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Canada: Exposure Urged Of Link Between Sexual, Substance Abuse

by Sue Bailey, Canadian Press, (05 Oct 2005)

Chronicle Herald Canada

OTTAWA - Public Health Minister Carolyn Bennett says governments must openly confront links between drug and alcohol addiction and the sexual abuse of children. 

"We cannot deal with things that we're afraid to talk about," Bennett told a news conference Tuesday as a national study was released on child abuse and neglect. 

"We actually have to begin to take on the links that we know of between incest and alcohol and drug abuse.  This is huge."

The Canadian Incidence Study of Reported Child Abuse and Neglect says confirmed sexual abuse cases dropped in 2003 to 2,935 from 4,322 in 1998. 

But Bennett says there's concern that the drop may only illustrate increasing reluctance to report sexual abuse. 

Hard-line treatment of child molestation as a police matter could be scaring victims into silence because they are often abused by someone they know and love, experts say. 

Results were culled from reports filed over three months by 63 child welfare agencies - excluding Quebec, where data was compiled differently. 

Lead researcher Nico Trocme says results of the $800,000 project, mostly funded by the federal Public Health Department, are inconclusive. 

"It could be very good news or it could mean that we need to soften our approach. 

"We need to do more research."

Eighteen-year-olds should be surveyed to gauge the rate at which they're reporting or covering up abuse, Trocme suggested in an interview. 

Bennett stressed that sex abuse has major repercussions on a child's development and the likelihood they'll turn to drugs and alcohol later on. 

"Of particular concern, as we know, aboriginal children are disproportionately represented among the victims of child maltreatment known to child welfare services."

Childhood sexual abuse is a common trait shared by hundreds of native women, many of them drug-addicted, who have been murdered or gone missing across Canada since 1985. 

Many native communities are still suffering the fallout from more than three generations of physical and sexual abuse suffered in federal residential schools.  Ottawa acknowledged in 1998 that abuse in the church-run schools was rampant. 

A federal researcher who specializes in aboriginal issues says child welfare workers on reserves are chronically over-stretched. 

Many staff must double as addictions counsellors as they juggle disproportionate numbers of single-parent cases, said the source who asked not to be identified. 

"They're under-funded and overworked."

Rosalind Prober, president of the independent children's-rights group Beyond Borders, is skeptical of any suggestion that sexual abuse is on the decline. 

"There's a great silencing about this crime that we have not overcome as a society," she said from Toronto where she was attending an international police conference on sex offences. 

"Children are still silent, they are not believed."

The report released Tuesday shows that the incidence of all forms of reported child abuse and neglect in Canada in 2003 was up 125 per cent from 1998, the last time it was measured. 

Trocme cautions that the jump in cases isn't necessarily because more children are being maltreated, but because of increased reporting.