Ensuring the health and safety of your child is an integral part of parenthood – it involves educating your child on all sorts of topics from healthy eating to stranger danger and road safety. When it comes to nurturing your child’s wellbeing most parents do all they can to address their child’s physical, psychological and emotional needs, however, talking to our kids about sexual abuse is a topic that the many parents neglect.
There is a variety of reasons why this is the case – many parents aren’t aware of the risks, others are unsure what information to impart and are concerned about frightening their children and then there are those parents (around 25%) who find it too painful, due to their own experience of being sexually abused.
Whatever the reason, the fact is that we all have a responsibility to empower our children with the knowledge that their body is privateand to teach them how to protect that privacy.
My first tip for parents and carers is not to bury your hand in the sand, but instead to understand the statistics*. “Unfortunately two girls and one boy in every Aussie primary school class (of 22 kids) will report being sexually abused before the age of 15. Sadly that is just tip of the iceberg as we know that most abuse goes unreported and that the number of victims is in fact much higher.Of these victims only 11% are abused by a stranger – so this issue is not really about stranger danger at all. Your child is actually eight times more likely to be abused by someone they know and that in half of these cases the perpetrator will actually be a relative. It is also important to note that Bravehearts** are now quoting that somewhere between 30% to 60% of victims are being abused by their peers, other children or young people. Finally, if you are reading this thinking that these statistics don’t actually apply to your child – you are wrong! The truth is that childhood sexual abuse cuts across all cultures and demographics of society.”
It is important to empower and protect our children from as young as 3 years of age. I know that initially this may seem too young, the shocking truth is that children are especially vulnerable to abuse from 3 to 8 years of age, so we need to be talking to them as soon as they can start to understand some of the concepts.
In terms of what information parents should actually impart to their child I recommend that you identify private parts using correct anatomical terms and teach your child that nobody is allowed to touch, feel, look or photograph their private parts or ask them to do the same. It is also essential that they understand they have the right to say ‘no’ if anyone makes them feel uncomfortable or attempts to touch them inappropriately. I advise that “It is especially critical that your child understands that nothing is ever so awful that they can’t tell you about it – confirm this by explaining that abuse is never their fault, never a secret and no matter what threats are made they must always tell someone they can trust.”
Whilst all this advice can seem quite overwhelming, it was the catalyst to publish the picture book “Only For Me”. “After hearing about events in my local community which involved young children being abused by their own peers I decided to create a resource for parents to help facilitate protective behaviour conversations with their young children.” The book ‘Only For Me’ is a very gentle rhyming book, which covers all the key concepts in a non-threatening manner, it is endorsed by Act For Kids and is a resource of the Sydney Children’s Hospital. For further information about how to empower your children or to purchase a copy of Only For Me go to www.onlyforme.com.au.
Michelle Derrig is a mother to four, author and child protection advocate whose passionate about educating parents and children about protective behaviours. She raises awareness through media and blogging opportunities and welcomes any invitation to present to parent groups. She plans to publish several more picture books, on other issues that confront our little ones in the modern world.