Two Portuguese psychologists, professors at the University Institute of Lisbon (ISCTE), developed a board game adapted to Cape Verde to help prevent cases of sexual abuse of children in the archipelago.
“From our experience in Portugal, and based on scientific evidence in this area, we know that working on complex themes through playful strategies is always the best starting point.”, explained to Lusa Rute Agulhas, one of the authors and a specialist who is also a member of the Lisbon Patriarchate Commission. “Then, the creation of opportunities for debate or active discussion turns out to be a facilitating mechanism for the acquisition of learning on aspects aimed at preventing sexual abuse.”
Picos e Avelã to the Discovery of the Treasure Islands was developed by psychologists Rute Agulhas and Joana Alexandre, thinking about Cape Verdean children, between 7 and 12 years old, and responds to a request from the Associação Crianças Desfavorizadas de Cabo Verde (Acrides) .
The project will be presented on the island of Sal, this Wednesday, March 8, and addresses nine themes that cut across sexual violence, inspired by the nine inhabited islands of Cape Verde: among which, the body and private parts, secrets, emotions , the ability of the child to say “Yes” It is “no”, or asking for help when confronted with situations of sexual abuse.
For Rute Agulhas, it is necessary to enable children “talk about secrets”be “good or bad”of the touches “suitable and inappropriate”but also emotions, the body, the Internet “and, of course, knowing how to ask for help”.
However, the specialist revealed that there were two themes considered essential by the context of the country: “TheChildren’s rights and gender-based violence, which have generally received less attention in sexual abuse prevention materials and programs”.
“This specific game addresses yet another theme — social and emotional competences. A theme that the literature identifies as especially important in this context and that involves, for example, the regulation of emotions, problem solving, resilience, friendship or empathy”, underlines Rute Agulhas, also an expert at the Institute of Legal Medicine and Forensic Sciences.
According to data from the Public Ministry of Cape Verde, in the judicial year 2021/2022, which ended last July, 776 sexual crimes were filed in the country’s courts, 315 more than in the same period of the previous year, of which 32.2% were related to sexual abuse of children and 6.8% to sexual abuse of minors between 14 and 16 years old.
At the start of the current judicial year (2022/2023), 1076 cases involving sexual crimes across the country had yet to be resolved, 321 of which related to sexual abuse of children, 57 of sexual abuse of minors between 14 and 16 years of age, seven of exploitation of minor for pornographic purposes and five of sexting against minor.
The creation of the game involved the publisher Ideas with History and represents the culmination of several months of work by the two psychologists in Cape Verde, including training actions for police forces, magistrates, teachers, doctors, psychologists and social workers on the islands of Santiago and São Vicente.
The two Portuguese women met the non-governmental organization Acrides at an online conference on Justiça Amiga das Crianças, in 2021, and since then, they have strengthened a relationship, also with the country, which until then did not exist. “It’s very easy to like Cape Verde. People are very receptive to learning and reflecting on existing practices”, maintains Joana Alexandre.
The project in Cape Verde is based on what the two professionals are already doing in Portugal: “The commitment to universal prevention of sexual abuse is, for us, the starting point — as the saying goes, prevention is better than cure.”
“A real commitment to primary prevention means empowering our children and young people, transmitting them knowledge that allows them to identify an alleged situation of risk/sexual abuse and promoting skills so that they know how to ask for help”, asserts Joana Alexandre, also stressing the importance of thinking in a “holistic and systematic” way to “primary prevention of sexual abuse” and involving children and adults.
Still, Rute Agulhas emphasizes that the Portuguese reality “has nothing to do with Cape Verde”, where “there is not much statistical data available and there are few scientific studies on sexual abuse of children”.
And he reinforces: “All the prevention work that we have been doing can and should be adapted by the Commission to religious contexts, namely to children who attend catechesis and also in schools. It is a way of preventing sexual abuse, promoting skills that teach children to recognize and deal with potentially dangerous situations.”
The two ISCTE teachers and researchers started working together in the development of actions and training courses focused on preventing sexual abuse of children in 2015, regularly collaborating with schools, parents’ associations, commissions for the protection of children and young people, city councils and security forces across the country.
In 2016, they created the first board game As Aventuras do Búzio e da Coral and, a year later, they launched Picos e Avelã à Descoberta da Floresta do Trabalhador, both of which involved the involvement of students of the master’s degree in Community Psychology and Protection of Children and Young People at Risk at ISCTE.
They are also finalizing the Vila Segura game, aimed at young people between 11 and 14 years old and which aims to increase young people’s knowledge about sexual abuse of children and enable them to know how to deal with possible situations of mistreatment.