On Thursday, as part of my summer paralegal job, I got to attend depositions for a case with my boss (who remarkably doubles as my brother). Some of what was questioned of these men was the case law that hearsay is not sufficient by itself and must be corroborated by independent investigation or steps to prove the reliability of whomever the hearsay originated from. It is a protective law for citizens so that we are not harassed by mere happenstance, and that reason and cause are present in legal activity. That’s why there is so much emphasis on corroborating what is said.
At the center of the curriculum I wrote, last time I was in Ghana, was the acronym A.C.T. ‘A.C.T.’ was chosen because it spelled ‘act,’ which is a word that requires deliberate motions and movement. The acronym was supposed to teach the children about what they could do if something bad, particularly sexual abuse, was happening to them. The first letter ‘A’ stood for alert, signifying that the children should tell someone about the situation. ‘C’ stood for care, meaning that the students should take care and be cautious of their surroundings, avoiding those bad places and people that was possible to avoid within their power. And ‘T’ stood for trust, which meant that the children should trust that if they alert the proper person(s) and were as careful as they could be, that they should trust that someone would care and something would be done.
I always thought that ‘T’ was the most important letter of A.C.T. I thought that if the students did not believe that ‘T’ would happen—that something would be done to help them—then I had lost the odds of ‘A’ and ‘C.’ It was my romantic thoughts of good triumphing over evil that put so much emphasis on ‘T’ and needing those children to believe that people would care if something bad happened to them. I certainly cared—but then again, I was leaving. And that fact sometimes made me feel like I put so much emphasis on ‘T,’ but in reality, trust was much more complicated than my acronym. It readily defied the confines of my chalkboard lessons. For example, whenever I asked the students to name a few people that they could trust, the top three answers—parents, teachers, and police officers—were the top three groups of people perpetrating the crime.
I guess this rings true for many situations, but it still seems a cruel twist of life that the very people who we give our trust to, are sometimes the very people so quick to betray it. And when it’s the people who are supposed to be taking care of these children, it creates a web of fear in the community of voices revealing unspeakable crimes against a child, and a stigma for those who dare to unveil it. So these children are asked to give proof that what they say about someone who is seemingly trustworthy is true. Corroboration for their story is demanded, while their words become less sure of what they once knew to be their life’s horrible truth. And the ‘T’ I teach becomes nothing more than the letter after ‘s’ and an empty declaration that someone would care and something would get done. I saw the aftermath often. At one school, a girl asked me questions after the first lesson that were too specific to be hypothetical. She ended her line of questions by asking what happens if you tell someone that you were being hurt, they don’t do anything, and someone kept hurting you. I told her that we have to believe that our situation can change and that she should try and tell someone else. But then she replied that others had been told, and nothing had happened. I wish I had a response for her then, but at that moment, I could not think of anything to say to her. I tried to take her aside, but it probably is not so surprising that I could not find her after I was done teaching in other classrooms at school. I tried to follow up at the school, but nothing came of that. If I see that girl again, I can only pray that her voice reached the right ears, such as AMPCAN and other NGOs in Ghana that are trying to put an end to child abuse and neglect. If I see her again, I would tell her that sometimes to change our lives takes a complicated mixture of patience and perseverance, although those are often coupled with lessons no child her age should learn and situations they should never go through. But most importantly, I would tell her that when I say that ‘T’ stands for trust, I also mean that she should trust that if something bad is happening to her that she has it inside of her to hold on until the tide change, and in certain situations, aid herself as well. This is one of the main reasons why I developed my curriculum. These children will become their very own trusted line of defense when empowered with the right knowledge. And myself, along with all the other people working in this field, will stand right there on the front line beside them. Because ‘T’ isn’t just a letter—it stands for trust.