Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?
A study done by the UN found that approximately 1 out of every 4 females and 1 out of every 6 males are sexually abused before the age of 18. Sexual abuse during childhood has severe, negative, and long-term effects. Victims face psychological problems that will affect their future and how they interact with society. Some of the consequences that a victim may experience include low self-esteem, poor school performance and job productivity, feelings of guilt and shame that paralyze them from becoming active in society, self-hatred and self-mutilation, sex addictions, and porn addictions. Thirty percent of sexually abused children perpetuate the cycle of violence and become abusers themselves. Sexual abuse often leads to mental problems that can show up later in life.
The problem of sexual abuse has never been tackled in a structured and focused manner due to the culture of shame towards the subject in Egypt. There is a clandestine acceptance of sexual abuse and little knowledge of its prevalence and consequences. People are either ashamed to speak about it and deny its existence, or they are misinformed and unaware that it is a problem in the first place.
The media coverage of sexual abuse in Egypt has been scarce and mostly inaccurate, driven by misconceptions about the issue and a non-scientific understanding of the problem. It is a taboo subject and often difficult to talk about, so most find it easier to ignore the problem than to expose it.
Consequently, minimal efforts have been made to address the problem in Egypt. Several organizations are tackling women’s issues that deal with harassment and abuse, but there are not efforts being made to holistically address the problem of sexual abuse in children. Children, parents, and teachers are not given any information about sexual abuse—how to detect it nor how to deal with it. Victims do not feel they have a safe way to report abuse or receive help if they have been abused in the past.
Furthermore, there is no reporting mechanism in place for victims to report incidents of abuse. Only 10% of cases are reported largely due to the fact that 87% of sexual abusers are close family members. The victim and his/her family are highly discouraged from reporting the incident in fear of bringing shame to the family and the abused person, while possibly causing a major family drift or losing the main bread-winner of the family. Even though there is a law against sexual abuse (which includes rape), it is not widely enforced. People do not report cases so they are not documented. Moreover, both the police and the judiciary systems tend to blame the victim rather than offer support and help, reflecting the same bias as society.
Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!
Laila Risgallah created the first structured initiative in Egypt that focuses on raising awareness about the sexual abuse of children (ages 4-16), detecting the problem, and helping children cope with the consequences. Working in schools, nurseries, and orphanages with teachers, students and social workers, Laila is tackling sexual abuse with preventative measures as opposed to just rehabilitation after the abuse. She is presenting key players with the information and tools they need to detect and treat abuse. Laila has started unravelling and breaking apart the multiple layers of problems that sexually abused children face to prevent further abuse and raise a generation that understands sexual abuse as a crime.
A topic that has been historically silenced and often seen as the victim’s fault, Laila uses the media to flood Egypt with knowledge about sexual abuse in order to criminalize it in the minds of all Egyptians. Targeting the public, the survivor, and the educational system, Laila breaks the silence of sexual abuse and informs people about the reality and commonplace of the issue as well as its negative short and long-term consequences on children and society at large. Her methodology is the first to raise awareness of the issue directly and openly among children and adults. Further, her work is creating new systems for certifying and monitoring sexual abuse in schools.
Laila’s aggressive spread strategy couples educational tools with media outreach to target all sectors of Egyptian society and ultimately change behaviors and attitudes towards sexual abuse. By shedding light on this taboo subject in an informed manner, she is triggering policy change within the education system in the teaching and social work professions.
Through her organization, Not Guilty for Family Development, Laila has impacted thousands of children, teachers, and social workers. Using a model that is easily replicated, she is spreading her work throughout the country.