Family Relationships

Keeping Our Children Safe

Published: 07 Aug 2013
Keeping Our Children Safe

In Australia in 2010-2011 there were just under 240 000 reports of suspected child abuse and neglect.

Can I say that one more time for emphasis? Close to a quarter of ONE MILLION reports were made where suspicions were raised about abuse or neglect!

Authorities confirmed close to 40 000 of those cases. Around 35% of those cases were sexual and physical abuse – that’s about 12 000 children. The remainder were cases of neglect and/or emotional and psychological abuse.

Girls are more than three times as likely to be sexually abused than boys. Boys are more likely to be victims of violent behaviour.

And age matters. While all abuse is a travesty, I find it tragic that the most abused group is children under the age of one year old (at a rate of 12 children per 1000). Children aged between one and four years are the next most vulnerable and abused group (at a rate of about 7 in 1000).

But these figures do not tell the whole story. We know that a significant amount of abuse occurs without ever being reported. Around 12% of adult women and close to 5% of adult men in Australia acknowledge having been abused (sexually) as children.

According to the Australian Institute of Criminology, sexual abuse is most likely to be perpetrated by someone known to the child. In fact, in close to 90% of cases, the offender is known and trusted.

Here’s the breakdown:

  • a male relative (other than the victim’s father or stepfather; 30.2%)
  • a family friend (16.3%)
  • an acquaintance or neighbour (15.6%)
  • another known person (15.3%)
  • or the father or stepfather (13.5%)

The remaining 10% of cases (or thereabouts) are cases where the offender is a stranger.

There is a small gender difference in the data presented above that is noteworthy… the percentage of abuse by strangers is higher for boys than it is for girls, while the percentage of girls abused by people known to them is far higher than it is for boys.

Lastly, the statistics and other research seem to point to something particularly concerning: a large percentage of abuse is spontaneous and unplanned. In other words, a (usually) male friend or relative has an unexpected circumstance presented to him where abuse can occur and for some demented reason, he pursues it. Studies seem to indicate that opportunism is a key factor in abuse occurring.

Stranger Danger – a misnomer?

Keeping the above data in mind, the idea that we should be teaching our children Stranger Danger seems a little odd. Our kids are at greater risk from people we know and trust. Yes, it’s true that some strangers are dangerous – my daughter will attest to that after being followed. But our kids have to interact with strangers all the time. Sometimes it might be a bus driver or shop assistant. Someone friendly might just feel like chatting with the kids in the park while they walk their dog.

To teach our children to beware of all strangers may not only frighten them, but may actually go against them at a time when they might otherwise need that stranger’s help. Black and white rules about stranger danger can be confusing.

Here are five things to teach your children about strangers:

  1. Most strangers are good people, but that doesn’t mean we should be too trusting
  2. If you are ever approached by a stranger, always check with your parents before doing anything with that stranger
  3. If you are going somewhere with a stranger (for some currently unanticipated reason), always stay in public
  4. There may be some instances, perhaps if you got lost or needed help, where you need to go to a stranger. If you do need to talk to a stranger, it’s always best to look for a mum with children and ask her for help.
  5. If you ever feel unsafe, like a stranger is following you, find another adult and explain what you are scared of. Because most strangers are safe, if you ask for help you’re very likely to get it. But if you are invited into someone’s house, always say no and just stay on the doorstep.

We should also teach a few common sense rules about strangers:

  • If you feel unsafe, move away from strangers
  • If a stranger promises you something really cool, like lollies, games, or butterflies, lizards, snakes, or whatever, say no and move away.
  • If a stranger (or any adult) ever grabs you or touches you in a way that makes you scared, scream the following words: “Stop it! Help! Don’t touch me!” And scream them LOUD!

But what about people we know?

Based on the statistics, the really tricky teaching needs to be around keeping our kids safe from people we know and would prefer to trust. The best things to teach your kids are:

  • My body is mine
  • No one should ever, ever touch the private parts of my body
  • If anyone tries to touch me I should loudly say “Stop it! Help! Don’t touch me!”
  • If a person tells me to keep a secret that relates to private parts of my body, I should remember that they’re wrong. I should tell my mum immediately.
  • If a person says anything to me or does anything to me (or my body) that leaves me feeling bad, yucky, or guilty, I should tell my parents – even if I’m scared about it.

Let me finish with one quick story from many years ago…

When a family friend was a young girl, she told her mum that she had been sexually abused by a relative. The mother listened to every word from her young daughter’s mouth. After taking it all in, the mother slapped the girl in the face and warned her never to say anything about that incident again.

Such an attitude cannot be allowed to continue. Our children have a right to protection. Please, keep them safe.

If you are aware of a child who has been abused, visit NAPCAN for help.

Sources: Australian Institute of Family StudiesAustralian Institute of Criminology


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