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Giving support to victims of child sex abuse

2014-12-01 09:14 Shanghai Daily Web Editor: Qian Ruisha

The Huangpu District People's Procuratorate has opened a program called Sunflower to provide molested children and their families with medical and psychological help.

Child abuse has become a widely discussed global problem. The United Nations Children's Fund estimates that about 120 million girls and women under the age of 20 have been victims of forced sex.

Prosecutors in Huangpu District said Sunflower has been involved in six molestation cases since April. All involved girls aged between 5 and 14, and most of the perpetrators were family members or friends of the victims.

"We help these girls both physically and psychologically," said Gu Ying, a prosecutor who has participated in the project. "We cooperate with the No. 411 Hospital, which is also involved with unwanted teenage pregnancies and other traumas affecting young girls."

According to Gu, the psychological treatment involves the assistance from both volunteer psychologists and professional consultants from a mental health center in the Hongkou District.

"We never force the abused children to accept our services," Gu said. "We respect their personal decisions."

The first family to accept Sunflower's help was the family of a 5-year-old girl who was molested by a 60-year-old man who lived next door.

After a trial was suspended the girl's mother — who admitted wanting to kill the neighbor — took to locking herself in her room for hours at a time and ended up having a breakdown.

The little girl neither understand the abuse she had suffered nor the reason for her mother's sudden erratic behavior.

Prosecutors first approached the mother through volunteer psychologists, who presented a less authoritarian demeanor. They worked with the mother to ease her anxiety and finally coaxed her to spend less time in her room.

In addition, Sunflower took the little girl into temporary care and monitored her for any psychological problems.

Public shame

In another case, a girl who received an examination at the No. 411 Hospital was found to have signs of abuse. It turned out she had been molested by a local street vendor for several months.

The molester, surnamed Wang, had been jailed several times for theft and hooliganism. On release last year, he became a vendor selling breakfasts. He used candies to lure the girl, who passed his stall to use a restroom.

Because her family was poor and worried about public shame, they didn't take action to help their daughter deal with the physical and psychological damage she suffered.

Prosecutors worked with the No. 411 Hospital to provide free medical and mental health services for the girl. They said both the child and her parents are now resuming more normal lives.

Gu cites these cases to show the successes of Sunflower, but she said the program still has a long way to go in overcoming a traditional tendency to sweep child abuse under the carpet.

"In our society, people often consider it shameful to be the victim of a sexual assault," she said. "That means that victims are often made to feel responsible for the crimes committed against them. We need to change that public perception."

Many families of victims refuse help from Sunflower because they don't want their daughters involved in what they perceive to be a public scandal, Gu said.

She cited the case of a 12-year-old middle school pupil, nicknamed Wenwen, who was molested by a man met over the Internet. The molester, surnamed Qin, was a university undergraduate. He contacted Wenwen via the QQ messaging service in April and eventually asked her to take part in a photography shoot. He then took her to a hotel room, where he raped her and took photographs.

When prosecutors contacted Wenwen's mother, she told them that she didn't want this to be pursued and refused their help.

"Some parents think our assistance will prolong the mental agony of their children," Gu said. "We have to convince them that these young girls, if not given timely help, could be scarred for life. We need to win their trust."

However, she is optimistic that the message is getting through, saying that Sunflower is to be expanded.

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