In loco parentis. A case of child-on-child sexual abuse has left one family in Tatarstan unable to attain justice — Novaya Gazeta Europe
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In loco parentis

A case of child-on-child sexual abuse has left one family in Tatarstan unable to attain justice

In loco parentis

Illustration: Novaya Gazeta Europe

Seven-year-old Nikita has lived with his mother, Aliya, since his parents divorced when he was just two years old. Subsequent contact with his father, who would sometimes call or come by to take him out for a walk, was minimal.

This article was originally published in Novaya Gazeta Baltic. All names have been changed.

A small and fragile boy, Nikita hadn’t always found it easy to make friends, and his mother encouraged him to take an interest in sports in the hope of boosting his confidence and helping him to become more outgoing.

As Nikita’s father was passionate about taekwondo, Aliya decided to enrol her son in a Taekwondo group for children as soon as he was old enough. “I thought that it would give them something in common, and help them to become friends,” she explained.

Three months after Nikita began attending taekwondo classes, the group’s coach suggested he attend a taekwondo summer camp as he had just turned seven, the minimum age requirement.

Aliya readily agreed and in June last year Nikita set off for camp. The camp counsellors posted regular photos in the parental WhatsApp group chat, allowing them to see what activities their children had been up to each day, so Aliya felt confident Nikita was having a good time.

Nevertheless, she went to visit Nikita at camp several times during his three-week stay. She remembers that while he seemed a bit more active than usual, she put that down to the camp environment and fresh air, and didn’t notice anything unusual in his behaviour.

On the final day of camp, Aliya signed a document confirming that she had no complaints. “He looked fine to me, his arms and legs and head were all in one piece, so I signed the note. I had no idea that he had been broken inside,” says Aliya.

Illustration: Novaya Gazeta Europe

Illustration: Novaya Gazeta Europe

Once they were back home, however, Aliya began to notice that Nikita was behaving differently. He seemed far more agitated and restless than usual, and when she noticed excrement stains on his underpants she realised that something must be wrong.

She asked Nikita what had happened while he was at camp, and he began to tell her.

The present

At the camp, Nikita had shared a room with three boys who were 2–3 years older than him. They had treated him badly from almost the first day, punching him in the head, stomach and groin.

Soon afterwards, on the initiative of the oldest boy, they began to force Nikita to perform sexual acts on them, and called him their “slave”. On one occasion, Nikita told his mother, he vomited while being raped by the ringleader.

Nikita was afraid to tell his mother what had happened when she visited the camp, as the boys had threatened to kill him if he told anybody what had been happening.

Nikita was afraid to tell his mother what had happened when she visited the camp, as the boys had threatened to kill him if he told anybody what had been happening.

The children had also been promised a present upon completion of their summer camp, and Nikita didn’t want to have to leave before receiving it.

“I believe my son,” says Aliya. “He doesn’t make things up. He’s never told lies before. And how could he have invented it? He didn’t know anything about any of this, he didn’t know what sex was. What my son went through is horrible.”

The investigation

Aliya was unable to sleep after talking to her son. She called a support hotline and was told to contact the Investigative Committee, and the next morning she took Nikita to talk to criminal investigators.

Nikita told the investigators what he had told his mother. They wrote down his testimony, and sent him and Aliya to the police to make a statement. At the police station Nikita told the entire story again, and the police sent them to the inspectorate on juvenile affairs.

Several days later Aliya received a call from the camp trainer, who tried to convince her that nothing had happened. “I told him that my son had been raped in his room and in the shower, and that he had thrown up on his T-shirt. But he said: ‘Why was he wearing a T-shirt in the shower, maybe it’s all a lie’,” Aliya recalls.

While the events described in Nikita’s statement did constitute a crime, the alleged perpetrators could not be prosecuted as none of them had reached the age of criminal liability.

The parents of the children Nikita shared a room with attempted to make contact with her, offering to meet and talk, but she refused. “I didn’t want to reach any kind of agreement. I wanted to do everything according to the law, for the children to be put on file and so on,” says Aliya.

While staff at the juvenile affairs inspectorate carried out their inquiries, Aliya didn’t have a lawyer, while the parents of the other children had hired specialists to be present during interviews.

Aliya learned that on their lawyer’s advice, the children and their parents admitted that Nikita had performed sex acts on the other children, but that he had done so in exchange for sweets, suggesting consent.

The Investigative Committee eventually concluded that while the events described in Nikita’s statement did constitute a crime, the alleged perpetrators could not be prosecuted as none of them had reached the age of criminal liability, which for “coercive acts of a sexual nature” is 14 in Russia.

Aliya is now trying to hold the camp management and counsellors responsible for her son’s safety to account. While the Investigative Committee said it was unable to open a criminal case, it did subsequently open an investigation into negligence on the part of the camp administrators. To date, however, no criminal charges have been pressed.

Illustration: Novaya Gazeta Europe

Illustration: Novaya Gazeta Europe

“I’m not particularly happy about this,” says Aliya. “There were three children. How much time did they have to abuse my child? Half an hour? Does this mean that they were left alone for half an hour? Where were the counsellors?”

In an attempt to see justice done, Aliya, who now has a lawyer, has filed a civil suit for compensation against the parents of Nikita’s dorm mates. The case is still going through the courts.

After she saw the investigators, Aliya received a phone call from a representative of the Tatarstan Ministry for Youth Affairs. During their conversation, a recording of which Novaya Europe has heard, the official simply told Aliya that such things happen at sport camps.

“This is the sort of environment we see in sport, a closed children’s group with its own hierarchy. Additionally, there are these stupid and poorly-educated counsellors who don’t know how to look after children, so this is a problem within the system,” the ministry employee, who did not give his name, said.

When Aliya asked if the authorities would be able to provide her son with psychological support, the official advised her not to let her son “dwell on the incident”, and instead try to “give him plenty of other things to think about”.

“Put it behind you, forget about it, and move on as if it had never happened,” he advised.

Rehabilitation

One year on from the incident, Nikita is still in therapy. Since returning from camp, his behaviour has changed drastically, and he has ongoing problems with incontinence.

Nikita also finished the school year being home schooled, as he experienced stress and anxiety when around his classmates.

“Once when he came home from school he had wet his pants. I thought, that’s it, I have to home school him. Nobody noticed that time, but they may have noticed the next time and started bullying him.”

Perhaps worst of all, Nikita’s father ended all contact with his son after he learned about the incidents at camp.

“Just imagine, not only was my son raped, but when he came back home it was as if he no longer had a father,” says Aliya.


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