Children who are victims of violence and sexual abuse are at a higher risk of revictimization. This may be because they live in particularly vulnerable surroundings, where violence and abuse are common, but also that some children and young people develop risky behavior in reaction to the abuse and, as a result, have more difficulty fending off unwelcomed sexual advances later in life. Sexual abuse in childhood can lead to life-long suffering and mental illness. With the right support, the consequences can be substantially mitigated.

Many children who are victims of sexual abuse and seek help become a victim for a second time, as legal systems in most countries are not adapted to the needs of children. Young victims of crime are passed from authority to authority and sometimes must even meet their abusers in court. This is still the case even though we know that child-friendly support to children and young people who are victims of abuse reduces the risk of retraumatization and offers the child a better opportunity to make his or her voice heard in the legal system. Children who feel safe and well prepared are often willing to talk and answer questions in court, which increases the likelihood of impartial evidence that the court can use for its decision.

What Childhood does to offer support to children who are victims of violence and abuse:

A child who is the victim of serious abuse needs to quickly receive support and rehabilitation. One model that has been successful in achieving this is the “Swedish Barnahus children’s houses model”. Under this model, the relevant authorities collaborate so the child does not need to be passed between different locations and repeatedly tell his or her story to each individual agency. It also reduces the risk of the child falling between cracks and ensures the child receives the right support. The aim is that the child, as part of the inquiry, only needs to talk about what has happened to a single person – a police officer, psychologist or judge who is specially trained to work with children. Childhood has supported the establishment of Barnahus children’s houses in a number of countries, including Sweden and Brazil.

One of Childhood’s project partners that works in accordance with the Barnahus model is Ponimanie in Belarus. As a result of its “Barnahus in Belarus” project, there are now special child-friendly interview rooms throughout Belarus. With our support, Ponimanie has trained prosecutors, police officers and psychologists in child psychology and interview techniques. Now, child victims only need to tell their story once, in a safe environment with professionals. With Chilhood Germany´s support, soon the first “Barnahus”, The Childhood Haus, will open in Leipzig, Germany.  This Children´s Advocacy Center shall give interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary services, shelter and child freindly support after abuse to children and youths.

Childhood’s South African project partner Women and Men against Child Abuse/Kidz Clinic works with children who are victims of abuse. More than 200 children per month use the organization’s services, which include therapy, psychosocial support and court preparations. In South Africa, it is quite common that even very young victims of crime must appear as witnesses in court, which is often a terrifying experience for an already deeply traumatized child. To create a sense of security and predictability ahead of a court appearance, children are offered support by Kidz Clinics using a child-friendly model of a mock courtroom. Here, they learn what happens in court, who will sit where and that the judge will ask questions. Children who feel safe and well prepared are often willing to talk and answer questions objectively in court, which increases the likelihood of a just verdict.