Reports of minors being sexually abused increased by 68 percent between 2017 and 2018 in Panama, evidence of a greater awareness about a scourge that had been virtually hidden, the Public Prosecutor's Office and UNICEF told EFE.
These statistics, however, do not mean "that the number of sexual abuse victims has increased: what we can say is that the number of reports is greater," the Panama office of UNICEF said.
"We're starting to see another attitude on the part of mothers and fathers, since they are beginning to turn to the authorities to stop this evil," Maruquel Castroverde, the member of the Public Prosecutor's Office who handles sex crime reports, told EFE.
In 2018 the authorities received 6,256 complaints of crimes of forced sex and found that in 4,015 of them the victim was a minor, 68 percent more than in 2017, when 6,621 complaints were filed but in just 2,385 of them the victim was reported as a child or teenager.
Girls are most frequently the victims, constituting 91 percent of the underage victims identified.
These statistics provided by the Public Prosecutor's Office are compiled by the UNICEF office in this country in its "Analysis of the Situation of Childhood in Panama," a study still being prepared but which the international organization partially shared with EFE.
Of the 4,015 minors identified as victims by the Public Prosecutor's Office last year, 1,513 were for rape, 148 for the corruption of minors, 15 for prostitution and seven for procuring.
UNICEF noted that in some cases the victims could not be precisely identified, as is often the case with child pornography - reported in 2018 were 131 cases but only 24 could be identified.
"With child pornography the crime is recorded but the victims cannot be identified, though sometimes the complaints are dismissed without clearly establishing a victim," the Panama UNICEF office told EFE.
THE PLACE WITH THE HIGHEST RISK OF SUFFERING ABUSE IS AT HOME.
When studying closely the numbers of sexual violence victims - independently of their age - it is seen that the great majority are girls and women from the most vulnerable levels of society.
"The majority of victims are from the poorest classes and tend to be of school age," the prosecutor Castroverde said.
Their attackers tend to be members of the victim's family circle or very close to it.
"Very often the aggressor is either the victim's stepfather or biological father, above all when the abuse occurs in ethnic groups whose cultural practices permit this type of sexual initiation," Castroverde said.
As these crimes are principally within the family, the victims are often sent off to caretaking institutions, where further abuse can scar them for life, UNICEF Panama said.
Panama's harshest sentence for sex crimes is 18 years in prison, the prosecutor Castroverde said. UNICEF considers that the law in that regard complies with international standards.
But the United Nations body believes that "the justice system is still very weak in aiding crime victims, weak in its regulatory framework and weak in its watchfulness and intervention to protect people, particularly little boys, girls and teenagers, to prevent such crimes."
ART THAT FIGHTS THIS SOCIAL PLAGUE
As the prosecutor noted and is reflected in the data, Panamanian society seems to be waking up and decrying this reality that is, in fact, little different here from the rest of the region. Art has joined the initiative to give visibility to this childhood tragedy.
Panamanian artists Miguel Lombardo and Susana Gonzalez-Revilla reflect sexual violence against minors in their works "in order to shed a light on the problem."
"Panama Cannibal" is the name of their exhibition at the International Cultural Center, located in the teeming neighborhood of El Chorrillo in the capital, and which they mounted for the purpose of "bringing to the table the problem" of sexual violence against minors and "opening dialogues that invite us to reflect."
"These are dialogues that lead us to question ourselves and ponder problems that are very real and that have always been seen as taboo. I believe that this exhibit allows us to open ourselves to the fact that there are subjects that must be addressed both from the individual and social points of view," Lombardo told EFE. EFE-EPA adl/cd