Psychologist and university lecturer, Dr Joanne Spence.

A book has been written by psychologist and university lecturer, Dr Joanne Spence to aid in that added encouragement needed for children to speak up in situations where they are being abused. The book also educates children on what is abuse and how to identify an abuser.

Titled: “My Grandmother Told Me it is OK to say No,” targets pre-and primary school children and is made up of short stories with illustrations of different situations children face—stories they related to their grandmother who told them to say no to the abuser.

In an interview with Spence, who has authored several books with a focus on youth development, including the book titled: Mentoring Troubled Youths, she told Guardian Media, it was her continued love for researching problems and finding solutions that led her to also pen her recent piece. Of her researches and found solutions, she said: “These I usually document in a book to share the information with others.”

Her expertise in this area has also been sought by the Government in past times, through a programme she developed called the National Mentorship Programme—a venture subsequently engaged after her book, Mentoring Troubled Youths was published.

Her work with abused clients played a pivotal role she said in penning this new book.

She explained, “ Many adults walked in the office exhibiting different challenging behaviours. In assessing the situation with many of these clients, we realised that they were abused as children and never had the situation addressed because they were either afraid to talk to an adult or they spoke to an adult who chooses to sweep it under the carpet. Many times this was because the abuser was the provider.”

Spence, also the founder of the Arima-based Therapeutic Assessment Centre, said the short stories in the book addresses the issues of bullying, dealing with strangers, inappropriate touching, pornography, and sexual abuse by family members, with activities toward the end of the book designed to reinforce what was captured in the stories.

Last year, Minister in the office of the Prime Minister with the duty of Gender and Child Affairs Ayanna Webster-Roy disclosed startling figures of varying types of abuse against children.

According to Webster-Roy, in 2019 over 4,000 cases of child abuse were reported to the Children’s Authority. The reported cases affirmed 54.4 per cent were female while 43.3 per cent were male, with cases of sexual abuse being the highest instances of reports received countrywide, at a 22.6 per cent rate. Neglect and physical abuse were the second and third most reported at rates of 20.6 per cent and 14.3 per cent respectively. It was also revealed that some 590 charges were laid by the Child Protection Unit for crimes against children in 2019.

This was further confirmed in November 2020, when Guardian Media was told by Acting Superintendent of Police Natasha George, that 80 per cent of crimes of abuse against children reported to the Child Protection Unit (CPU) of the Trinidad and Tobago Police Service (TTPS), were sexual.

It was also noted, these crimes were often committed by a person charged with the responsibility, care, and protection of children.

Sex Education needed

Spence whose career in psychology spans 15 years, said the book was one, parents of pre and primary school-aged children, should own. She even recommends it to be used in the classroom for sex education as she said it was time conversations surrounding sex stopped being taboo.

“I believe, this is an opportune time for Government to start teaching sex education in schools, as many children are studying at home either unsupervised or left with irresponsible adults,” said Spence.

She continued, “In addition, some parents are limited with the knowledge on sex education drawing mainly on their own experiences. For some others, the topic of sex is taboo and parents are ashamed to mention it at home. This is understandable as these parents were also not exposed to sex conversations when they were young. It is a generational gap.”

Spence said unfortunately because sex education did not exist in schools, children’s education on sex was what their peers shared with them or their own experience of it. She warned this lack of information resulted in many young people being abused without realising they were being abused.

So just how does society break this taboo? Spence believes her book is a good starting point: “This book is intended to be a conversation piece. As we read the stories on the types of abuse to children we can educate our children on touching (good touch and bad touch), ensure they know the private parts of their bodies, and how to respect their bodies. What I have also found is that parents sitting with their children and reading with them helps the child to begin talking about similar experiences they had. One parent said that the child looked at the pictures and was able to identify a past experience.”

Additionally, she believes educating parents through parental workshops and introducing the topic in the school curriculum would assist the nation’s children in becoming more equipped to address child abusers.

Spence said in writing the book which she completed in 2018, and in which the information was gathered from her years of experience counselling and interviewing families, abusers, and abused persons, one interesting point stood out—the damage, done to children even as they enter adulthood when they are not given an early opportunity to vent about their abusive situation.

For more information on the book and to find out where you can get a copy call 620-3453 or send emails to [email protected]