He told his teacher that he had been raped: how schools can help abused children

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Zsófi Fenyvesi

May 24, 2021 Monday 19:20

There are many other things we deal with in schools that extend beyond the curriculum. There are classes for ethics and religious education, school guards are being paid, and there is sex education in sixth grade, but there is still one subject that we don’t dare mention.

A 13-year-old boy from Kalocsa was regularly raped by his own father. The man would go into the child’s room after bedtime and take advantage of the sleeping boy’s defenselessness. The forty-year-old man, who was treating his partner the exact same way, is now in pre-trial detention, because the boy has finally mustered up the courage to tell his teacher about what’s been done to him. People who haven’t seen such cases from up close or haven’t been victims themselves can’t even begin to imagine the shame that paralyzes these children. These kids don’t dare say anything because they don’t even understand what is happening to them, or if they do, that’s the reason they keep silent. They feel that whatever is happening is utterly wrong, they blame themselves nonetheless, they are scared of the outside world, they are terrified of what might happen if they ask for help. Parents could be blackmailing them, but to say the least they use intimidation and they lie. This boy, however, pulled it off. He was able to talk to someone and thanks to the involvement of this teacher he can now stay with foster parents. His father has not since admitted his guilt.

The question is: would this boy have taken a step earlier if he had not only had that one teacher he could trust but had continuously been informed about his rights? If we had the courage to teach students about the things that no adult is allowed to do to them, that it is not right to be beaten or abused in any way, or to be made to work in prostitution, maybe they would be brave enough to stand up for themselves. While they wonder why our world is the way it is, or what a family is like, they even discuss these questions in ethics or religious education classes, they never hear anything about how they should ask for help if somebody hurts them. Be it a parent, another relative, a teacher, a monk or the coach.

The greatest trap is silence. And kids are very good at that. They feel ashamed for how they are treated. Or they take it for granted, and think it’s natural, just the way the sky is blue, the way there are cartoons on TV on Sunday mornings and daddy beats them up with a belt in the evening. Such is life. Or even if they realize that all that’s being done to them is wrong, they are still exposed to the games of adults. A child is just an element in the system of the family. A family with one or more abusers, and some other adults who are either victims themselves or accomplices who look away or lie. “You must do this, so your father doesn’t leave us.” “Oh, come on, my coach beat me too, that’s how you’ll become a man too.” “Always respect adults, do as they say, don’t cause any trouble.” Children poisoned with such sentences rarely come forth and talk. They would not betray their parents or others with authority in their lives. It should be us stepping up to them to explain what domestic abuse or harassment is. What are the things that adults may or may not do? What should be done if something does happen? Where can they turn for help? What should a child do if another one reveals their problems at home?

Why don’t we help a child who has been raped?

According to the Child rights expert of UNICEF in Hungary, 170,000 children live in Hungary whose physical, psychological or mental health development is in danger. Around eight thousand of them may be the victims of abuse. We cannot establish a precise number because, according to experts, in Hungary alone the child abuse cases occurring may be ten-to-fifteen times more than those discovered. The possibility to speak about these problems in school is especially needed. It should be done the right way, by avoiding victim blaming.

Of course, some might say that the school’s responsibility is teaching, everything else should be worked out by the parents. But then again, why are there ethics and sex ed classes or religious education in the class schedules? Is it because we want our kids to have a proper worldview and be safe?  Then why aren’t we talking about domestic abuse?

We cannot expect families to resolve this, when the primary sources of the problem are often the parents or the relatives themselves. An abused, molested child does not have their mother and father sit down to explain to them: you see, my child, the world is full of trustworthy and kind people, it’s just that we’re not like that, but since we are the ones who feed you, please adapt. These kids are not told how the world is not the dark place, the living hell their parents make it at home. These kids are not told that there is another way to live, and that there are qualified experts who can show them a way out.

All this should be explained by us, non-abusive adults. And since most children are obligated to go to school, a classroom is the perfect place to inform children coming from all kinds of social backgrounds. Not only about sexually transmitted diseases, but about who allowed to touch them and when, and that their bodies belong to them. That there is an underwear rule. That no one has the right to harm, cripple or grope them. Especially now, when domestic abuse cases have increased by a third due to lockdowns. But this subject is embarrassing, right? Parents in healthy family relationships might be afraid to have their children confronted with the fact that there are such horrors in our world. Abusive parents struggle all their lives just to have their little entertainment covered up and they are always ready to lie for this. We are widely known to be the country of a million alcoholics. How many mothers and fathers could there be among them who drunkenly abuse their own children? How many children grow up with only this one model to follow as adults?

Why don’t we do something against this at last? Why isn’t there at least one class of talking about the subject, similar to sex ed?

Gergely Vaskuti, the expert head of the NEMECSEK program created by Hintalovon Child Rights Foundation, answered this difficult question:

There are some organizations in Hungary that conduct educational sessions in schools, although none of these are specifically about domestic abuse. The alarm clock program by UNICEF is intended especially for children and helps broaden the knowledge of children’s rights. Staff members of Hintalovon Foundation also conduct sessions concerning sexual education and children’s rights.

In my opinion it would be really important to talk as much as possible about children’s rights. Meaning it is not only domestic abuse that should be talked about, but also any other areas where children can be harmed: online safety, and their rights related to education or health. It would be important to raise society’s awareness about child abuse and children’s rights. Hintalovon Foundation has prepared numerous campaigns in this subject and a research on the same topic is also currently in progress.

We find it essential for children to get to know their rights, to be aware of the things that no one is allowed to do to them, be it their peers, a teacher or a relative. They should know their rights and what options they have if anybody violates these. It is also important for adults working with children to recognize when a child is in trouble or danger, to know what options and responsibilities they have to ensure the child’s safety and wellbeing.

Hence strengthening all three pillars is significant: raising awareness in and, sensitizing society, broadening children’s knowledge of their rights and training professionals. The goal is to provide greater security for children, to lessen the possibility of the occurrence of abuse cases and have the least possible cases hidden. Researches show that only 1 out of approx. 10 to 15 child abuse cases is discovered by authorities, which is a huge problem. This is especially relevant in the time of the corona virus pandemic. During this time, professionals and members of the child protection signaling system (teachers, nurses) were less capable of staying in touch with children, problems were more likely to stay hidden, victims had more difficulty asking for help.

Translated by: Dóra Horváth