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Growing concern over child sex abuse cases

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A special police task force set up to handle cases of child sex abuse in the first nine months had to respond to 209 cases, with some of them involving teachers.

Police are looking into a complaint filed by a 14-year-old high-school student in Nicosia, claiming she had been sexually abused by her female teacher while at school.

This is the second teacher reported for sexually abusing or harassing students, as another teacher faces three accusations.

A children rights watchdog, Voice (Foni), estimates the number of such incidents is much higher than reported, estimating that one in four or five children have fallen victim to sexual abuse or harassment in Cyprus.

Commenting on the latest incident involving a 14-year-old student, Anastasia Papadopoulou, Foni’s chair, told Phileleftheros daily that another three such cases were reported on the same day as the student came forward.

“Our goal is to help as many victims as possible break their silence and report their abuse,” said Papadopoulou.

She noted that the number of reported cases grows with each passing year, explaining there are many reasons behind the increase.

“One of the reasons is the ever-growing exposure of children to technology and social networks.

“That is, they are faced with more risks.

“Another factor is the fact that victims are now aware they can report such behaviour safely, without being exposed”.

In addition, more and more behaviours are being perceived as sexually abusing minors.

“Behaviors that in the past, we may not have reported, as the incident with the teacher”, said Papadopoulou.

She explained the incident concerns touching and certain gestures, which now everyone understands is sexual abuse.

“Moreover, the 2014 legislation has included many behaviours of sexual abuse of a minor, some of which do not provide for any contact at all, such as exposing a child to pornographic material.”

Papadopoulou also said that victims are encouraged because they see that reporting similar cases has led to the perpetrator’s punishment.

Awareness

She said the police setting up a special department to deal with these cases, with a full understanding of the nature of the offences and how to deal with them, has also played its part in encouraging victims to come forward.

Awareness campaigns have also contributed towards more cases being reported.

“When a child feels uncomfortable with a situation, it should feel safe to break its silence and ask for help.

“The victims out there must feel confident that they will be protected and that there will get the help and support they need.

“But they must first break their silence. Then, they can either talk to an adult they trust. Or contact the Hope For Children helpline at 1466.”

She argued that the best way to stamp out such incidents is to give children all they need to protect themselves and identify abusers.

“This needs to be done through education, from the first steps children take in the education system.”