Two years after the Badgley Committee investigating sexual offences against children tables its report in the House of Commons, the federal government has announced legislation designed to protect children from sexual assault, exploitation and prostitution. The legislation, introduced by Justice Minister John Crosbie, adopts many of the Badgley recommendations and, unlike the proposed legislation to curb pornography introduced at the same time, has been warmly welcomed by opposition MPs, special interest lobby groups and church organizations as an effective response to a growing social problem.
While the proposed legislation to protect children from sexual abuse was briefly reported, its importance was lost in the general outcry on the pornography proposals. An equally important initiative, announced at the same time, was completely ignored by the press.
In addition to criminal legislation to combat child sexual abuse, Mr. Crosbie also announced a government initiative designed to combat child abuse through research into its causes and education into its effect.
A wide-ranging programme will be co-ordinated under the Ministry of Health and Welfare to promote public and professional awareness and education, support research projects into the causes and effects of child sexual abuse and to establish a Missing Children’s Registry within the RCMP. A Special Advisor on Child Sexual Abuse is to be appointed to oversee the programme.
Of particular interest to pro-family organizations it the government’s announced intention to “work closely with family life educators and various pastoral/religious organizations to develop public education materials for their use.” The announcement goes on to say, “It must be stressed that the advice and interest of the provinces and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) is essential for both developing and carrying out useful research and demonstration projects.”
Among the research projects which the government “will take immediate steps to initiate” are
- Research regarding children’s failure to report sexual abuse due to fear of harming family,
- Research in the relationship between family violence and child sexual abuse,
- A project focused on demonstrating the process and impact of self-help groups on victims of sexual abuse,
- Demonstration of an integrated model for treating sexually abused children and their mothers,
- Development of preschool sexual abuse prevention kit,
- Long-term studies examining the health consequences of sexually transmitted diseases in children and youth.
Clearly, such an ambitious programme has the potential to create a better environment for children and families. It also has the potential to create yet another government sanctioned invasion of family privacy. The programme will need careful monitoring and, perhaps more importantly, immediate and sustained input from pro-family, pro-life oganizations.