More than forty people participated in the three-day meeting organized by the TA Executive Committee on Proper Care, including members and collaborators, who took an active part in the discussions, group work, plenary sessions and informal moments.
The seminar has addressed issues related to proper care, maltreatment and forms of abuse towards children, and vulnerable people, as well as the regulations and legal provisions related to situations of abuse. On the other hand, it has worked on the key elements to take into account for the elaboration of an institutional protection policy.
In the packed program of these three days, existing experiences of good practices related to the prevention of abuse have also been shared.
Well prepared moments of prayerful reflection and the Eucharist shared on the Feast of the Apostle St James were also ways of entering into the essential spiritual response that these issues raise.
TA commitment to protection
As part of the seminar, Cecilia Padvalskis, member of the Governing Council of the Teresian Association, gave an overview of the TA commitment to the protection of children, adolescents and vulnerable groups explaining the process which started in May 2018 when the Governing Council received a letter from the President of the Dicastery for the Laity, the Family and Life, urging the TA to assume this priority presented by Pope Francis to the Church, to protect minors and vulnerable people and prevent all types of abuse.
Defining the vulnerable person
The first specialist to give the input was Karlijn Demasure, theologian and professor at the Gregorian University of Rome. In her presentation she referred to the Apostolic Letter "Vos estis lux mundi" (You are the light of the world), of Pope Francis pointing out that in it the Pope has defined important terms, such as sexual abuse, minor and vulnerable person. From now on, in the Catholic Church, adults can be considered victims of sexual abuse if they meet certain criteria.
Furthermore, in this same document, the Pope declares that every time a member of the clergy or of an institute of consecrated life or of a society of apostolic life, has knowledge about facts and crimes, or well-founded reasons to think that these crimes have been committed, they have the obligation to point them out.
The ecclesiastical authorities, she said, must commit to offer victims and their families: welcome, a listening ear and accompaniment, spiritual care, medical, therapeutic and psychological care. The Church is obliged to accompany the victims and their families.
Sexual abuse can be considered as an abuse of trust, an abuse of power and as a sexual transgression. The effect of these three levels will be felt for a long time if the boy, the girl is not accompanied in a therapy. At present, we find many people who have not been able or have not dared to talk about abuse when they were children or in their youth.
Many have not spoken until today of abuses that took place 20, 30, 40 years ago or more. Abuse affects the boy or girl not only physically or psychologically but also in the spiritual dimension. In abuse, beliefs are deeply affected.
Values that inspire and motivate our policy
Carmen Serrano and Estrella Sendra, from the TA Executive Committee, then presented the institutional motivation for the elaboration of a protection and proper care policy.
The Association wants to provide itself with a global protection policy whose objectives are to protect children and vulnerable people from the risks of potential abuse in its centers, programs and activities, developing a culture of proper care, defender of the dignity and rights of all people.
The policy includes prevention, intervention and protection measures. Among them: code of conduct, different protocols for action, support and care for victims and their environment, training activities and creation of an advisory commission that guarantees the follow-up of the protection policy.
The values that underpin this policy are in the first place the rights and dignity of persons and peoples, a nucleus that backs up all rights considering the person to be entitled to them, also children, and not only as a beneficiary of assistance and protection.
We add to it our Christian spirituality, inseparable from ethics. In the face of injustices, a spiritual conversion of the heart and a cultural conversion of the whole society are required. Our faith in the God of life has historical implications: transforming reality into a full and quality life for all
As Teresian Association, we are also moved by the values represented by "Povedan pedagogy": an education that contributes to social transformation and promotes an inclusive, intercultural, open society willing to engage in dialogue that helps a person to grow and be a person "in relationship".
A hidden violence
Next to speak was Juan Cózar, Pediatrician, a member of the "Wise Network" for the Prevention of Child Abuse of the Board of Andalucía and he expounded on how child abuse is a major health problem highlighting that we only detect between 10-20 percent of the total cases that occur.
Among other data, he presented the UNICEF report “Hidden in full light” which records violence that occurs in places where children should have been safe: their communities, their schools and their homes… The report reveals the attitudes that perpetuate and justify violence, keeping it "hidden in full light".
In the care of a battered boy or girl, it is essential, among other things, to believe the boy or girl who confides, to encourage them to talk about what happened, accept their feelings, protect the victim from new aggressions and denounce. What should not be done would be to show disbelief at what they tell us, to blame the victim or the family.
Juan Cózar added other steps to take in cases of suspected abuse and other aspects to consider in care and prevention.
The importance of early care and supervision
Carme Tello i Casany, Clinical Psychologist, president of the Catalan Association for Abused Children, ACIM, developed in her first input the issue of emotional bonding, safety and protection factors in childhood.
She referred, in various moments, to clinical cases treated by her, with examples of how in serious situations you can also find a way out. She also answered the group's questions emphasizing behaviors that show child abuse, although the victim may not have verbalized it.
Among the protective factors, she highlighted reflective function or mentalization, emotional intelligence, assertiveness, empathy, and resilience.
Dr. Tello also presented how codes of conduct, protocols and other instruments can help establish prevention and intervention measures. These instruments are the elements with which an effective protection policy can be materialized since improvisation or going out of the way of cases never helps. Practical cases of her experience also illustrated these aspects of the topic being presented.
Training needed for Law professionals too
Laura Vaccaro, Chief Prosecutor of the Juvenile Court of Caltanissetta (Italy), dealt with “The international legal framework. The judicial proceedings."
Picking up the articles and crimes of sexual abuse typified in the Criminal Code, she referred to the circumstances that are considered more serious from the point of view of the law: “that the victim is especially vulnerable, because of his/her age, illness, disability or situation” or when “for the execution of the crime, the person responsible has pre-validated a relationship of superiority or kinship” with the victim.
In recent years, criminal science has focused its attention on the person of the victim, she said, demanding a positive intervention by the State aimed at restoring the “situation in which the victim was before suffering the crime or, at least, modifying the effects that the crime has produced on the victim."
In the legal field, she said later, we speak of vulnerability either because of the characteristics related to the subject (minor or mentally ill); or with respect to the type of violence, or trauma that the person has suffered.
“In both cases - she described - we find people, vulnerable victims, women, children who are afraid, sometimes they are petrified in silence and apparent indifference, caught by a series of emotions, which they themselves find difficult to recognize and identify, manage, understand."
Hence the importance of training and competence by the different professionals who must address these situations. "Listening to the victim on the part of the Prosecutor, empathic listening, is key to the evidence in the crime of violence against minors," she said.
Thousand faces of violence
María Cecilia Petit, Clinical psychologist (Córdoba, Argentina) gave an input on how adults can accompany and be a reference for people who have suffered abuse.
She began by explaining the different kinds of violence that require a multidisciplinary dialogue because they are a social symptom of our times. "Today, after years of remaining hidden and silenced, a spectrum of naturalized behaviors and ways of linking have been named and conceptualized as violence, giving a gradual visibility to this phenomenon."
Accompanying in an integral and multidisciplinary way requires an approach that includes several dimensions. From the perspective of clinical psychology, the emphasis is on assistance. But the complexity and magnitude of this social phenomenon is not exhausted or resolved in it, so it is crucial to think of strategies aimed at the care, prevention and promotion of other ways of bonding.
Among them, she stressed "the cultural dimension, perhaps the most difficult to explore, since, when certain cultural stereotypes have strong roots, this leaves people very far from their rights, and they question certain realities."
Before starting the seminar, on July 23 in the morning, the International TA Advisory Commission was created for the follow-up of the Protection Policy.
The President of the TA, through a video message, welcomed and thanked the International Commission, on her behalf and on behalf of the Governing Council, for their availability and collaboration in this TA project. She reminded them of the objectives and competences of the Commission and wished them a good start to their work.
The commission is formed by Karlijn Demasure (Belgium), Carme Tello i Casany (Spain), Juan Cózar (Spain), Laura Vaccaro (Italy), Charisse María Raagas (Philippines), Cecilia Petit (Argentina), Febe Aguirre (Canada) and Carmen Serrano (Spain). Their appointment is for two years.
Among its competences are: to advise, technically support the consultations sent to them from different countries where the TA is present and ensure the implementation of the protection policy.
Text and photos: Comisión buentrato y Departamento de Información.
Translation: Elsie Sebastian.