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The Sexual Abuse of Children

October 9, 2008 · 


Speech of Fr Shay Cullen – Barcelona, 9 October 2008


I express my heartfelt thanks to the good people behind this International Solidarity Prize. Especially José M. Carrera Secretary General of IAPM, President of MATRES MUNDI INTERNATIONAL and Mrs. Victoria Gomez-Trenor, all the members of the supporting organizations, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I receive this prize not for myself but for the many dedicated and committed people who are working to protect and defend children throughout the world. It is a recognition of the value and respect that we hold for the countless victims of child abuse and neglect. It is a prize recognizing the selfless work of those many committed people who give their time and energy, and risk themselves every day to save children from hunger, disease, poverty and all forms of childhood sexual abuse, they who help children who suffer violence imprisonment, torture, female mutilation and slavery. If not for these good people working for the rights of children at all levels of society it would be a much worse and dangerous world for millions of children.

The work that I am doing for the past 39 years is to develop a global awareness and help focus world attention on the suffering and sexual abuse and exploitation of children. I believe that when enough people know the truth about the extent and causes of sexual abuse and commercial exploitation of children they will respond to do more to help end these hideous crimes.

My work began when I first went to the Philippines I was assigned to a parish in Olongapo City which is situated on Subic Bay in 1969. This town was the home of the US Navy 7th fleet and thousands of navy men lived on this huge base and many more would visit Olongapo City when the aircraft carriers and warships arrived.

The city was one big brothel, thousands of women and children were systematically sexually exploited, exposed to Hiv-Aids and were victims of violence. Many more young children were sold to pedophiles and many were victims of drug abuse. An estimated 16,000 women and children were trafficked and prostituted in the sex bars.

Young boys some as young as 10 and 12 years old were jailed in subhuman conditions and sexually abused by older prisoners. We have made much progress but the jailing of children is still going on today despite the new law forbidding it.

The children are damaged for life, they lose their self-esteem, dignity and even their hope to survive, they are destroyed as human persons. Until very recently the age of criminal liability in the Philippines was 9 years old and thousands are jailed every year. It is a global problem especially in developing countries. The child prisons are closed to the public and even to professionals so we can hardly know about the torture, brutality and sexual assault endured by children behind bars.

In 1974 With Filipino helpers I established the PREDA organization (Peoples’ Recovery Empowerment Development Assistance Inc.) to give shelter and protection and recovery to victims of abuse and more importantly to change this unjust situation in society that abandons children and criminalizes them and prostitutes them or allows them to be abused without getting help and justice. . It is estimated that as many as 10,000 children and youth still experience the harsh punishment inside of a jail every year.

No person especially an impressionable youth or child can be normal after experiencing jail, especially with adult criminals, murderers and rapists. They are psychologically and emotionally damaged. They are filled with buried anger at abusive adults and some become either abnormally fearful or dangerous and hostile to society. Many will grow up to join violent criminal gangs if not saved and helped. Those youth where are rejected and unwanted by their families have no love, acceptance or support in life and turn to drugs, chemical glues to ease pain and hunger.

I began by rescuing the children and youth from jails and the streets providing a safe therapeutic home where they could recover from the sexual, physical and emotional abuse suffered in jail on the streets with the help of emotional expression therapy.

In the padded therapy room they can shout and cry and release all the anger and hatred against their abusers and even their parents who abandoned them to the streets and to jail. This release of the pain allows them to be healed and live without pain killing drugs. These youth condemned to prison for small offenses were released from police cells and youth prison to the Preda children’s home. This is an open facility no guards, gates, fences and no punishment. The homes continue today helping hundreds of children and youth.

In the Preda homes there is freedom, respect, friendship affirmation, education, family reconciliation and reintegration. The children and youth do not run away if treated with understanding, trust, dignity and respect . We have discovered and proven there is NO need for jails and punishment for most children and youth in conflict with the law and even those who commit serious offenses wil stay of their own free will ad change their lives.

Hundreds of the young minors have recovered at the PREDA homes .They were given education and many found jobs and made a successful new life.

Andre was 12 years old he pushed a small bicycle on the streets collecting discarded bottles and scrap metal for recycling. He was out of school and earning money to feed his 6 siblings. A police officer who wanted to meet his quota of arrests to get a promotion arrested Andre although he had committed no crime he was arrested and put in the cells of the police station mixed with adult criminals, rapists and murderers.

He was made the working slave of the prisoners and at night was sexually assaulted. He was almost four months in that police cell even though it was illegal to hold him there. He was charged with “stealing” scrap metal that was worth five euro. Preda social workers found him and immediately petitioned the judge to release him to the custody and care of Preda until his case was presented to the court.

He was traumatized and his family suffered greater hunger without his earnings. Poverty knows no justice, no compensation, no end. He took months to recover at the Preda children’s home where he received all his human and spiritual needs, he received affirmation, respect, understanding, dignity and a new sense of his self-value. He became a good student with self-discipline and self-respect, and made friends. The false charges were dismissed by the action of the Preda legal team working with the court.

Preda also worked successfully to help change the Philippine law for children accused of wrong doing. This new law was passed only after a media exposure on world television ITV of the UK and CNN that shows the conditions of children jailed in Philippine prisons. Preda helped make that expose.

The new law establishes a progressive form of restorative justice and today the age of criminal liability is set at a high 15 years of age. Some politicians and police want to repeal that law. However we have to work to have this law in the Philippines implemented and applied and work to have similar good laws that respect the rights of children enacted in other countries.

Children who suffer rejection in the home are beaten, cursed, endure domestic violence, or are sexually abused will grow up to be violent and rebel against society. Some become abusers, torturers and tyrants. However children who grow up in a family where there is love, affirmation, good parenting, peace and respect for all will be responsible, caring and are hard working young people of idealism. This is what the preda homes gives and almost the youth make a successful recovery and a good life.

In 1983 I uncovered a organized child prostitution ring that was trafficking women and children and supplying them for sexual exploitation by US sailors. The town mayors gave operating permits and licenses to the sex clubs and bars. One day I was called to the church run clinic and learned that 18 children had been found and treated for serious venereal diseases, the youngest child was named Jennifer and was only 9 years old.

We investigated and discovered that the children had been prostituted and sold to sailors and local sex offenders and the children were infected. Despite efforts by the authorities to hide the child victims and pressure me to cover up the reality, I went public and reported this heinous crimes in the press. There was great anger from the politicians of Olongapo City and they brought charges against me to have me deported from the Philippines. But the sex traffickers were not investigated and charged. Thanks to the support of Filipinos and international solidarity groups the corrupt officials failed to have me deported. One American naval officer was put on trial and received only a light sentence despite the many victims.
While rescuing children from this sex slavery and treating them we had to look for the root causes and deal with these causes. The world of depravity, uncontrolled sexual desires, the promotion of sexual gratification as a commodity, promotes promiscuous, unfaithfulness broken marriages and dysfunctional homes.
US military bases were the prime cause of these huge social and family problems.

It took many years of campaigning by Preda Foundation to help organize opposition and we at Preda proposed and campaigned to change the Subic Bay military facilities into economic export zones with a low tax base and it worked. The bases were closed down in 1992. The sex industry also closed down. It was a big victory for justice and decency. Today hundreds of manufacturing companies have invested and 80,000 Filipinos have dignified jobs in Subic bay economic zone although they are low paid.

But great damage had been done to the moral fiber and family values of the surrounding communities. Child abuse was growing in families and the villages and towns.

After 3 years of the removal of the bases the Filipino authorities allowed the reopening of the sex bars and clubs by international mafia, gambling syndicates and most customers today are overseas sex tourists and traveling sex offenders coming into the Philippines from many countries. That is the present problem now .We at Preda are expanding our services and opposing this great evil of sex tourism that is again sexually exploiting Filipino children and young women. We need international pressure on eh Philippine authorities to implement the law and close the sex industry down. Sex tourists going to South East Asia and other places develop a depraved appetite for child sex and then return to their own countries and become abusers of their children in their own country. Some even abuse their own children.

Today as a direct result of the sex industry clubs and bars are spreading with impunity in the towns and villages of the Philippines. Officials are ignoring the problem. Sexual exploitation is spreading among the Filipino communities and the legal and moral prohibitions have broken down. Even local officials today act as negotiators between child abusers and parents to arrange a financial settlement when the child has been raped or abused. The official earns a percentage of the payment. The child is left without help and the pedophile goes free to abuse other children.

Preda educators and social workers are daily in these villages to provide seminars for the people that this is illegal and the child must be helped and brought to a safe home for victims of abuse. Our Preda home for girls has 49 children in care and recovery. we help them recover by providing a caring supportive environment with protection. We also help them heal by encouraging them to cry out through emotional expression therapy. The deeply buried emotional pain and suffering they hide inside is opened and brought out. The emotional pain is eased and the anger is removed and psychological healing can begin.
Many children have recovered and are reintegrated to their families when it is safe for them. Some have succeeded in past years and finished college and today are Preda social workers and psychologists helping the new child victims at Preda children’s home.

The Preda legal officers are filing criminal charges against the abusers but due to weak prosecution few cases prosper and succeed. There are few convictions and abusers are still at large and a danger to the children.

Maryann was abandoned to the streets by her family and trafficked into sex club at the age of 15 she was exploited and sold to foreigners who sexually abused her. But she was rescued and recovered ay the Preda home became a high honors student and I am happy to tell you that she is in college and is, a children’s rights advocate and has just returned from speaking at an international conference in Canada on child rights sponsored by Unicef.

Evelyn was abused as a child before a runaway from home to escape the abuse and was trafficked abroad into prostitution in Hong Kong. She was used in making pornography and suffered violence and sexual abuse. This month she was rescued by a colleague of Preda and was flown back to the Philippines and is slowly recovering in Preda. Thousands of young girls are trafficked like this every day. We can all do much to change this situation.

May all people of good will, defenders of children, protectors of human rights, all of us, never turn a blind eye to the suffering and exploitation and injustice done to children, may we always have the courage to take a stand and speak out and defend the helpless and most vulnerable.

May we all work for justice and make this a better world for all and especially for children, those of today and those waiting to be born, May we give them a better and more just caring, affirming and loving world.

Thank you
Father Shay Cullen


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