96% of children abused are abused by someone they know.
Sexual abuse of children is most common between the ages of 3 and 8.
If your child came to you and said ‘Grampy taught me a new game, it’s called spider fingers’ would that set off alarm bells for you….. if it was your own dad….. or would you ignore it?
Are your children equipt with the language and assertiveness to know when something doesn’t feel right and say NO. Or do you try to keep your children as innocent as possible for as long as possible?
At what age should we be teaching our children about pornography?
These were some of the confronting questions we were faced with in the Protective behaviours course I completed last week. And if you think hearing these statements was hard enough, wait until you hear the answers.
Candise Adams of Safe Counselling Australia has a message and she is passionate about sharing it. Candise helps council children who have been traumatised by sexual abuse on a daily basis. She councils the children and their families through experiences that I can’t even bear to bring myself to think about, until now. Having worked in an industry which is mostly reactive, she has decided to do something about it and create a program to help prevent the sexual abuse of children.
How did you get started in this field? I applied for positions in a counselling role and after four years of being in this role, I wanted to work preventatively because I found it was so important to do the protective behaviours and I was only seeing children and families impacted by sexual abuse after the fact. I just thought there’s got to be more that we can do beforehand and in my role that wasn’t a possibility. I spoke to my husband and he told me to follow my passion and my dream and just get the message out there. Having three kids and seeing how prevalent it is in the community, knowing that there is no discretion by perpetrators, I just thought that I had this opportunity to give more and to protect the children that are so innocent. That’s how Safe Counselling Australia came about.
How old are the people that you work with? I’m currently counselling children ranging from 3 years old to 15 years old. In terms of training, I start them from 3 years old because they have a more verbal and mental capacity to understand what you are teaching them. You can simplify the training so much so that they are already prepared with a plan at the age of 2 to 3 to know what to do and have the verbal skills to tell somebody. Simple repetitive messages work like when you are getting your child out of the bath is could be ‘who is allowed to touch your penis, what do you say if someone touches your penis, and then what do you do’. It’s about a simple, age-appropriate messages that are repeated and re-enforced just like when you are teaching your babies to crawl and not walk downstairs. This is what I teach in my class.
People could see that as quite confronting when talking about teaching your 2 and 3 year old about how to protect themselves from sexual abuse? Well, really it’s about educating the parents on how important it is to empower our children to know what is right and feel when they may be in danger. Educating parents on the proper use of words like when you are talking to your babies about where’s your nose, where’s your toes, there’s nothing wrong with saying where’s your penis, it’s just another part of their body. If you can get parents to think that it’s just a part of their body rather than a taboo area it’s going to be a lot easier for them to use the right words to educate their children.
When working with parents, what’s the biggest message you try to teach them? To be prepared to repeat these messages over and over again. You don’t say once, ‘look both ways before you cross the road’ it’s an ongoing thing. The biggest difficulty at the moment is that parents believe it’s not going to happen to their child or that they don’t let their children go anywhere but you send them to school, they play after school sports. I have had a student had a teacher ask them to perform oral sex and they were doing it because their mother always said to do what the teacher says. Even if you think you are always there to protect your children, it’s about trusting our children and giving our children the tools to always protect themselves. I get a lot of ‘well how can I trust anyone’ and I say that it’s not about trusting everyone it’s about trusting your children and that you have educated them enough to be able to save and protect themselves in certain situations.
In the course, I questioned you about trusting our children when they come to us with information. I said that of course we would listen and trust them, who wouldn’t! And you responded with ‘well how quickly would you react if your child said it was your dad that was inappropriate, the man that raised you, would it be so easy to trust the information then’? It blew me away! How do you expect parents to respond to information like this? Yes, unfortunately, I see this all too often. The most important thing is to tell your children I am listening to you and I believe you. Even if you don’t and you need time to process what’s happened it’s very rare for a child at such a young age (between 3 and 9) to make allegations of sexual abuse when they have not been exposed to it.
What would be the biggest miss-conceptions of parents? Definitely that it’s not going to happen to my child. We don’t allow strangers into our house, or even that we are from the affluent community so therefore it’s really not going to happen to us, it more happens to parents of lower socioeconomic backgrounds and that’s not the case at all. It can happen to anyone, at any time, no matter what gender, what religion, what community. I also get a lot of ‘you’re going to teach my children about sex’ and as people learn through the course they learn it’s not about that, it’s about increasing body assertiveness and educating on body ownership and giving your children the tools to use their voice, that it’s OK to say NO.
We spoke a bit about teaching our children about pornography online and teaching them at an age that they have access to an iPad. You said it’s not about adult porn but to a child, it could be exposed breasts or a naked bottom in a sexual pose. Can you tell us more about this? Yes, it’s like when they see mum and dad kissing in the kitchen and they go, awe yuk! And close their eyes, that’s the feeling they will get when they see something online that isn’t for them. All you have to do is say to them if you get that feeling it may be something that’s not OK for you to see but always be able to tell mum and dad. What you’re trying to do is keep the lines of communication open with your children so that they will feel safe enough to tell you about something instead of ashamed if they have seen something they shouldn’t have. If you straight away go ‘you shouldn’t have looked at that’ they’re never going to open up and tell you what they have just seen, even if it’s accidental.
What would be the three big takeaways that you want everyone to get from your course?
Using the correct terminology. How can children tell you that someone has touched them if they can’t use the correct terminology for penis and vagina? It also stands up in court if the correct words are used.
Provide your children with a safety network of people they trust. This enables them to be persistent. No matter what, someone will hear you. We have told them and taught them to keep speaking until someone in your safety network will listen. Someone may be busy at that time but that doesn’t mean you don’t continue to try. When this is taught from a young age they have already developed a brain synaptic memory that tells them if one person isn’t able to listen to me I should go and tell the next person. It gives them permission to keep trying until someone listens.
Protective behaviours are important. Unfortunately, you are not an outlier. Make sure you teach and educate your children. Even if you don’t’ think it’s going to happen to you, you are not always in control of your children, even when they’re 16 years old. If you educate them enough you can definitely provide them with the tools to stay safe.
For more on Candise Adams and her protective behaviours course (that I think EVERYONE should do) head to her website www.safecounselling.com.au
Please share this on as many social networks as you can. It’s honestly life-saving work and we need to spread the word.