While working as a counselor to survivors of sexual violence during the Yugoslav Wars in the 1990s, Dušica Popadić realized that there would be a need to provide therapy to survivors and prevent future incidences of sexual violence not just in wartime but also in times of relative peace. Along with a group of women trained in mental health issues, Dušica began efforts to provide support services to sexual assault survivors in Belgrade.
As Dušica investigated the issue, she learned that child sexual assault, especially by family members, was a large and unaddressed issue in the country. She committed to providing psychological support services to these youngest victims and their supportive networks, as well as working towards large-scale change to protect all children. Along with others working in this field, she founded the Incest Trauma Center – Belgrade (ITC) to function as a crisis response center and educational center working towards the prevention of child sexual abuse.
Though there is no national level statistical data available on the prevalence of child sexual abuse in Serbia, in its first 23 years, the ITC handled an average of 7-9 reported cases of child sexual abuse per week, proving that though many are loathe to talk about the issue, it is a huge threat to children’s well-being.
In almost 100% of the cases reported to the ITC, the perpetrator was known to the child victim and in the vast majority of cases, the perpetrator was a family member, close family friend, or an otherwise trusted adult figure. Most child victims suffer abuse over a period of months or even years and the trauma of their experiences leaves scars that can last much longer.
Dušica and the ITC provide psychological assistance to child and adult survivors of sexual violence and their supportive networks. These programs are delivered by professionals trained in the fields of health and mental health.
The ITC also functions as a Training Center and in its first 22 years, over 8,000 participants from 832 government departments and NGOs have attended its trainings. Trainings are grounded in principles of prevention and response aimed at reducing violence against women and children.
In its 16th year, ITC switched its primary focus from direct service to survivors to functioning primarily as a Sexual Assault Prevention Center. Through this program children and adolescents have complete a 10 week “Healthy Choices for Kids“ Prevention Program. In addition, Sexual Assault Prevention Peer Teams (volunteers aged 19-25) run Sexual Assault Prevention Clubs for teenagers.
Despite its primary focus on prevention, ITC continues to respond to an average of 7 calls per week regarding newly reported cases of child sexual abuse.
To date, more than 8,000 children and adolescents have participated in violence prevention programs. Dušica and ITC have provided prevention education to thousands of adults in government offices, NGOS, and police departments. They have successfully lobbied for the national Ministry of Education to adopt programming directly addressing the prevention of child sexual assault and successfully advocated for Serbia to abolish the statute of limitations for prosecuting child sexual assault, making it only the second country in Europe (after the UK) to do so.
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