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Don't pray, think!

Q&A BC Pires • Interview with Yvonne Bobb-Smith on Child Abuse • Sunday Express • 21 May 2006 • 2,574 words

"This tendency towards prayer and God, I [see as] not knowing how you survived and saying, it couldn't be you, it must be God! You're almost afraid of your success!"

Dr Yvonne Bobb-Smith is an educator, counsellor and member of the Trinidad & Tobago Humanists Association.

Q: Are sex predators born or made?

A: Very difficult to say because there are theories that societies produce people and counter-theories that people are motivated at their inner selves. I tend to believe societies do produce people.

Q: Why would an adult go against nature's imperative and hurt a child?

A: What is nature's imperative? Who has drawn that up? In nature, don't we have hurricanes, tsunamis and destructive things? So is it natural or unnatural? Terms can be obstacles humbugging us from finding out what is true or real identity. Remember things of an unhappy nature have been happening for centuries. [So have] pleasant things. When we speak of nature, are we prioritising one out and limiting the other?

Q: But shouldn't an adult seek to protect a child?

A: [Pause] Shouldn't an adult seek to protect an adult, or anybody or anything in his or her environment?

Q: I'm trying to get at whether it's unnatural for an adult to interfere sexually with a child?

A: But what we're seeing is not only grownups! [Globally], abuse has increased. Some stories in wider societies would have people's hairs raised because they are even more gruesome: families practising bestiality-parents putting children with dogs and horses-really horrendous stories that we can't get to the bottom of, in terms of making a dictum that this should or shouldn't be. It's very difficult to come up with because we're so given to the good and the bad.

Q: But surely we can say unequivocally that it is bad for a grownup to interfere with a child?

A: Yes, we can say that. But it happens and we cannot romanticise the fact and say, adults are perfect and will not do so and so. Let me clarify my point: if something is good, we say it's natural; my understanding of the world is all of these things come together in what I prefer to call the diversity of things. Child abuse is age old. In our society, if a child complained about it, in every class of the society, [the response was], "Don't complain!" Today, we have the right to talk. We are hearing about the evils, the unnatural, as you want to put it. So are we talking about, long ago, it was not natural?

Q: Are you saying that "evil" acts lie within the capacity of everyone?

A: Sure! I trust no one. As a little girl, going to Sunday school, the first time I came across what you label as child abuse, the priest was looked up to-but then children began to say, "Don't pass near the altar because he pulls at your legs!" That was in the 1940s.

Nobody ever said anything about that man until an older woman was assaulted by him- and then nobody believed because she was an old maid!

Q: Would a more open approach to sexuality help the fight against sexual predators?

A: We need to put systems in place that value human dignity and give to them respect. It may be impossible to stop errant horrible behaviour; but at least victims and those who perpetrate would gain some benefits by the way we treat it. When we sensationalise it, if people want attention and they become child predators, they get the attention they desire. You put systems in place to reduce this.

[There was talk] about neighbours hearing and not doing anything-that is age old! There are two things. First, the attitude towards a child: the adult is in authority, you're behaving bad, it serve you right! Two cuff, put you to sit down. The second is: me ain't business in husband and wife thing because when they loving up, I ain't there.

Those two prevailing attitudes [and] a third one: people seem to like bad stories. These three attitudes almost form an ideology in our society. If one person out of six made a report or suggested this child ought to be monitored, the system begins to work. People are working in psychology, sociology, counselling, whatever to address this and to reduce the incidence of this: What is wrong with you Mr So-and-so? How can we help you? What is it you need to make you feel good other than be a predator on a child? So you're working with that predator.

In North America, there are paedophile registries, which human rights organisations resisted . If you move into a neighbourhood and I don't know who you are, I can check Mr XYZ and say, "I'm sorry, we want to put up certain safeguards". We are addressing the fact that good and bad, to use the words I don't like, can live together, understand each other.

Q: Can societies accommodate people who hurt children in this way?

A: What else can we do? We have to learn to understand each of us are an integral part of a problem. If we are moving to higher levels of understanding human beings, we have to accept what we call good [and bad] because it's still up for question why people behave the way they do. Nobody is innocent.

Q: The general attitude in TT is, the people who hurt little Amy should be tortured and stoned to death?

A: Because many centuries ago they talked about demons being in the person and you need to beat them out; but if we're moving out of that

Q: Are we? Benny Hinn, the man who sees demons all over Trinidad, will pack in 30,000 a day this weekend?

A: You see we have a kind of contradictory social situation. We may assume we are developed, we have computers, our entertainment industry looks great-but certain ideologies can't be uprooted. One should start publishing stories about people who survived abuse because survival is the key!

Q: People in Trinidad say we are plagued with demons, we need to pray more?

A: An inability to think through things. So it's easy to rest it on something you cannot prove. It's age old and perpetrated by religions.

Q: People will say all this is happening because we're turning away from God and that we need more faith?

A: I would say to them, what we need is, looking at ourselves. Internal washing, deciding who you are. If you begin to think critically about yourself in the environment, these things that cover up everything, like gods and demons, disappear. This tendency towards prayer and God, I [see as] not knowing how you survived and saying, it couldn't be you, it must be God! You're almost afraid of your success!

Q: To ascribe achievements to God and failure to demons is to move away from personal responsibility?

A: Yes. If you do it that way, you lack capability for seeing yourself the way you are. You put the cards on the table and, if they add up, you say, God! If they don't, you say it's a demon. But it's you all along.

Q: Is the Ministry of Education's abstinence only sex education policy helpful or hurtful to children?

A: A sexual predator is an aggressor. The person is going to be forced, maybe mutilated. If we're talking about sexual abstinence, it has to be in context of a whole understanding of sexuality, the role it plays in one's life. We need a much wider, franker, more public discussion. And when you hear people saying, I had been abused, [you ask], how did you go into a sexual relationship after this?

Q: Do we need a more fervent turning to Jesus or Allah or Who-have-you?

A: No. We have to give respect to the freedom of those who want to follow those routes but we are not to be told that we have to. We want to see freedom of expression continue as long as it does no harm to society.

Q: What can be done to protect children from sexual predators?

A: Two years ago the law was passed for the Children's Authority Act. I saw a number of things in the AG's report. Are people working at these things? Why does it take so long to implement things with human beings? When I worked at ISCOTT and wanted to put human things in, they're giving me a lot of lip-but they could spend a million dollars to get a part for a machine. We need a public education scheme-do we have a directory of predators? Help for people of that nature.

More avenues for confessions, where people could walk in and talk about their problems. A system that is comprehensive, not waiting for victims. Vulnerability of children: how do we treat that?

Children could be 100 per cent monitored. One of our interviewees said she had four children in four different taxis going to four different schools-that tells you the complexity. When I look over my window at 6.30 a.m. and see children playing [at the primary school below] already, when parents tell me, oh, when the janitor comes, he kinda takes a look at them, what sort of system protects children?

Until, when we put people to do jobs and they're not doing them and we fire them, we will get nowhere. The soft-spoken attitude to inefficiency and parts of the system that are not working will get us nowhere-we got to turn to God after that! [Laughs]

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