There was a workshop at our school recently about child safety awareness and it brought back a memory from my childhood that I wanted to share…
One weekend, when I was 8 years old, my brother, my cousin and I went to our school playground to play. We lived really near the school – only two blocks away – so my older cousin who was in charge (because our parents were out) let us go without him. While we were playing, a young man approached us and asked us for directions to the toilet. Through my child eyes, I didn’t realise what was going on at the time, but as a grown-up looking back, I can guess the nature of that man’s intentions.
The first warning bell was when he tried very hard to separate us. He kept insisting that he only needed one of us to show him where the toilets were but the three of us insisted on going together. The second warning bell was when he tried to convince one of us to go into the toilets with him because he didn’t want to go in alone. My cousin and I told him that we were girls and we weren’t going into the boys’ toilet so he turned his attention to my brother. When my brother wouldn’t go in with him, he turned back to my cousin and asked if she was sure she wasn’t a “boy” – she had a boyish hairstyle at the time. He persisted for a while trying to convince either my cousin or my brother to follow him into the toilet and when we stood our ground, he finally went in alone and we ran home to tell my older cousin.
After hearing our story, my older cousin told us he was calling the police. The three of us thought he was joking because it seemed like such a harmless event. Now that I look back upon it with my grown-up understanding, I realise how serious it was and how badly it might have ended for us if one of us had followed him alone.
When we were little, our parents told us all sorts of stories to keep us in line, including the one about how the police would come and lock us away if we were naughty. So when the policemen came, our retelling of the events was somewhat jumbled up because we were only children and we were intimidated by the presence of the police officers. Deep down inside, I had an irrational fear that they might lock me up instead. I don’t think they ever caught the guy because the man they brought back to show us was not the right one.
I was 8 years old when this happened – that’s the age that G1 will be in a couple of months – and I wonder if I have taught my boys enough about staying safe…
Child Safety Awareness: Stranger Danger
I’ve done a lot to educate the boys about stranger danger. I’ve made it a requirement for G1 to learn martial arts for self-defense. They know the swimsuit rule – which is that no one is allowed to touch the parts of their body covered by their swimsuits. They know that even the doctor is not allowed to touch them unless Mummy or Daddy says it’s okay. There is also a great article on Committee for Children on Teaching Touching Safety Rules that covers this aspect in greater detail. But this is only a small part of staying safe…
Protecting Children from the People They Know
Many of us have spoken to our children at length about stranger danger – which is great – except that the reality is that over 90% of child sexual abuse cases are committed by people that the child knows. The scary thing is that these offenders can be anyone – and they are usually the people you expect to trust the most, like a relative, a religious leader, a teacher, a coach, a neighbour, a babysitter, basically anyone who has close contact with children.
So what can you do to protect your child? Here are some of the tips they shared with us:
Step 1: Learn the facts. Understand the risks.
Step 2: Minimize opportunity.
- If you eliminate or reduce one-adult/one-child situations, you’ll dramatically lower the risk of abuse for children. Have an effective recruitment policy.
- See: Reducing the risk
Step 3: Talk about it.
- Children often keep abuse secret, but barriers can be broken down by talking openly about it:
Step 4: Stay alert.
- Don’t expect obvious signs when a child is being abused.
- Learn to see the signs:
Step 5: Make a plan.
Step 6: Act on suspicions.
- The future well-being of a child is at stake. Trust your instincts.
The primary reason that the public is not sufficiently aware of child sexual abuse as a problem is that 73% of child victims do not tell anyone about the abuse for at least a year. 45% of victims do not tell anyone for at least 5 years. Some never disclose. – Broman-Fulks et al., 2007
Types of Child Abuse
When we talk about child abuse, we often think of physical abuse and sexual abuse but child abuse also exists in other forms. Child abuse is categorised as follows:
It is important to be aware that these other forms exist so that we may better recognise them.
Talking to Your Child
Recalling that event that happened to me as a child has made me realise how confusing this topic can seem to a child and how difficult it can be for a child to explain what has happened – especially to an authority figure she has no relationship with. There was that fear that I might be the one in trouble instead of that stranger who had approached us – it might seem ridiculous now that I should have been afraid to speak up but children have fears we don’t always understand. Keeping all these things in mind can be helpful when we start talking to our children about this topic.
We will not be able to protect our children from every single danger that exists but educating ourselves about child safety and talking to our children about how to stay safe is the least thing we can do that will make the biggest difference in our children’s lives.