This image has dominated and shocked the world news today. A thirty year old British man has been sexually abusing and raping dozens of children in Malaysia over a 9 year period from 2006 to 2014. His youngest victim was 6 months old. A feeling of repulsion comes upon me. How did this happen? Were there no warning signs? How did he get away with it for so long? How come the children did not speak out? Or did they, but noone heard?
Richard Huckle was a constant and effective groomer. He would use any opportunity to manipulate and influence people to give him access to children. He built people’s trust, both adults and children. He ‘groomed’ his victims to a point that they would not tell.
Even more disturbing is that he chose to target vulnerable children in a developing country. He knew he would get easy access to them. He knew he could use both religion and his ‘status’ as a white foreigner to gain the trust of communities eager to receive help to overcome poverty and other social issues. He even boasted that, “impoverished kids are much, much easier to seduce than middle class western kids”.
Reading the coverage on this awful reality, I am reminded that in many ways Zambia is no dfferent. There are so many impoverished children here in our communities, often left unsupervised, waiting for attention and love. Children who know nothing about good touch and bad touch. Children who don’t know how to say no and have no-one to turn to if they are being sexually abused. Children who could easily fall into the hands of a sexual predator like Richard Huckle.
Equally there are some fantastic organisations who are caring for children in incredible ways and yet many have limited systems and processes in place to protect them. Potential abusers will likely target these organisations and apply for jobs within them. Why? Because they can easily get access to children. They can be alone with children. No questions asked.
And what about the huge number of churches and Christian organisations? There are so many in Zambia as it is a declared christian nation. Many volunteers from overseas, local volunteers and others getting involved in good works, normally with vulnerable and needy children. Can we be sure that all these people have good intentions for children? Are children safe with them?
Tehila advocates for child safety and the importance of making environments safer for children. Tomorrow we embark on another vital Safe Places training with 10 churches in an impoverished area of Lusaka. Together we will explore the process of grooming. How abusers prepare their victims. The forms of child abuse. That we are all responsible for the protection of children. That abuse can happen anywhere.
We will identify the risks to children in these churches and put in place measures to reduce these risks. One measure will be to create a Code of Conduct in each church outlining how adults should behave with children. Another the importance of listening to children and taking them seriously if they disclose abuse. We will encourage each church to have clear reporting procedures and a way of encouraging people to report abuse. We will promote safer recruitment for jobs that require access to children. We will encourage a culture of staff and volunteers not being alone with children. Through our national network we will be a collective voice on child protection issues.
Tehila believes that although we can never totally remove risk of harm to children, we can certainly encourage our partners to put in place measures to reduce it. Perhaps if some of the measures mentioned above had been actioned, children could have been protected from this serial abuser.
We are hugely saddened by the hideous crimes committed by Richard Huckle. Our hearts go out to the children and families who have been traumatised and affected by his actions. There are no words to describe the horror of what they have been and continue to go through.
In honour of them, may Tehila ask that as you read this blog you may take a couple of minutes of silence now for these victims. That they would know the incredible healing love of God in their lives. That they would be restored once again. That resilience, hope and peace would rise.
We thank you for your ongoing support as we fight this battle together. If you would like to financially support our ongoing work here in Zambia, please visit the donate page of our website- www.tehila.org. Our vision is to see an end to child cruelty. We will accept nothing less.
Love the Zambia Team xx