More than 50 per cent of teenage girls in the Caribbean have been sexually abused; many by a family member. Karlyn Percil, a St. Lucian native who has been living in Toronto for the last decade was among them. She told her own story of child sexual abuse publicly for the first time last year on the OWN Canada TV show, Life Story Project. Since then she’s created the first sexual assault PSA for the Toronto Police Services and she is now an ambassador for UNICEF’s Break the Silence Campaign; a social media initiative seeking to get 500,000 pledges to end sexual abuse against children in the Caribbean and around the world. “A huge weight was lifted from my soul when I told my truth, and I want to encourage other women to face the elephant in their lives, whatever it might be,” says Percil.
UNICEF has put a focus on the Caribbean because the statistics are staggering. 40 per cent of children who are sexually abused are victimized by a parent or a step parent. And it’s estimated that 11,000 children under the age of 15 in the Caribbean are living with HIV/AIDS. Child sexual abuse is one of the main factors contributing to the spread of the disease among teenagers.
TAKE THE PLEDGE
This campaign runs from April 10th 2014 to April 10th 2015. It is targeted at Caribbean nationals living in their respective countries and who reside in North America. When you sign the UNICEF online pledge you will receive the campaign’s icon; a tiny teddy bear with a band aid over its heart. The band aid will have your home country’s flag on it and you are encouraged to either post the image to your social media channels or change it to your profile picture. You will also be able to download a letter to email to your country’s consulate in Canada. The goal is to show authorities that people want change; they want the culture of silence to end.
WHAT NEEDS TO CHANGE
The campaign targets three areas; education, health and legal. In many Caribbean islands, the statute of limitations on sexual abuse is only 4 years; we want to see that eradicated so that any child can get justice no matter when they come forward. We also want mandatory reporting, so that if a teacher or anyone else in authority is told about a case of abuse, they have an obligation to report it to police. Police officers also need to be trained in how to speak to children who have been abused, with sensitivity. We also want protocols to be put in place that when a child reports their story once, they don’t have to repeat it over and over to other parts of the system, and be violated again.
WHY SPEAK OUT
“I really believe there is a strong link between child sexual abuse and mental health,” says Karlyn Percil. “And it doesn’t matter what culture, all ethnic groups have low reporting rates of abuse or sexual assault. There is still a stigma that makes everyone afraid to talk about it. There is also a connection between sexual violence against women and how much it costs the community. That silence keeps women in a constant cycle of depression. It prevents them from building healthy relationships and loving families and often causes them to miss work and to hold back on ‘leaning in’ at the workplace,” says Percil.
Karlyn Percil is available for interviews upon request.