Geneva report 2002
Round Table: Progress in Preventing Child Abuse
Third year commemoration
More than 500 NGOs joined an international coalition to mark the Day.
19 November 2002 CVC, 9 rue Varembé, 1202 Geneva
Moderator: Mr. André Dunant, for 30 years former childrens
judge, Canton of Geneva, and past President of the International Association
of Youth and Family Judges
Members of the panel:
- Mrs. Latifa Benari, Founder and President of lAnge Bleu Association,
- Dr. Paul Bouvier, M.D. head of the Youth health service, Canton of Geneva
- Mrs. Anne-Françoise Comte Fontana, childrens judge - Canton
- Mrs. Doris Dillman, social worker
- Mrs. Josiane George, President of Consultation Center for Victims of
Sexual Abuse (C.T.A.S.) Geneva
- Mr. Philippe Jaffé, Psychologist and Assistant Professor - University
- Mrs. Christiane Linnér, Senior Child Co-ordinator at UNHCR
This World Day for Prevention of Child Abuse, marking its third
year, was created on 19 November 2000 by WWSF, in response to an alarming
information published in the well-known Swiss newspaper Le Temps, i.e.
that paedophile networks had created an international day in favour of
Designed to be commemorated each year on 19 November , in synergy with
the anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (20 November
), the World Day has as its aim to be a rallying point for highlighting
the problem of child abuse and the need to intervene urgently by the creation
and diffusion of effective prevention programs.
Starting from the assumption that governments and civil society organisations
have to play and active role in the promotion and respect of childrens
rights, and to give this Day its full dimension, WWSF launched in 2001
an international NGO coalition centring around this Day. The main
aim of this coalition is to contribute toward the creation of a culture
of prevention by setting up a world partnership committed to mobilising
the public and professionals in the field of childrens issues.
Round Table Report
Elly Pradervand, Founder and Executive Director of WWSF, opens
the Panel discussions by informing participants that this year more than
500 organisations in over 100 countries have joined the WWSF coalition
and committed to mark 19 November with activities and events which will
also be published on Internet (www.woman.ch). Mrs Pradervand then presented
the moderator of the Round Table.
Moderator André Dunant has just returned from Senegal where
things are moving a great deal in the field of child abuse prevention.
He showed posters and other documents indicating the big efforts made
to sensitise the population in this field. In West Africa, more and more
codes of conduct for organisation staff and trainers of trainers are being
developed by NGOs.
Dr. Paul Bouvier stressed that the Youth Health Service is in the
frontline in the field of sexual abuse of children. A survey made in Geneva
in 2001 showed that 10% of the boys and 33% of the girls stated they had
been sexually abused, and at least a third of the abuses appeared serious.
What can one do in the field of prevention? The first step is of course
to inform children of the problem and dangers. Children who are informed
that such abuses exist, that they have the right to talk about them and
defend themselves, speak out much more easily and openly. Dr. Bouvier
distinguishes between two approaches: prudence/protection and resilience/trust.
An excellent information program entitled "Avec prudence, avec confiance"
(with caution, with trust) has been introduced into the school system
of the Canton of Geneva, and has been received with great enthusiasm by
schoolchildren, teachers and parents alike. Geneva schools have for many
years been giving sex education, and this last program fits very naturally
in the broader curriculum of sex education.
More recently, an internet site (www.ciao.ch) has been set up, where young
people and children can ask questions around the clock on an anonymous
basis. A second project undertaken with the local Action Innocence association
aims at protecting children from sexual abusers prowling on internet who
frequently introduce themselves into childrens chat groups. It is
more difficult to measure the impact of this latter project.
Dr. Bouviers service has also set up a first audition
group which auditions in a most competent manner children who say they
have been victims of abuse. These auditions are taped.
Josiane George, President of C.T.A.S., presented the important
approach of her Association in the passage from primary to secondary prevention.
Her Association works with victims to avoid that they stay isolated in
their silence and fear. An activity of abuse prevention with adolescents
is now being undertaken which has been neglected until now and which led
to an increase in psychosomatic disorders, risks of suicide and school
failure. Since the creation of an information campaign conceived by C.T.A.S.,
there are many demands for help which is proof of an unfulfilled demand
in this area.
A therapy group using childrens stories has proved very successful
in enabling children to express feelings of anger, guilt, etc. which they
cannot always express directly when reporting abuse of which they have
been victims. In Switzerland (7,2 million inhabitants) between 1990 and
1999 there were 7317 condemnations of sexual abuse, of which 4412 involved
children. In Geneva, in 2001, 304 abuses were reported, of which 68 were
against children. These are only reported cases the real figure
is certainly much higher.
A new program aims at adolescents who are themselves abusers, so as to
avoid this group committing much more serious abuses later on. It is estimated
that 60-80 per cent of adult abusers already started when they themselves
were teenagers. This new program of the C.T.A.S has two main emphases:
becoming responsible: acknowledging what one has done, assuming
full responsibility, identifying factors that could lead to repeating
the offence, setting up a prevention plan;
developing social competence, improving knowledge in the field
of sex, and a better mastery of sexual impulses.
Doris Dillmann, Social Worker, shared her new book entitled “« Traverser l’abus sexuel ? Réponses et sources d’espoir ».
Anne-Françoise Comte-Fontana is President of the State Court
system for youth and believes that penal statistics do not reflect reality,
as numerous victims never speak out due to a deep feeling of shame. For
many years, MDs were the only ones to hear of such abuses, and the
secrecy to which doctors are subjected to enabled children to open their
hearts and speak. She insisted that in her opinion the number of abuses
was not increasing, simply that people felt much freer now to speak about
them. Prevention, she stressed, starts with information.
Mrs. Comte-Fontana acknowledged that with each new case, she feels the
possibility of making mistakes, so great are the risks of error due to
the great complexity of circumstances in this field. Participants were
spell-bound as she narrated the story of a young girl who had accused
her father, a highly respected citizen, of incest. The police had repeated
the girls accusations to the parents (something that is now forbidden).
So the mother, out of solidarity with her husband, immediately sided with
him! The parents invented all sorts of alibis for times when the abuses
had taken place, with the result that the girl retracted her accusations.
However, Mrs. Comte-Fontana decided to nevertheless pursue the father,
and thanks to the outstanding judge who presided over the case, the truth
finally came out and the father was finally condemned to five years in
prison, despite appeals which went right to the Supreme Court of Switzerland.
The activity of those who work at the court for juvenile offenders is
frequently multidisciplinary. Penal law has an educational vocation, especially
in relation to youth offenders. As for the penal procedure, its aim is
not only to attribute punishment to offenders, but also to enable the
accused to become aware of the gravity of their actions.
Christiane Linnér of UNHCR added a welcome international
dimension to the round table. She reminded the audience that out of a
total of 20 million refugees in the world, 8 million are children or young
people below the age of 18 (more than the total population of Switzerland)!
Refugee children are especially exposed to sexual abuse, above all girls.
On one hand this is due to the complete disintegration of social, tribal
and family structures due to war or any other causes forcing the refugees
to flee. On the other hand, they are frequently living in foreign countries,
in the context of emergency structures. In such situations, girls easily
become victims of members of their own family, the police, military or
even the personnel of NGOs.
Mrs. Linnér felt it necessary to stress the extremely negative
role played by the international press in the recent accusations (early
2002 directed against UNHCR personnel). The media completely distorted
an internal report and especially made totally displaced generalisations
which not only harmed the UNHCR, but also various international NGOs.
What prevention measures can be taken concerning refugees? The first one
is to inform refugees of their rights: one should never offer ones
body in exchange for food aid. It would also be important that there exist
in schools completely trustworthy personnel preferably women -
to whom the children feel they can confide themselves. (A girl will speak
much more easily to a woman, especially in Third World countries).
The UNHCR is also drawing up a detailed Code of Conduct for its personnel
and guidelines for various situations arising in refugee camps,
e.g.: what to do if a family wants to marry a 13 year old daughter? [Note
by the rapporteur: among the Fulani of West Africa, until very recently,
girls as young as 11-12 were married, and the practice has probably not
It is also important to stress the quality of resilience that exist in
a community. One example would be family solidarity which is still very
much alive in many cultures. Finally, training is important. This is one
of the rare fields where refugees can be competitive: they have lost everything
on a material level, but they still have their competence, specific abilities
Latifa Bénari is president of the Ange Bleu (Blue Angel)
association. Algerian born in Morocco, she added a unique and highly original
note to the round table dialogue. As a child, she was sexually abused
by a trusted employee from the age of 5 to 14. Having managed after nine
years of abuse to end the nightmare, she herself started thinking about
the whole issue of sexual abuse in her close environment as of 16, started
becoming active in this field on an individual basis.
In 1976, she came to France, and continued her one to one work until she
was requested to help solve a very serious problem in this area in her
daughters school. She was so successful that the school authorities
and others encouraged her to extend her activity which led her to create
her association lAnge Bleu, in 1998. This association which is unique
in France undertakes preventive action among would-be paedophiles
those Mrs. Bénari calls the abstinent and passive paedophiles,
men who have not yet committed any overt acts of sexual abuse, but who
feel less and less capable of controlling their impulses. A 100 per cent
self-taught expert, her services are requested with growing frequency
by public authorities and services, (police, courts, schools
other organisations, which are often at a complete loss when faced with
The main activity of lAnge Bleu is a patient work of listening to
passive paedophiles, via either the telephone or the internet site of
the association (www.ange-bleu.com). Latifa Bénari admits openly
that some of the best suggestions she has received as to how to handle
paedophiles come from her clients themselves.
Having been accused of being to accommodating with paedophiles, she finally
decided to write a book that will be appearing in French in December 2002:
La fin dun silence: paedophilie, une approche différente.
(The End of Silence: a new approach to paedophilia).
Dr. Philippe Jaffé, a psychologist, latched on to what Latifa
Bénari had shared, saying that it was one of the rare original,
positive and practical approaches he had heard of, and which appeared
to be efficient. He believes that to-date prevention has not been very
efficient, and that by and large we had failed up till now in preventing
child abuse. We have become aware of the suffering of the victims, but
this by no means constitutes prevention. Paedophiles are imprisoned
but where is prevention in all this? Prevention must intervene before
paedophiles start abusing. Information can help but it is not enough.
We need to rethink the tools to prevent abusers to act.
Dr. Jaffé feels that we have given too much information to the
children. We have taught them to undertake their own prevention, instead
of intervening at that point before abusers commit an offence.
The associations that exist to-date are groups involved in expressing
indignation and handing out information, but their preventive impact is
minimal, he feels.
We need to find new approaches:
go beyond the simplistic and accusatory attitudes toward paedophiles
and start intervening on the level of adolescents who have already committed
abuses. We need to find new alert signals before abuse occurs;
better train professionals in the field of public health to face
this issue, and also set up structures which can handle emergency calls
in this area, so that individuals or families faced with a major crisis
do not need to wait for weeks before seeing a professional;
the need for institutions in the field of child care to rethink
their roles and the need for greater courage to intervene. These institutions
lack multidisciplinary teams capable of investigating problems/cases.
In Geneva, anonymous denunciations are no longer authorised, which creates
new problems, as the number of cases of abuse denounced is sure to decrease.
And let us not forget sex tourism. Who knows maybe the Swiss sex
tourists do much more harm in Third World countries than all the
abusers of Switzerland combined!
Dr. Jaffé feels it important to debunk a widespread myth, i.e.
that most abusers have themselves been abused when young (the figure of
90% of abusers who have been abused is widely quoted). This is completely
erroneous. To- date, it is estimated that a maximum of 20 per cent
of the abusers have themselves been abused. If the first figure were
true, then there would be many more women abusers, as they are by far
the first to be abused when young. However, this is not the fact.
Dr. Jaffé concludes by sharing a dream: that one day there exists
a service/institution where people in emergency situations can either
be received immediately or be visited immediately in their homes.
A very active debate followed the presentations and questions from journalists
Different newspapers (La Tribune de Genève, Le Courrier, Le Matin)
carried articles on the World Day and reported on the Round Table debate.
Reports from the 500 NGOs that marked the World Day will be compiled in
a global report and posted on the Internet (www.woman.ch).
Pierre Pradervand, Moderator
World Day for Prevention of Child Abuse - 19 November
c/o Women's World Summit Foundation WWSF
P.O.Box 143, 1211 Geneva 20, Switzerland
Tel: +41-022-738.66.19 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Coalition Impact 2002
Activities and events organized by international NGO coalition members
Italy, Georgia and Guinea
India, Mexico and Nicaragua
Peru, Uruguay and Chile