Scrolling through my newsfeed on Facebook the other day, sitting in the comfort of my own home I scrolled past a photo of a man on a facebook page outing pedophiles. This man, a man that looked about my age, well groomed, with a dapper haircut and beard popped up, he was handsome and just a regular guy, he had been convicted for exploiting children and sexually abusing many young children.
If you passed him in the street you wouldn’t in a second expect it.
We assume we know a creep when we see one, they might be old, dirty looking or skittish, maybe he’s hanging around the school? Often, they’re not, they are trusted members of the community, celebrities, educators and people in positions of power. They are family members, mums or dads, friends, friends of friends and uncles or aunts. We forget too often that these too are people who abuse children. We warn our children about strangers, when most of the time it’s the people sitting in the living room sneaking around at night we need to be worrying about, it’s not these obvious people hurting our children, it’s the people within our very doors.
With this in mind, what are we doing to protect our children from these people? Are they teaching in schools what we know to be true? Mostly not.
This leaves it up to us.
We sat down with our ten year old son last night and we openly discussed what he’s been learning in sex education this year. He’s learnt a lot, he learnt about women, men, sex, puberty and reproductive systems, but out of everything taught this term, his body safety was not one of them, and with the average age of sexual abuse beginning being between 8-12 years old (Finklehor 1986), with 1 in 3 girls and 1 in 6 boys in Australia (Aust. Institute of Criminology, 1993) alone being abused before they even turn 18 years old, you might think this to be a crucial time to be thorough in this.
But no, not one thing, not what to do if someone you trust touches you, what defines touching, or who to go to. And while yes, we should be teaching this at home as well, but what happens when the person at home is the abuser?
The only time I realised that what my step-dad was doing to me was wrong was when I saw an episode of ‘Oprah’ where a girl had been sexually abused by her own father for years. It clicked then for me, 5 years after it began.
I was not talked to in school once about something that was happening to me. Something I should have been taught.
We need to stop “pussy footing” around our kids when it comes to sexual abuse, this is the one time you should be sitting them down and telling them exactly how it is. No more stories, no more songs, no more beating around the bush. Just honest, brutal, truths.
This is not about instilling fear into children about the world, they world will do that all on it’s own. This is about educating your child about what to do in the case of sexual abuse. We put so much into educating our teachers about how to spot abuse but not enough into teaching our children (the potential victims) about what to do if it happens to them and where they can go if they need help.
Here are a list of things I believe should be spoken about in schools but mostly aren’t, and what we here at home talk to our school aged child about:
- What to do if someone else’s child tells your child someone has touched them- Tell a parent or a teacher immediately, I would have had no idea what to say if a friend had come to me and told me they were abused regardless of the fact I was too.
- Who they can talk to if someone touches them, multiple family members and family friends– someone other than just the parents because often children may be scared to speak up if it’s a parent doing the abuse as like me they fear they may get in trouble.
- Talk to them about grooming and threats– some who might act overly friendly or give gifts or cuddles that seem harmless but might make the child uncomfortable- Most children do not know grooming and this is actually a tactic most child abusers will use to win the trust of a child. Some children will keep a secret if they are threatened, they need to know that if an adult uses a serious threat to force them to keep a secret that it is not acceptable.
- Let them know about misconceptions of Pedophiles– they aren’t always the lurkers or the creepy men, they often can be a teacher, or a cleaner, a business man/woman etc. They don’t always fit the ‘creep’ profile.- Children often think creepy = Abuser. Not; a well dressed regular person= creepy.
- They need to know that sexual abuse isn’t limited to Penis or Vagina touching– that leg touching, bottom touching, any touching from an adult (unless an asked for hug) is not ok and that no one can do that to them and that it is ok to say no and push them away.
- They need to know that if it does happen– that they are in no circumstances to blame for their reactions or responses to sexual abuse, that there is no shame in it and that it is normal. Many children’s bodies will respond to sexual abuse and that can be very confusing and scary for a young person. Which in turn instills shame, disgust and fear.
- Most importantly that they know they are not in trouble, nor will they ever be– I for a long time was worried that if it was found out that I would be in trouble for 1. Letting someone do that and 2. That I would be in trouble for keeping a secret.
This is the one time to be open and honest with your child, education and awareness on this could save your child from being a victim. Let them ask questions. Bring in a No lies, No secret rule into your home and remain open and honest always, to ensure they grow up knowing that you are always an open book to them. Be the one they can come to no matter what happens. I think the trick to this is to not just talk about it once. We talk about this on a regular basis(age appropriately) at random times with our eldest, he knows my history, he knows my problems and he openly discusses body safety and what happened to me and what to do in a situation with us probably monthly. He has a good grasp on it all because we as a family have talked about it.
Now is the time to educate before it’s too late. We have to accept that abuse happens. The stats don’t lie and they are unrelenting. While the fight for our children’s safety should never end, we have to equip our children to live in the world that is.