Since the first pair of tiny hands clutched one, the teddy bear has been a symbol of comfort to children. Operation Bobbi Bear, a human rights organization that assists sexually abused children in Amanzimtoti, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, has taken the solace of the teddy bear to new heights. The “Bobbi Bear” (a stuffed, canvas-covered toy bear) is used as a non-threatening means for children who have experienced sexual abuse to communicate the nature of the abuse.
When children come into Operation Bobbi Bear’s care, their medical needs are assessed and addressed; then, they sit with a counselor who gives them a Bobbi Bear and a pen and asks them to indicate by drawing on the bear, using words and pictures, what happened to them and where. Children who may not yet have the experience or words to articulate the scope of their trauma are able to indicate, with the help of the bear, the extent of their trauma.
This unobtrusive method crosses language barriers and prevents secondary trauma at the point of rescue (by allowing the children to communicate without verbally reliving the incident). It provides the criminal justice system and caregiver with a better understanding of what events transpired, enabling the initiation of appropriate health interventions (including for HIV/AIDS) as needed. After the children mark them up, the bears are kept safe so they can be used in legal investigations in lieu of the child having to appear in court or give testimony about personal and painful experiences in public in front of strangers.
Operation Bobbi Bear’s approach allows even the youngest of survivors to fully share what occurred to them, ensuring that the most appropriate and total medical care can be administered and heightening the chances that the perpetrator will be caught and prosecuted.
In South Africa, reported cases of child sexual abuse have increased by 400 percent in the past eight to nine years, which is a sign of huge progress (and doesn’t necessarily mean that there are more children being abused–but there are definitely more families and children getting help!) Over the past year, Bobbi Bear has increased the number of children rescued by 300 percent. Since 2008, it has reached 10,000 children, made 400 court appearances in support of abused children and linked 2,000 survivors of abuse to HIV/AIDS clinics. In KwaZulu-Natal, it is estimated that 51 percent of adults ages 16-45 are living with HIV. Since this is the perpetrator age group for sexual abuse, child survivors of sexual abuse are at heightened risk for contracting HIV.
To support their work or learn more: www.bobbibear.org.za
The Bear Truth: photos provided by Bobbi Bear