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Daly Bread: Soothing the wounds of violence and abuse

The nasty debate about which of the two different governments was responsible for the prolonged abuse of children in state-funded homes continues.  

It is made worse by a discernible element of glee with which the politicians and other combatants attack each other concerning the revelations of abuse, incompetence and indifference—even while pain and fear are coursing through our island nation. One family has explicitly told us that deep wounds are being re-opened.

Photo: A victim of child abuse.

Disgusted by the shameless partisan remarks, I re-read the testimonies of victims now coming forward. ‘Bradley’, in the Trinidad Express (20 May), told us that he struggled secretly throughout his life, as the abuse he suffered is causing him ‘continued pain trauma and nightmares’.

I also came across a reasoned account of why the use of careless and insensitive words in the political gayelle are to be condemned.

A guest essay in the New York Times on Tuesday last was written by someone who was sexually abused when she was five years old. She is deeply concerned about the attacks opposing politicians in the mid-term US elections of 2022 are mounting to portray each other as perverted.

The writer, Kendall Ciesemier, warned that the casual misuse and weaponising of nasty words and profiling terms in political debate was as dangerous as it was wrong. The number of abused children was ‘far too many to be sacrificed for the sake of salacious political rhetoric’.

Photo: Akiel Chambers was buggered and murdered on 23 May 1998 at a birthday party in an upscale residence in Maraval. He was 11.

She continued: “If we can’t agree that the use of these words is sacred and worth protecting from daily politics, we are telling one another that our deepest, most intimate, heart-wrenching wounds are empty—and that we may as well be, too.”

This commentator would despair further if she were to follow what our ‘hold or grab power at any cost’ politicians are saying about the Robert Sabga and Judith Jones reports respectively.

What also struck me forcibly in the piece was her first-hand description of the effect of childhood trauma of any kind.  

“Trauma of any kind, especially childhood trauma, is splintered and stored in the brain in fragments. The memories are often so overwhelming that they simmer under the surface for years, creating chaos in the body and a sense of unrelenting threat.”

Photo: A victim of child abuse.

Again last week, the editorial writers were wringing their hands at how broken Trinidad and Tobago is by crime—in one case declaring that ‘every citizen knows that the biggest issue facing T&T is crime’. This column emphatically declared that almost 20 years ago but few would heed me then.

There may be studies that have published data about the extent of child sexual abuse in our country. I would hope that the rate is not as high as 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 13 boys, which the New York Times contributor gives for the US.  

However all forms of abuse—including a prevalent desire regularly to verbally abuse children and to whip them, together with the upbringing chaos of dysfunctional social conditions—have undoubtedly left us with many citizens disturbed enough by memories of trauma simmering under the surface to be violent and to teach the use of it to others.

In light of confirmation of the extent of the abuse of children by the Sabga and Jones reports, it is necessary again to mark the spot once well described by an Independent Senator, as ‘powder keg conditions among restless youth’.

Photo: Former ambassador to Canada under the UNC administration Robert Sabga chaired a Task Force that investigated abuse at children’s homes in 1997.

That spot is even more starkly lit by the testimonies of the victims of abuse now coming forward. But our public officials like Minister of National Security Fitzgerald Hinds and Minister of Gender and Child Affairs Ayanna Webster-Roy blather on—the latter telling the Parliament (Express 28 May) that ‘all is not lost’ and that ‘we are not doing nothing’.

If so, what rehabilitation services will be provided to soothe the wounds of abuse? What are the policies and implementation timelines to ‘promote community recovery’. (Remember that phrase, which constituted the mandate of the Watkins Committee established by the Prime Minister in July 2020?)

Is the Government really willing and able to connect the dots between violence and the systemic lack of socio-economic balance, including lack of equality of opportunity?

About Martin Daly

Martin Daly
Martin G Daly SC is a prominent attorney-at-law. He is a former Independent Senator and past president of the Law Association of Trinidad and Tobago. He is chairman of the Pat Bishop Foundation and a steelpan music enthusiast.

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