It is every parent’s worst fear that their child may fall victim to a paedophile. The statistics themselves are sobering.1 in 4 girls and 1 in 7 boys are victims of child sexual abuse (Australian Institute of Criminology, 2000). So how can parents best protect their children?
Firstly, it is important to know that it is less likely to be a stranger who abuses your child; instead they are usually people involved in the lives of you and your child. Andrea Musulin, the Executive Officer of Child Protective Behaviours WA, recommends to parents: “If you find yourself, even in the smallest way, wary of the intentions of someone wishing to be alone with your child, then respond to these instincts and say ‘No’.”
As parents it is important to work with our children to educate them in a way that will not cause them alarm and help to increase their safety. Musulin recommends using the methods taught by Protective Behaviours. This is based on the philosophy that all children: “have the right to feel safe at all times, and when they are not, then they should tell a grown up straight away. We call this the STOP, THINK, DO method for children under five years of age. This information, together with teaching them about their private parts, safe and unsafe touching and also secrets and secrecy all serve to increase the child’s safety, however it does not ensure it.”
Parents and parents-to-be are strongly encouraged to take a course at places like Protective Behaviours. The courses are inexpensive and extremely useful in teaching parents about how they can work with their children to protect them.
Parents need to make sure they teach their children to be aware of their body parts and which ones are private. It is important to reinforce to them that no one else is allowed to touch them, and they should tell you immediately if this occurs.
Books like Everyone’s got a bottom by Tess Rowley do a wonderful job in teaching small children. It was written in conjunction with the Queensland Department of health and the key message taught is “From our head to our toes, we can say what goes.” It teaches small children about their private parts and the correct names for them. It also talks about the boundaries they can set for themselves as well. The book also contains a valuable information section for parents and carers, with practical advice about the issue of sexual abuse and strategies to teach your little one about being assertive.
A difficulty parents sometimes encounter, is that small children are often unable to tell their parents what has happened. The key thing parents can be alert for is a change in your child’s behaviour. This can include them demonstrating sexual behaviour or radical changes in their normal behaviour. For instance, they can become withdrawn or highly aggressive, or regress in some ways. In addition, there may be physical symptoms of abuse on their genitalia.
If you discover your child is being, or has been abused, it is important to remain calm with them and not show any anger or distress you may feel. Let them know that you love them and that you believe them. It is vital they know that you support them completely. Reassure them that it is not their fault.
Whilst it is often hard to believe someone close to your child could abuse your child, it is crucial you take action. Musilin recommends: “Parents and Carers should make a report to the local social services / child welfare office as soon as possible. Parent should then detail what they have seen and/or heard to suggest that the child has been abused. They in turn will notify the police if there are criminal charges to be laid.”
It is important to know that sexual abuse can have a long term effect on children but if intervention takes place early, then the harm itself is minimized.
Prevention is definitely the best method when it comes to protecting your child. It is a good idea to educate yourself further about protecting your child by attending workshops that will teach you the skills to educate and support your child. It is important to use the many resources available to educate yourself and best support and protect your child.
Australian Federal Police. Tel: 02 6256 7777