I thought for a long time before writing something on this issue. Then I said to myself children are important, they should be top priority everywhere, including Armenia, since they are the most vulnerable and an easy target for sexual abuse.
For every parent raising a kid in Canada or the US, this subject is a very scary one. TV, schools, radio, newspapers, public ads constantly remind them to be careful of predators, abductors and pedophiles everywhere in school, on the streets, in the parks and at home.
In Armenia, it is still a major taboo to speak about violence in general let alone sexual violence and even more against children. Only during these past few months, I have personally read 3 articles in different on-line Armenian journals (for the first time) about sexual assault against children: the first incident was in Yerevan where a group of men raped a little girl of 8yrs old in one of the parks, the other in a region where a young boy of 5 was sexually abused by his neighbors and family friend and one in a village where a small boy was raped by 3 teenagers in school.
Before that there was the case of sexual abuse in Nubarashen boarding school raised by the activist Mariam Sukhudyan which awakened the whole society on this issue and slowly former students of these schools came forward and started opening up about the past and the ongoing abuses in these schools.
When you go to different meetings and talk with professionals working in the field of child protection in Armenia you always hear horror stories about the reality of sexual abuse of children in families and outside as well. But rarely will people raise the issue publicly. Why? Fear, Shame or maybe the lack of procedure and intervention mechanisms.
One thing is sure, this silence is not protecting our children. It is hard, it is scary and horrifying, but people should be aware that it EXISTS as well in Armenia and not talking about it will not make it go away. The hard part is that since nobody talks (and the ones who speak out are made to feel guilty), everyone thinks that it is not an issue here, so parents are more relaxed, trusting everyone even strangers with their children. This lack of awareness could lead us more into trouble and making our children, the perfect victims: available, free and unaware!
When I use to volunteer in the regions of Armenia, I always found it odd that young children were accompanying us everywhere without sometimes even the knowledge of their parents. Later, when I moved in a big residential building in Yerevan, I noticed young girls(and by young I mean 5-6yrs old) playing very late at night in the backyards without any supervision, where it was very easy to find all kind of people.
I know this is a harsh issue and that we sometimes fear that by protecting the children we are robbing of their innocence and childhood. But I also remember the face of that small boy who came to our crisis center after an abuse and I thought if only we taught our children to speak to us more, teach them about the importance of keeping their body and their person safe.
That night, I sat with my kids in my bed and I started talking and asking questions: how was school, if there were any problems, if something was bothering them? Then we talked about our bodies, how it is sacred and belonged to us and only we(each individual) are allowed to touch it. We even practiced shouting out loud as a mechanism to alert others of a dangerous situation they encounter.
It is hard to think of all this. Sometimes I lose sleep over it. Sometimes I overdo it, but the important thing is that we can make a difference by empowering our children and encouraging them to trust their own instincts instead of shutting it down.
Nobody wants to raise victims, so let’s give our children the necessary tools to stay safe inside and outside home.