The horrible reality of childhood sexual abuse seems to pervade the Australian news of late:
- The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, set up in January 2013, continues to investigate instances where institutions failed to protect children from sexual abuse and failed to properly respond to allegations.
- Robert Hughes, former star of beloved 1980s Australian television show Hey Dad! has been convicted of childhood sexual abuse. Sarah Monahan, who played Robert’s daughter in the show, bravely told her story, as one of his victims, to the Australian public.
- Rolf Harris, an Australian musician, songwriter, television personality and icon, has been charged with multiple child sex offences and is currently on trial.
- Brett Peter Cowan, the killer of twelve year old Daniel Morcombe was found guilty. After Cowan was sentenced, it was revealed to the Australian public that he had two previous convictions for child sex offences for which he had served little time.
These recent events reveal just how badly we are failing, as a society, to protect our children. I know that we can do better, and I hope that we shall learn to do so soon. I hope that the Royal Commission will assist us in finding ways to better protect our children. Like many parents, I believe that the protection of innocent children is, overwhelmingly, a moral priority. For now, I am determined to do all I can do, as a parent, to protect my child. Here are my resolutions:
- By responding to my child when she is distressed, by being there for her when she needs me, I have tried to teach her, through a million little repetitions that, in the midst of unspeakable emotional pain, I will be there. That I can be trusted, even with the dark stuff. I see that learning as my safety net. I hope it will ensure that if unspeakable horrors happen, her first instinct will be to come to me.
- I don’t assume that anyone is not a child molester. In fact, I assume that we will cross paths with child molesters on multiple occasions throughout my child’s childhood and that they will be friendly, charming and ‘nice’. I watch for suspicious behaviour from other adults, as well as signs from my child: reluctance to see a particular person, special efforts put into charming my child, deliberately bringing about overly physical play or nudity. I am on alert with everyone.
- I know that many child molesters are not paedophiles. Paedophiles are people who prefer sexual contact with children to adults: they are sexually abnormal. Many child molesters are sexually normal, just morally perverted. They may turn to sexual abuse of children because they enjoy the sense of power, or because adult sexual partners (or victims) are unavailable. So, I won’t dismiss the idea that someone may be a child molester just because I know that they have a normal, healthy sexual attraction to adults.
- I talk about childhood sexual abuse and protecting my daughter with my husband and our families.
- We supervise her closely and we make our supervision known to others.
- ‘What is your policy on abuse?’ will be one of my standard questions whenever my child is put into the care of other adults, such as when choosing a Kindy or School.
- In our house we have talked about genitals using their proper names from the beginning. Genitals are not mysterious to my daughter and so an abuser cannot use her natural curiosity to his advantage. If abused, she will be able to describe what happened clearly.
- In our house affection is never mandatory. Her affections are hers to give or withhold. This ensures that if an abuser forces physical contact this will, in no way, be a ‘normal’ situation for her.
- It is always okay to tell mum and dad about anything. This does not mean that a secret has been broken. We are conscious about making confessing to mum and dad okay for her, no matter what she is confessing.
- Her feelings are respected, heard, and understood. We don’t tell her how she should feel. If she tells us someone makes her feel yucky then we will respect this and take it seriously.
- I listen to my instincts in protecting my child and we teach her to listen to hers.
As I act to protect my own child, I also want to do all I can do to ensure that we build a society that prioritises the safety of children. Doing so, I believe, also means building a society in which children are listened to and in which their needs and concerns are taken seriously.
Apply it in your life: How do you protect your children from childhood sexual abuse? How to you try to ensure that, if your child was abused, your child would tell you about it?