Parents ponder their children's perils

by Arthur Hagopian

Published: Tuesday July 12, 2011

Armenian children in Sydney at a Saturday school performance.

Sydney, Australia - "Wherever children are, there are sexual predators waiting to prey on them." The chilling warning by senior Australian police detective Richard Long strikes terror in the hearts of parents. How can any human being, ever contemplate harming a child, "a helpless creature that should evoke nothing but the tenderest and most protective of emotions in all of us," in the words of the mother of a newborn baby.

For parents, and even grandparents, all over the world, child abuse remains an enduring nightmare. While it is an incontestable fact that the evil is exacerbated in Western societies, where parental control is generally slack and where permissiveness provides predators with greater opportunities, it is migrant (or naturalized) communities that feel most traumatized by the threat because to them, the very notion of child sexual abuse is an unheard of, incomprehensible anathema, the quintessence of the vilest evil.

Take the Armenians in Australia, most of whom with roots in the Middle East. There are some 40,000 of them here (a paltry number compared with an estimated million or so in North America). For these people who, Pulitzer Prize winner William Saroyan has declared, no power on earth can destroy, a child is the consummation of the ultimate domestic aim, the hope for the perpetuation of the family or clan, the torch-bearer who will ensure that when any two Armenians meet anywhere on this earth, they will create a new Armenia.

The older generation of Armenian "bantukhds" [exiles] from Jerusalem, Amman, Cairo, Baghdad, Damascus, Beirut was brought up in the belief that a child was there to be spoiled rotten. Occasionally, parents (or even grandparents) might need to have recourse to the rod, but the rationale is always to instill in the child a sense of discipline and respect for authority, in accordance with the tenets of a culture inherited from forefathers many of whom had given their lives to save their nation from annihilation.

In their paternalistic, homogeneous milieu no one ever heard of any instance of a child being sexually abused. The crime could not be hidden, either. In their closed communities, everyone knew everyone else, and everyone else's secrets.

The "bantukhd"s came to the West, seeking succor and security from the interminable internecine squabbles in the Middle East, but as new generations hatch, the parents watch in dismay as one by one, the pillars of their ethnic identity and sense of cohesion tumble one by one against the onslaught of acclimatization and assimilation.

"The children of the Armenians of the Middle East who go to school in America, Australia, Canada, Europe are falling prey to the allures, titillations and permissiveness of Western society," one teacher complains. "Some of them have even changed their names and dropped the patronymic 'ian' from their surnames."

Australia, the land of promise, has been drawing a steady stream of Armenian immigrants for over 50 years now, and with few exceptions, they have settled Down Under harmoniously and comfortably.

"Some of us had to struggle with the local language and wage daily battles for survival. But our kids have taken to the new life like ducks to water, affecting alien mannerisms and mores."

And that inevitably includes exposure, and victimization, to crime and drugs, both on the ground and in the ether."We are losing control over our children and our children's children," wails a grandfather of 4. "And if we can't control them, how can we protect them?"

With the advent and increasing popularity, and misuse, of social networking, the problem assumes exponentially more serious undertones.

Control is the key word, the police say. They urge parents to "keep track of their children's activities, know where they are at any given moment, what they are doing."

"The loss of control is a cruel blow to parents," an Armenian educator comments. "We have to contend not only with the dangers posed by the proliferation of drugs in school and the casual Western attitude to sexual adventurism, but also the threat of sexual exploitation online."

[Who has not heard the anecdote of the Lebanese boy in Sydney who reported his father to the police after being slapped by him? The father is shocked and receives a caution. He pretends to forget and forgive and bides his time. A few months later, the story goes, he floats the idea of visiting relatives in Beirut and asks his son if he would like to go with him. The child is delighted at the prospect - but the moment they walk down the ramp, the father turns to him with a snarl: "Sick the police on me now, you ungrateful cur!" and proceeds to give him the beating of his life. Appraised of the circumstances, the onlookers, to a man, shout at the boy: "Shame on you!"]

The ease with which an online presence can be established has opened for unsupervised children a dire portal into uncharted waters where human sharks roam to their heart's content, stalking victims unchallenged.

Almost every week, Australian media carry a story of yet another attempt at the abduction of a child, the arrest of a pedophile caught downloading child porn on the Internet or grooming a child for sex. And instances of cyber bullying and hate-mongering on Facebook are getting out of hand.

Police are are also concerned about websites purporting to promote child modeling careers.

Most of these are just fronts hosting depositories of child porn, some absolutely revolting, and as soon as they succeed in identifying and shutting down one site, a dozen spring up in its place, according to the police.

From time to time, talk of an Internet filter is floated in public, but nothing comes of it. No political party wants to go on record as muzzling the Internet.

Pedophiles are known to resort to several stratagems, including P2P (peer to peer) technology to hide their identity and evade capture, but although the Australian police, with a notably successful track record of catching miscreants, have little difficulty unveiling or unmasking online perverts, they concede their task could be much easier if they had help from the parents.

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Gala Danilova. HALO Trust

Calendar of Events

Gala Danilova will discuss the Karabakh conflict and ongoing de-mining efforts at an LA area event on November 23; for details about this and other upcoming Armenian happenings in America consult the Calendar of Events.





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