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Campaign helps children fight sexual abuse

The interactive exhibition teaches children how to act when faced with abuse

A campaign to teach children how to defend themselves against sexual abuse has been so successful that it is being extended across the country, the organisers say.

In Switzerland tens of thousands of children a year fall victim to sexual abuse, often inflicted by family members or acquaintances.

The Child Protection Association says the "My Body Belongs to Me" campaign, launched a year ago in German-speaking and Italian-speaking Switzerland, is now being taken up by the French-speaking part of the country.

The initiative aims to show children how they can protect themselves, by teaching them how to say no.

"We have two objectives: reduce sexual violence against children through prevention, and create an organisation which groups together state and private anti-abuse organisations," Andrea Burgener Woeffray, the association's president, told swissinfo.

Valais was the first canton where French is spoken to take the campaign's message to 26 primary school classes earlier this month.

"People are interested in it because the region has been addressing the problem of child abuse for many years," said Christian Nanchen, vice-director of Valais' youth services department.

An interactive exhibition presents children with real-life scenarios.

Using appropriate language, children aged eight to 13 are made aware of their bodies and taught to recognise risk situations. One example is to encourage children to distinguish between touching they enjoy and that which they dislike.

"Children should know they have a right to decide what type of touching they accept," the association said.

Educators help young people differentiate between "good" and potentially traumatic "bad" secrets. The display also urges children to speak out without feeling that is a sign of weakness.

40,000 victims

Although no precise figures exist, experts have estimated the number of child abuse victims in Switzerland at around 40,000 each year.

In 85 to 90 per cent of cases the abuse is carried out by a family member rather than a stranger.

"For this very reason adults should be involved in prevention programmes. We are also organising information evenings for parents and teachers in parallel to the exhibition," explained Burgener Woeffray.

Around 1,500 children in 164 classes in cantons Bern, St Gallen and Basel Country participated in the interactive exhibition in 2006.

It was such a success that nearly all the German-speaking cantons have since joined the project, according to the association.

Teachers and parents found the campaign helped them become better informed and able to deal with abuse issues.

Many children say they have since put what they learned into practice, sometimes months after taking part in the campaign, added the association.

Nationwide

The organisers are hoping to reach 20,000 children, 9,000 parents and 1,600 teachers in the German-speaking part of Switzerland by the end of 2007. Around 70 classes are taking part in Ticino.

Apart from Valais, Geneva and Fribourg in the French-speaking part have also expressed an interest in the project.

Burgener Woeffray said that although not all the schools had the funding, many were raising money to take part in the campaign.

"This is a sign of the increasing need to tackle the problem," she said.

Over the past few months concerns have been raised about several alleged cases of gang rape by adolescents in Switzerland. But Burgener Woeffray says the campaign does not address this issue.

"You cannot compare gang rapes to child abuse," Burgener Woeffray said.

"But they do have things in common: young people do not have any point of reference and they do not know the limits between what is consensual and what is not," she said.

swissinfo, based on an Italian article by Luigi Jorio

In brief

On March 27, 2007, the government recommended accepting a proposal by parliamentarian Viola Amherd calling for the creation of a child sex abuse prevention service.

The service would be a national coordination point for all anti-abuse measures in the country.

Amherd also wants to make it more difficult for children to gain access to violent images on mobile phones, internet and television.

In 2004 the Federal Sport Office and Swiss Olympic launched a campaign to fight child sexual abuse in sport.

end of infobox

Key facts

There are an estimated 40,000 cases of sexual abuse annually.
85-90% of cases relate to abuse carried out by a family member or acquaintance.
A study conducted in Geneva in 1997 found that 34% of girls and 11% of boys had suffered sexual abuse.
The "My Body Belongs to Me" campaign aims to reach 20,000 children and 1,600 teachers by the end of 2007.

end of infobox


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