Rise in Child Sex Abuse Cases in Chile Demands Answers

Article excerpt

"Sixty children in our country were abused each day," announced Sebastian Pinera, President of Chile, during a public disclosure of the increased number of reported child abuse cases in 2011. Unsurprisingly, the rise in reported cases has generated uproar among Chileans who have demanded justice for the accused. María Jesús Muñoz, a child/adolescent psychologist from the Universidad Adolfo Ibáñez declared, "These reports are indicative of the Chilean public's loss of fear and weariness with these crimes."

Known for its social conservatism, the Chilean public still holds strong ties to the Roman Catholic Church centuries after the end of Spanish colonialism. Despite these roots, Chileans have been forced to recognize the pervasiveness of child abuse, after accusations came out against senior religious figures from the Catholic Church, such as human rights champion Father Cristian Precht and renowned cleric Father Fernando Karadima. Furthermore, investigations of alleged sex abuse throughout the 59 schools in the capital city of Santiago's education system have put administrator-student relations into great turmoil.

Santiago officials have responded to the increasing accounts of child sex abuse - which grew by 22 percent last year - with a call to divide the National Office for Minors (Servicio Nacional de Menores - SENAME) into two institutional bodies, one focusing on protecting vulnerable children, and the other handling rehabilitation of teenage delinquents.

In July, President Sebastián Pinera implemented ten preventative measures meant to prevent juvenile sexual abuse. These procedures are intended to decrease the rate of sex abuse by tracking pedophiles and imposing harsher punishment for their actions. Pinera has also banned convicted pedophiles from working near children, and those convicted of sexually abusing minors or child pornography are required to register in a special database, which is due to be fully operational shortly. When pursuing prosecution, officials have begun recording victims' testimonies in order to avoid forcing these children from reliving their tragic experiences through lengthy trials. Moreover, Pinera has responded with tougher "penalties on convicted pedophiles, an increase in the forensic institute budget by $1.6 million USD and [the creation] of a children's ombudsman to protect their rights."

Accessible registries of sex offenders and greater penalties for those convicted are undoubtedly progressive measures in the campaign against child sex abuse, but the Chilean government has only scratched the surface of the larger issue. The aforementioned initiatives deal specifically with the prosecution of child sex crimes and the punishment of convicted sex offenders. Harsh penalties will be widely meted out as a cost-effective way of deterring future offenses. However, worldwide evidence suggests that harsher penalties and their resulting publicity cannot alone reduce crime rates. Research has shown that harsher penalties may in fact encourage criminals to commit more heinous crimes that, in turn, result in increased crime rates. Dr. Joel Dvoskin of the University of Arizona notes, "Overly punitive approaches used on violent, angry criminals only provide a breeding ground for more anger and more violence." Although Dr. Dvoskin' s research deals specifically with the punitive nature of prison systems, conclusions such as these have broader applicability. Harsher penalties are simply not enough to combat the recent increase in reported child sex abuse cases, and may even produce a rise in child sex abuse rates. …