Nunavut’s neighbour works on denormalizing child sexual abuse

Greenland’s Killiliisa project aims to set boundaries, treat survivors and perpetrators


OTTAWA—The Canadian Arctic isn’t the only part of the circumpolar world where most politicians have kept their eyes averted and their mouths clamped shut while surrounded by staggering numbers of sexually abused children.

After years of denial, Nunavut’s neighbor, Greenland, released a new six-point strategy this year for reducing child sexual abuse, titled Killiliisa, or “Let us set boundaries.”

A team of workers from the Greenland ministry of social affairs introduced it to Canadians during a two-day experts forum on child sexual abuse in Inuit Nunangat that Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami organized in Ottawa last week.

At the opening of that forum, ITK President Natan Obed declared that from now on, ITK will do the “absolute most that it can” to reduce child sexual abuse and to break the taboos that prevent public discussion of it.

He also pointed out that studies have shown that maltreatment in childhood is a major risk factor for suicide.

Though statistics are hard to come by, information in Greenland’s strategy suggests that child sexual abuse in Greenland is nearly as common as it is within Nunavut communities and families. An English translation of the strategy said a recent survey found 32 per cent of girls in Greenland and 9.4 per of boys suffered sexual abuse at the hands of either a peer or an adult.

Another survey, of young people in Greenland, found that 33 per cent of women and 33 per cent of men reported that their first sexual encounter occurred without their consent.

Surveys have also shown that child sexual abuse occurs more often in small settlements than in larger towns, and is more common in eastern Greenland than on the western side of the country.

The strategy, released this past August, builds on a new law the country’s Inatsisartut, or Parliament, passed June 26, 2017. That new law stresses the protection of children’s rights, rapid response to reports of sexual abuse and better co-ordination among government agencies.

“If we want to end this problem we need to break the taboo about sexual abuse, work together, take better precautionary measures and offer treatment and support to anyone in need,” Anthon Frederiksen, Greenland’s former minister of social affairs, said in a preamble to the strategy.

It also seeks to overturn the idea that child sexual abuse is somehow normal and that children should just put up with it.

“Another big challenge is the fact that sexual abuse has become a kind of normality in some places in the country, as mentioned earlier. In these places, it is almost normal for children to be sexually abused by adults in the community,” the report said.

But work to help survivors of child sexual abuse began much earlier, in 2013.

Travelling teams of counsellors

Ditte Sølbeck, the co-ordinator of the strategy, is also the project leader for five two-person teams of counsellors and therapists who have travelled the country since 2013 to help victims in small communities recover from the psychic damage inflicted by sexual abuse.

Sølbeck was also the keynote speaker on the second day of ITK’s two-day forum last week. Although media were allowed to cover only the opening 90 minutes of the forum, Nunatsiaq News was able to interview the Greenland team who attended.

They said those travelling two-person teams of counsellors have reached 670 survivors since 2013.

Of those, about 80 per cent are women, which may mean that men are less likely to seek help than women, she said.

“It’s much harder for men,” Sølbeck said.

Greenland’s travelling teams of counsellors also train front-line workers in some communities, she said.

Sølbeck, and her colleagues, Aviaaja R. Johansen, Annette Broberg and Heidi Lindholm, also say that for many of their clients, the therapy they offer helps clients understand that many others have suffered what they’ve suffered.

“Many have the idea that I’m the only one who has experienced this,” Sølbeck said.

At the same time, they found much public support for the program wherever they travelled, and an increase in the number of people who come forward to report abuse.

“We could see an increase in reports to police,” Annette Broberg said.

It’s also easier for people in larger communities to visit the travelling teams, because in smaller communities, it’s easy to see who’s visiting the counsellors.

“It makes it tough to ask for help,” Sølbeck.

However, there is no specific counselling available for sex offenders in Greenland and no specific programs for re-integrating such offenders back into the community, the Greenlanders said.

Setting boundaries

As for the child sexual abuse strategy that Sølbeck now co-ordinates, the plan sets out six themes representing what the Greenland government will work on between 2018 and 2022.

They are:

• The sharing and creation of knowledge

This includes public information campaigns aimed at eliminating the taboo on discussion of sexual abuse, and to encourage victims and perpetrators to seek help.

“It is necessary to move away from the guilt and shame which is often associated with sexual abuse and instead focus on the courage and the resources that are also present,” the strategy said.

• Prevention of sexual abuse

The survey says professionals have noticed that in some communities, there are no boundaries that govern interactions between adults and children, and little knowledge of normal sexuality.

To change that, they want to help children and young people set boundaries.

“In other words they are looking for preventive measures directed at the changing of norms regarding sexuality in local communities,” the strategy states.

• Interdisciplinary co-operation

By that, they mean better communication between health services and the police, and that professionals in different areas of government know how and when to notify each other.

• Help for survivors and family members

This part of the strategy would focus on finding sexual abuse survivors so they can be helped, and also to provide more information about where to get help.

“Due to taboo, shame, feelings of guilt etc., many people do not come forward and tell their stories of abuse.”

• Communities

This part of the strategy says the government should take into account the social and cultural differences between communities.

Also, it said the strategy should help combat the “normalization” of sexual abuse. That’s because the country’s children’s rights office found that in some parts of Greenland, it is “almost normal for children to be sexually abused by adults in the community.”

Unless that changes, Greenland cannot meet its obligations under the obligations concerning the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, the strategy said.

• Help for sex offenders

Until now, the treatment of sex abuse victims has taken a priority over the treatment of sex offenders, but this part of the strategy seeks to target sex offenders.

“In every local community there are resourceful individuals and role models with the will and knowledge to make a difference.”

Killiliisa Strategy by on Scribd

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