United Purpose

Ending the Normalisation of Sexual Abuse

Abuse prevention

Using a multisectoral approach, this program will reduce child sexual violence in South Africa, Malawi and Brazil by strengthening response and prevention services.

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To learn more about – or provide significant funding to – this project, please contact Lever for Change.

Project Summary

Sexual violence, according to 2014 UNICEF data, affected over 120 million children. The consequences of sexual violence are numerous. Children are at higher risk for HIV and other negative health outcomes. While governments have taken strides to change their regulatory frameworks, much remains to be done. Coordinated multi-sectoral responses are still lacking and services are fragmented. United Purpose together with Keep a Child Alive and Bobbi Bear will implement a comprehensive approach to reduce child sexual violence in South Africa, Malawi and Brazil, countries where child sexual violence is acutely prevalent. Adapting the Bobbi Bear model, we will: empower children to exercise their rights and agency to live free of violence and seek support; strengthen parent child-rearing skills to promote positive interactions; alter deep seated norms and behaviours that perpetuate violence; enhance health services to provide appropriate care; and facilitate legislative reform that discourages abuse, protects children and penalises perpetrators.

Problem Statement

Sexual violence against children is a persistent and global crisis [1]. It takes many forms - physical, sexual, emotional or psychological harm, and is a gendered crime, with girls being victims at a rate three times higher than boys [2]. Despite the range of statistics available, the true extent of sexual violence is not fully known because of under-reporting. Many children and families do not report cases of abuse and exploitation due to stigma, fear, and lack of trust in the authorities. Poor treatment of survivors and few perpetrators being convicted, have normalised this behaviour. In Malawi, Brazil and South Africa entrenched examples of normalisation persist. In Malawi, girls who reach puberty are forced to have sex with a "hyena" to induct them into womanhood. In South Africa, virgin cleansing myths perpetuates the belief that having sex with a virgin girl cures HIV/AIDS. In Brazil, sexual abuse is the second-most-common offence against children. Reports of sexual abuse rose 83 % from 2011 to 2017, largely due to an increase in awareness and changes in social attitudes [3]. In Malawi, 21.8% girls and 14.8% boys experienced at least one incident of sexual violence before turning 18 [4]. After a recent spike in sexual violence cases, they are now the most reported crime in the country. Sexual violence in South Africa is widespread and often recurrent, with 40 % of child survivors having experienced sexual violence more than once, and one in ten reporting four or more incidents of violence [5].

Solution Overview

In South Africa, Malawi and Brazil, the abuse of children is normalised. Cultural norms, weak child-protection and legal services are contributing factors. Using and building on the Bobbi Bear model, we will address the interaction of risks at all levels of the cultural, social and political environment, ensuring the collective efforts of individuals, families, communities, and policy makers. Our prevention and response mechanisms will: 1) empower children to exercise their rights and agency to live free of violence and seek support; 2) strengthen parent child-rearing skills to promote positive parenting; 3) challenge and alter deep seated social and cultural norms and behaviours; and 4) facilitate legislative reform that discourages abuse, protects children and penalises perpetrators. Monitoring systems will determine whether outcomes for children are changing, and to identify what elements of a system (individual, family, community) provide the most leverage for change. We will have a profound impact, allowing us to generate an evidence base to expand and adapt for replication in other countries. Expected impacts include: safer environments for children; children are empowered to exercise their rights and agency to live free of violence; reduction in the perpetration of sexual violence; access to legal services and health care; increases in bystander behaviour to prevent violence; nurturing parent/child relationships; and improved policy frameworks. An estimated 250,000 children affected by sexual abuse, those at risk of sexual abuse, and 50,000 households, will benefit from our interventions, leading to a 50% reduction in child abuse cases and an increase in reporting cases.

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Project Funders

  • Keep a Child Alive

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