There are never ‘two sides’ to child abuse!

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(Although not strictly about teens, this post on child sexual abuse is an important topic to raise. For some children, the first time they make a disclosure is in their teen years.)

We were sitting on my bed. I will never forget the uncontrollable sobbing. Anguish. Pain. Heartbreak. Relief.

Relief that ‘the secret’ was exposed at last.

Although my friend was in her early teens, she had carried this terrible knowledge around for too many years. A knowledge borne out of experience. Experience that one so young should not even be aware exists in this world.

But unfortunately, there was not to be the ‘happy ending’ that my naive teen mind envisaged. I thought it would all ‘be ok’, as soon as she told an adult. The adults in her life would love her, protect her, and get her the help she now needed. Surely?

No.

What was a response?

“There are two sides to every story!”

Two sides to a story? Um…what? How can there be two sides to a sexual abuse story of a young girl? Sexual abuse at the hands of a grown man! As if a young girl would somehow lie in detail about such acts or worse still, actually encourage sexual encounters with this person.

Young people do not lie about such acts. You always start by telling a child that you believe him when sexual abuse is mentioned*.  One of the biggest reasons a child never ‘tells’, is because he fears not being believed. Fears that the family will be torn apart, because of his story. Or in my friend’s case, fears being told she was somehow to blame.

The common dilemma

Now, as a mum to 3 children, I too tread the blurry line of maintaining my children’s age appropriate innocence, while providing them with enough knowledge to keep them safe.

I also find that parents are often embarrassed to talk to one another about their child’s sexual curiosity, because they don’t always know what is ‘normal’.

In teaching children about body safety, we need to first be aware of what constitutes healthy curiosity. So, may I assure you that children have a natural inquisitiveness about their bodies and about sex. Sexual curiosity is part of a child’s learning about her gender.

Jaynees Sanders (author of ‘Some secrets should never be kept’) provides a list of normal, age appropriate childhood behaviors around sexual curiosity. If you notice any of these behaviours try not to react in a negative way:

  • babies, toddlers and young children exploring their genitals and enjoying being naked
  • question about why boys have a penis and girls don’t. i.e. trying to work out the difference between what it is to be male and what it is to be female
  • showing others their genitals
  • playing doctors and nurses and/or mommies and daddies, kissing, holding hands with children of a similar age
  • using slang words or ‘rude’ words they have picked up. (Usually related to body parts or bodily functions)
  • looking at each other’s body parts (particularly children under 7, close in age and who know each other ) in mutual agreement. i.e. no-one is being forced to show each other their body parts
  • curiosity about ‘where they came from’; may be giggly and embarrassed about body parts discussion

If you believe some of these behaviours are becoming excessive (or happen while your boss is at dinner), gently redirect your child’s attention elsewhere. Also use it as an opportunity to talk about body privacy (see books below).

Why we need to be having these conversations

Statistics indicate that 1 in 3 girls and 1 in 6 boys will be sexually interfered with before their 16th birthday (Fergusson & Mullen, 1999). This is truly frightening, and as many experts point out, this statistic only reflects reported cases.

Also, only 11.1% of children will NOT know their perpetrator. The community’s focus has so often been on ‘stranger danger’ — however, the reality is, the perpetrator will be most likely be someone in the child’s immediate family circle and a person they know and trust.

ABS on sexual abuse

Warning signs of possible abuse or exposure to pornographic images (which also falls into the realm of child abuse) include, knowledge and use of language that moves beyond body parts and simple curiosity. i.e. Knowledge and use of language about sex or sexual acts that would only be appropriate in an adult relationship.

So what can you do?

There are a number of fantastic books available to teach children body safety skills. Children are visual learners so story is an excellent medium when broaching this subject with your child. Here are Jayneen’s top ten.

Top Ten Books to Empower Children About Their Bodies


some secrets

 

‘Some Secrets Should Never Be Kept’ by Jayneen Sanders

 

 

my body belongs to me

‘My Body Belongs to Me’ by Jill Starishevsky

 

 

 

everyone's got a bottom

‘Everyone’s Got a Bottom’ by Tess Rowley

 

 

Matilda

 

Matilda Learns a Valuable Lesson’ by Holly-ann Martin

 

 

Jasmine's butterflies

Jasmine’s Butterflies’ by Justine O’Malley, published by Protective Behaviours WA

 

 

amazing you

 

Amazing You - Getting smart about your private parts’ by Dr Gail Saltz

 

 

right touch

 

 

‘The Right Touch’ by Sandy Kleven

 

 

its my body

 

‘It’s My Body’ by Lory Freeman Girard

 

 

 

your body

 

 

Your Body Belongs to You’ by Cornelia Spelman

 

 

I said no‘I Said No!’ by Zack and Kimberly King

If you need someone to talk to, please begin by seeing your local GP. Alternatively, call Lifeline on 13 11 14

My next post will be on talking to children about body safety.

My post on “Talking to children about sex” - the how, the when and the why – is also popular.

Thank you to Jayneen Sanders (aka Jay Dale) for her recommendationed books (above). Jayneen is a teacher, author, mother of three teenage daughters and an active advocate for sexual abuse prevention education, both in the home and in schools.  Jayneen is the author of the children’s picture book ‘Some Secrets Should Never Be Kept’. To be read to children ages 3 to 12 years. 
The book includes notes to parents, and discussion questions to guide parents, caregivers and teachers. Available on www.somesecrets.info in Australia and on Amazon for families outside Australia.

 

*(Footnote: I am hesitant to add, but it needs to be mentioned, in an extremely small percentage of cases, some children have been found to have made up details about a teacher or someone they know. This is another area altogether but it needs to be taken seriously, because there will certainly be underlying issues with the child, for this to occur. The child still needs to gain assistance from a trained psychologist. However, young people rarely lie about such acts. When sexual abuse is mentioned by a child it should always be taken seriously. Believing children should be our default response!)

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Comments

  1. There are never two sides to child abuse. If you think there is, you need to seek mental health care…. https://t.co/W3XcAe5L5Q

  2. There are never ‘two sides’ to child abuse! https://t.co/0rBX813wJt via @collettsmart

  3. RT @JayneenSanders: There are never ‘two sides’ to child abuse! http://t.co/kQW9Ko4Ztu via @collettsmart

  4. Thank you for this post; abuse needs to be aired and discussed or the feelings of shame and the need for secretivity will never leave our children. It’s so good that books are finally starting to be published on this topic.

  5. Collett I agree! I am a social worker and have worked in child protection. Psychologists tell us that listening to stories of abuse can traumatize the listener. It is referred to as secondary trauma.
    It happened to me. As a social worker with Child Protection I listened to Police interviews with children. Certain police are specially trained to question children about sexual abuse. The interviews are taped and these tapes become ‘evidence’. It takes skill and the right type of person to do this type of work well.
    Commonly, abuse is reported to police a long time after it happens. Details that the child can remember are important. I heard lots of details from different children of different ages and from different backgrounds. But with each testimony I was left with the same eerie thoughts, regardless of the circumstances of the abuse.
    It was as if each child was talking about what happened to an object, a piece of wood, not a living being. “He put me…..” and so it would go on, each child accepting that he or she had no control over her body and what was being done to it.
    . “A child is placed in the position of having to put up with what is being done to his/her body until the end of the incident. Then for most there is the knowledge that there will be another time. because abuse is very seldom a one-time occurrence. It can take place over years.
    The Police don’t ask the child: Did you scream for help? Did you fight back? Because we know enough about the dynamics and psychology of the insidious way in which this crime occurs and children silenced.
    There was not one case of child sexual abuse that I was involved with that I did not think the same thing: What happened here? Why didn’t the parent, teacher, grandparent notice this…? Why was the abusers given a free reign to abuse all these children? Why? The answer was always the same, ignorance about child sexual abuse and/or adults too afraid to deal with it. What if I am wrong?
    The solution was obvious; adults in the lives of children need knowledge and confidence to deal with child sexual abuse. That was seven years ago. In the beginning I looked for Australian educational programs.
    Wonderful Australian research and lots of it confirmed my observation. I found research as far back as 1996 saying that there was a missing gap in prevention programs. Australia needs to develop adult educational programs.
    Then at last RECOMMENDATION 10 of the REPORT OF THE PROTECTING VICTORIA’S VULNERABLE CHILDREN INQUIRY, 2012:
    Recommendation 10.“The Department of Education and Early Childhood Development should develop a wide-ranging education and information campaign for parents and caregivers of all school-aged children on the prevention of child sexual abuse.”
    At last! Well actually not that simple. The latest word I managed to get in relation to the progress of Recommendation 10, came from: The Manager, Priority Cohorts, Cohort Strategies Branch, Strategic Policy and Planning Division, Strategy and Review Group, Department of Education and Early Childhood Development,
    “However, I can’t provide any timetable on if, or when, there might be additional action”.
    There are programs that we can use immediately in Australia, that are being used worldwide for exactly the same problem. Programs that tick all the boxes. No need for Government funding. No delays. A program evaluated in long term studies to work. Program used by overseas Governments, school districts, church groups, sports groups, parent groups etc. Parents can access programs independently online.
    On-line educational programs
    • Stewards of Children: http://www.darkness2light.org (on-line, evaluated)
    • Parents Protect: http://www.parentsprotect.co.uk (on-line, free)
    • Talking about touching http://www.cfchildren.org (buy DVD online)

    Books to read with your child
    • Wesley’s World: Wesley & His New Neighbours 1½ -3 years
    • Wesley’s World: A Prickly Problem – 3-5 years
    • Wesley’s World: Summer Holiday -5-8 years
    Vivien Resofsky author, Alex Pavlotski illustrator

    I wrote the Wesley’s World Series because the question I am most commonly asked by parents is: How do I talk to my children without scaring them? When should I start? The guidelines at the back of the books aim to provide parents with the ‘tools’ to learn about child sexual abuse as well as the confidence to prevent, recognize and react responsibly to it.
    Parents then read the books with their children and they are guided as they talk about personal safety. The books are entertaining and funny. It is within this context that children learn about personal safety.
    The books are sold through reputable educational suppliers such as ACER, and Innovative Resources (Bendigo). Many teachers are using them. I want the books to reach parents and that is why I made them easily accessible and free online.

  6. Thank you so much, Collett. As a mother of two young daughters and a high school teacher, I find those statistics absolutely terrifying.
    The fact that the majority of people who commit such inconceivable crimes are known to their young victims, only reinforces the importance of believing a child who has the ENORMOUS courage to come forward and say something about a possible loved one in the family.
    I have heard a terrible story of abuse from a friend of mine who said nothing to her parents, due to the exact reasons you mentioned above. It was her uncle and he abused her from the age of 5 until about 10.
    I will definitely be buying these books and adding it to the list of ways I have to arm my daughters against these horrifying statistics.
    Thanks again, Collett. x

    • Agreed Paula. It is inconceivable, that people who are trusted by the child use their positions to harm them.

      • I agree. The more we highlight this issue, the more we push back at this horrendous crime. We need to keep encouraging victims to speak out and then support them once they do.

  7. Yes! Thank you for addressing this often ignored issue. “Some Secrets Should Not Be Kept” is a house favorite, and I’ve also perused My Body is Private” by Linda Walvoord Girard and also like it’s empowering style and gentle approach.

  8. Thanks Collett – my oldest is about to start kindy so this is a great reminder to get started on talking to him about this difficult but essential topic. Just bought 2 of the books!

  9. Thank you Collett for raising and discussing such a crucial issue. As parents and educators we can do so much more to reduce the horrific statistics. I believe we need to all come together to make ‘body safety’ just a normal part of our parenting/teaching conversation. I hope many parents will ask other parents, schools and kinders if they are teaching body safety. And if not, why not.
    Thank you once again for placing sexual abuse prevention education on the radar!