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Not Guilty: A Game Tackles Sexual Abuse at its Roots

27 March, 2017
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How does a mobile phone game relate to sexual abuse? Well, they didn’t use to have a connection, but that was until Not Guilty for Family Development came along.

Not Guilty has big dreams. The organization aspires to be part of facilitating an Egyptian society absent of sexual harassment and bullying. By training thousands of children, parents, teachers, social workers, and clergy, the NGO has brought a slew of innovative ideas to the country. The most recent among those ideas is a mobile phone game that teaches children how to respond to sexual abuse. 

Laila Risgallah, the founder of Not Guilty, had worked as a pediatrician for 20 years, until in 2001 she shifted her focus to mentoring youth. She started with a TV show called Han’eshha Sah (We Will Live Life Correctly), which tackles problems children face through music, interviews, and featuring youth with colorful hair and tattoos. The show covered topics ranging from the boundaries of dating to the negatives of pornography to drug abuse.

A hundred episodes later, Risgallah began organizing activity-based youth camps, which uncovered the ridiculously high rates of sexual abuse that children face. Faced with such abuse, children often turned to abusing alcohol, pornography, and cutting or self-harm. Risgallah was shocked by this.

“I knew nothing about sexual abuse at the time,” she said. She was compelled to help, and embarked on a three-year journey to earn a diploma with a focus on trauma therapy for people who were sexually abused. “Then I thought ‘if I am going to help, I am going to help from the beginning’,” said Risgallah.

Not Guilty was born. In 2012, the organization was established with a mission to abolish sexual abuse, particularly among children between the ages of three and 18. The organization’s first project included a set of awareness sessions that targeted children, featuring songs, performances and coloring books for the cause.  

The objective was to teach children to say “no”, and to realize when they are being abused, without putting them under pressure or making them feel like they are to blame—hence the name “Not Guilty”. The sessions also taught children how to report an incident, and who to report it to, because often the feeling of guilt can be overpowering, particularly when an abuser is threatening and harnesses the power of guilt against their victim.

Following the success of the sessions, Not Guilty decided to approach school teachers and nurses, as well as parents, to bring them into the cause. Guardians of children, no matter the time of day, need to be aware of the signs of abuse, how to spot abusers, how to protect children from cyber abuse, what the consequences of sexual abuse are, and how to react to children reporting to them about an incident.

“A [guardian’s] reaction may stop a child from ever reporting again,” Risgallah highlighted.

It is difficult for a child to report an abuse incident to begin with, because of being overcome by guilt. Children may be blamed or blame themselves for the way they dress or how they reacted to the abuse. Moreover, the abuser is often a close connection—someone who befriends the child or even a relative—that plays with them, and becomes their secret keeper, a process called “grooming” to accept the abuse.

A poor reaction adds heaviness to the situation. Upon learning about an incident, parents may become angry and scream at the child, asking them why they hadn’t told them before or why they allowed the abuse to happen. What’s worse, sometimes children are accused of lying, particularly if the abuser is considered a “good” person.

Teachers might start asking questions and investigating the situation on their own, which is not their job.

Giving a recent example of such a negative reaction, Risgallah spoke of the incident at the Futures British School in Cairo, where the school faced the child with his abuser, then made him go through a forensic report, which Risgallah said “is a whole other form of abuse”.

“They should have believed the child from the beginning, and the school’s social worker should have been the one to handle the case. They should have prepared the child for the examination, which did not happen. They should have also prepared him to face the abuser. It was all handled incorrectly. This child will need counseling for years,” the doctor criticized.

Risgallah felt like she was not doing enough, so she put together a school curriculum to shape behavior for grades four through 12, conducting 45-minute sessions, four times a year, with each year built on the one before. By the time they leave school, the students will have in their pockets 48 hours of anti-sexual abuse and anti-bullying training.

“I want children to not only be able to protect themselves, but also to hate abuse and bullying and not want to become abusers in a society that is ‘ok’ with such crimes,” Risgallah stated. According to a United Nations report, 99.3% of women in Egypt have been the target of sexually harassment.

Risgallah presented the curriculum to the Ministry of Education, who signed off on it but later gave her a hard time when it came to the implementation of her ideas.

“Being an entrepreneur and fighter, I took the curriculum to international schools,” the founder recalled. After that, some governmental schools asked to follow suit. These schools needed to get permission from the ministry, which they did.

The Not Guilty curriculum was implemented in 20 schools in the Shubra district, along with schools in other areas, such as Al-Obour and Al-Azbakeyya. Now, Al-Obour district is asking the foundation to go into 300 schools, for which Not Guilty is trying to raise funds. The project will take several years, the founder believes.

Not Guilty’s efforts haven’t stopped there. After visiting Stanford University in San Francisco, a lightbulb went off in Risgallah’s brain. She discovered that there is a mobile application for everything.

“Why don’t I create an anti-sexual abuse mobile application?” she thought.

Not Guilty partnered with Orange, and in October the first ever mobile application for combating sexual abuse was launched. SKIT, which is an acronym that sends the message to “say no, keep private parts private, it is not your fault, and tell someone”, is a character that teaches children in a 25 level game how to protect themselves.

Among Not Guilty’s other achievements is partnering with Hope Village and training 30 social workers and counselors, producing 23 episodes on anti-sexual abuse for parents (available on YouTube) and partnering with the Council of Services and Development (CSD) to train trainers.

The foundation, which has five permanent employees and 20 volunteers working with it, envisions incorporating its curriculum in schools across Egypt.

“I really wish that the Minister of Education would be more open-minded. We are helping Egypt to become a better country,” concluded Risgallah.

In the meantime, another Not Guilty application is in the pipeline. 

Tags sexual abuse Sexual harassment children Not Guilty