cullen

The Big Egg Hunt | Photo by Karen Roe via Wikimedia Commons

It is wonderful to see the happiness and freedom enjoyed by the many children that have recovered from the trauma of domestic sexual abuse and those sold into sex slavery. Freedom from fear and abuse results from a therapeutic healing program for abused children in the Preda Foundation home. There is a great need for more healing centers for sexual abuse trauma. Abused children have nowhere to go to be protected and heal and recover. Most victim-survivors live with hurt, pain, and fear all their lives. As one older victim said, “it is as if it only happened yesterday.” Many recover at the Preda children’s home with support, encouragement, affirmation, and Emotional Release Therapy, where the pain, anger, and hatred are released by crying and confronting their abusers.

I share some success stories to encourage victim-survivors, parents, and defenders of child rights that healing is possible. They must speak out, seek help and protection, and find freedom and justice. I have told this story in the past as it gives hope and encouragement that no matter the abuse has been done to a child, with proper care, therapy, and empowerment, the child victim-survivor can overcome and win out in the end and find healing and justice.

Tessie is a child controlled by her parents, relatives, and neighbors. Tessie had never known her biological parents until she was seven. At eight, her brother, Mar, then 14 years old and into watching child sex abuse images on the internet, raped her one night and threatened her not to tell anyone or bad things would happen. Terrified, she remained silent, burying the secret, pain, and fear within her. Her trauma did not end there.

When she was 11 years of age, Rene, whom she called “Uncle Rene,” the brother of her sister’s husband, raped her in her bed in the dark of night. She was again threatened and remained silent, never daring to oppose the abusive adults, fearing they might kill her if she told anyone. Instilling fear into a child victim is the strongest protection a child rapist has to avoid being found out. Dark silence is the world of the abused child. Tessie was too scared to make a complaint, although she was filled with anger and fear. Yet, she remembered every act of abuse and suffered in silence. Her family was against her.

Then the worst thing of all happened to her. At 12 years of age, her biological father came at night and raped her aggressively. It didn’t end there. Her family held her as a sex slave, and her older brother, Engel, came too and raped her when she was 15 years of age. He made threats of violence against her, so she lived in constant fear and was traumatized. There was no way out for Tessie.

“According to a report by Unicef, International Justice Mission (IJM), and Ecpat International in 2021, about 2,000,000 children are sexually abused yearly in the Philippines. More than 70 percent of sexually abused children are between 10 and 18 years old.”

Juvie, her older sister who had suffered and endured similar abuse from several family members, was silent and afraid to talk. She was sent to work outside and earn for her relatives as a domestic servant in the house of a middle-class family. Princess could not contain her grief and pain any longer about what was being done to her and told the teenage daughter of her employer. That young woman had been likely attending Preda seminars on child rights and abuse, and she knew what she had to do. On March 21, she went to the municipal social worker and reported what Princess had told her. The truth was out, and there was hope for Tessie and her sister to get help.

The truth is what sets them free. The municipal social worker referred the two sisters to the Preda home for abused children, and their healing and recovery began. Eventually, the two sisters filed their complaint before the prosecutor and elevated it to court. We await the outcome of the judge’s decision. Will the abusers walk free or get a just punishment, and the children get closure, healing, and justice?

According to a report by Unicef, International Justice Mission (IJM), and Ecpat International in 2021, about 2,000,000 children are sexually abused yearly in the Philippines. More than 70 percent of sexually abused children are between 10 and 18 years old. Among those victims, 20 percent are under six years old, the report said.

This study found that one in five children aged between 12 and 17 were subjected to grave instances of online sexual abuse while using the internet in the Philippines in 2021. The abuse of children is fueled by the uncontrolled, easy availability of the internet that does not install blocking software. It allows the transmission of online sexual abuse images of children. The lockdowns and pandemic added to the already existing problem. The likes of Facebook, Tiktok, and other platforms, as well as the telcos and internet service providers, must be held accountable and have to be made to obey the law to protect children.

As part of the study conducted with the help of the Global Partnership to End Violence Against Children, as many as 950 children were interviewed. They learned that one-fifth of that number were sexually harassed and abused online in one year. Teenagers are groomed and lured to expose themselves online. Children are also put on a sexual show for foreigners over the internet. It leads to blackmail and extortion of children.

The uncontrolled internet, a magnificent tool for communication, is gravely abused. It is time to crack down and control the other media platforms that allow the ISPs to enable the flow of abusive material and implement the law.

Tess and her sister are at school, living freely, unafraid, but unable to return to the abusive family. They have to stand on their own with the help of the Preda Foundation. They are on their way to independent living and are finding a new, happier life.

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