Keeping our Children Safe from Child Abuse

Published: 28 Mar 2017
Keeping our Children Safe from Child Abuse

In Australia in 2014/15 there were just under 320,000 reports of suspected child abuse and neglect.

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

Authorities confirmed close to 60,000 of those cases. Around 13% of those substantiated cases were sexual and physical abuse – that’s about 5500 children. The remainder were cases of neglect and/or emotional and psychological abuse.

Age is a significant predictor of who gets abused. The most abused group is children under the age of one year old (at a rate of 14.7 children per 1000). Children aged between one and four years are the next most vulnerable and abused group (at a rate of about 8.6 in 1000).

Gender matters too. Girls are almost twice as likely to be sexually abused than boys (16.7% vs 9%). Boys are more likely to be victims of violent behaviour. 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. Opportunism is a key factor in abuse occurring.

In light of these statistics, the idea that we should be teaching our children Stranger Danger seems a little misplaced. Our children are at greater risk from people we know and trust. Yes, it’s true that some strangers are dangerous. But most are genuinely great people – people like you or I. And our children interact with strangers all the time. 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.

Every year I remind my children of these five things about strangers:

  1. Most strangers are good people.
  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!

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.

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.

Talking with your kids about staying safe

There are some excellent resources available to help you talk with your children about keeping their body safe.

Today we are launching sales of a new series of books by Jayneen Sanders about children's sexual safety, respect, consent, and other issues our children need to be aware of. You can purchase the collection here.

Sources: Australian Institute of Family Studies, Australian Institute of Health and Welfare Australian Institute of Criminology


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