With most school-aged children in Australia returning to class or heading off to school for the first time this week, Bravehearts is reminding parents that equipping kids with personal safety knowledge and skills is key to preventing child sexual assault from occurring.
Embracing and reinforcing key personal safety messages at home creates an environment that empowers children with the skills, language and knowledge to not only remain safe, but also to speak out when they feel unsafe.
Based on Bravehearts’ personal safety program ‘Ditto Keep Safe Adventure Show’, the 5 basic principles we need to teach our children (remember: it’s never too early to sow the seeds of personal safety) are:
1) To trust their feelings and to distinguish between ‘yes’ and ‘no’ feelings
2) To say ‘no’ to adults if they feel unsafe and unsure
3) That they own their own bodies
4) That nothing is so yucky that they can’t tell someone about it
5) That if they feel unsafe or unsure to run and tell someone they trust.
If you suspect your child is being sexually harmed, some of the common warning signs include changes in behaviour and mood, including both internalising behaviour (such as being withdrawn, general signs of sadness) and externalising behaviour (such as aggression or sexualised behaviours). Recognising these signs may not necessarily mean a child has been sexually harmed, however it will let them know that you are there if they want to talk or encourage them to speak to someone else they trust.
More often than not, kids who have been sexually assaulted experience fear, shame and guilt. Breaking the silence is often the most difficult step for a child to take and the disclosure in itself is often not a planned or intentional action. It’s quite common for most people to feel uneasy at the thought of a child disclosing sexual assault. It is important to view the disclosure as a privilege to have been trusted with such sensitive information. If a child discloses to you:
LISTEN - listen carefully to what they say. Be careful not to ask probing questions. Respond by saying something like: “Thank you for coming to me. Is there anything else you would like to tell me?” or simply repeat back to them, word for word, what you heard them say.
AFFIRM - let the child know you believe them.
DON’T BLAME -tell them it is not their fault.
SUPPORT - tell the child they are not responsible for what happened to them and that it must have been very hard for them to tell you.
SAFETY - let the child know you will do everything in your power to help them and the importance of letting other people know so they too can help keep them safe.
DOCUMENT - Write everything down as soon as you can, using the child’s own words. Include things like behaviours you have noticed as well as anything they have said previously that may have hinted at the assault.
CHECK – If you work in a school or centre, check the policy on reporting disclosures.
ACT - In the best interest of the child, always report disclosure to the nominated person or agency.
Finally, while parents should be cautious when it comes to the safety of their children, hyper-vigilance can be counter-productive. The best way to prevent child sexual assault is to educate and empower children with personal safety knowledge and skills and understand how to respond appropriately should a child disclose that something has happened to them.
Would you like to talk to someone? Call Bravehearts information and support line on 1800 272 831.
For more information about the Ditto Keep Safe Adventure Show, or to book the program for your school, click here