There is a massive and positive change in the level of public awareness, knowledge and commitment to challenge, confront and expose the sexual harassment and abuse of children and women in the past decade. In recent months, women have been coming out in public and naming those that had sexually harassed, abused or raped them. They had hid it for years and were afraid or reluctant to speak out. But that is changing and the hashtag #MeToo is a venue for make the truth to be known. The accused are people in power and positions of influence over others and they have abused their positions to sexually exploit the people dependent on them. May they face justice and be held accountable for their behaviour and actions.
This year, the Martin Buber Award is given to recognize the work that enables many children to speak out and overcome adversary. For those who have been sexually abused and exploited in childhood, it has been almost impossible for them to speak out because they were vulnerable, dominated and controlled by their abusers. They seldom had someone they trusted to tell their terrible secret ordeals.
People with ascendency over children are the abusers and even teenagers are abusing younger girls with alarming frequency. The victims are silent because of fear, intimidation and threats by the abuser. This can be their own biological or step-father, a live-in partner, a friend or neighbour of the family or any one in society who has access to the child- a sports coach, clergy or any professional. The greatest fear of the child is that she or he will not be believed and every one will blame her and be angry with her. Besides the victims have been threatened and they believe the threats of the abuser will be carried out. One convicted paedophile in a family abused his niece and killed pet rabbits in front of her telling the child that is what will happen to her if she tells anybody about the abuse.
Twenty years ago, the abusers had it their own way. No one dared make any accusation of child abuse against a well-off man with a position in society. Even police, parents and authorities were reluctant to believe the child victim and the laws were weak and unenforced. But that has changed with the campaigning and awareness-building to make speaking out and reporting abuse mandatory for adults and especially for people in authority who know of any act of abuse against a child. There is still a lot of cover-up and looking the other way but change is gathering momentum.
The detection of child abuse and speaking out has to be the common and regular thing to do like reporting an accident or a fire. Child victims who hide their trauma and endure the abuse silently suffer depression, loss of interest in life, loose self-confidence and esteem. They lose interest in school and many then run away to friends or relatives or live on the streets where traffickers and pimps quickly pick them up and their lives are lost. But when they are helped, rescued and given the chance of freedom, support, education and therapy, they come back to life and are empowered and resilient. They can then pursue justice successfully against their abusers and go on to a strong positive future. Many victims helped by the Preda Foundation have this experience of “resurrection” and now enjoy a life of peace and happiness.
This week, the Martin Buber Plaque award is given to us in the Preda Foundation in recognition of these children who have spoken out, got help and engaged and challenged their abusers and justice was done. The award particularly recognizes those children who still suffer abuse secretly, alone, unknown and silently. It recognizes the Preda staff that engage in a dialogue of healing and empowerment with the children helping their recovery.
The Martin Buber philosophy in one of its aspects is about dialogue. It is a way of resolving conflicts and finding justice by meeting people face to face and challenging them as persons recognizing them as individuals.
This focus of the Martin Buber Plaque Award 2017 is on the dignity and rights of the child in 2017. Here are my personal reactions to receiving the award. The awarding of the Martin Buber Plaque to recognize the work of bringing peace and reconciliation to the abused, exploited, abandoned, and jailed children of the world is most welcome and appropriate and greatly appreciated by me and the staff of the Preda Foundation who make the work possible.
The award of the plaque to this work is in the true spirit of Martin Buber’s writings and his stand on making peace in the individual by direct contact with people by addressing human rights issues. Martin Buber’s advocacy of peacemaking is based on compassionate listening, understanding the person, affirming each other, and engaging in dialogue directly with people who have or are suffering abuse and human rights violations.
It is a philosophy to create the possibility and the chance of peace and reconciliation through full personal relationship between individuals and in society. It is a process of human interaction that brings healing and recovery, individually and in community. The work of freeing children from abusers, illegal imprisonment and abusive situations and bring them healing from trauma and bring them to a peaceful existence with society is what I have been doing for the past 43 years in the Philippines through the Preda Foundation with the help of dedicated co-workers.
I am deeply honoured and happy to receive the Martin Buber Plaque as it recognizes and honours the victims of abuse and rights violations. It is the resilient and courageous children who are survivors and victors who are the true recipients of this award.
Rev. Shay Cullen is a co-founder of PREDA, a nonprofit dedicated to the defense of children.