I was nearly four years old when I was sexually abused by my Mother’s partner, this abuse would continue for the next three years. My first memory was being awoken from sleep in the middle of the night. He would pull the blankets off me and then guide my sleepy little body into the bathroom. There was a variety of punishments, torture and rituals that he enjoyed but most nights would sound something like “wearing knickers to bed is dirty” “God would be angry with you” “you need to be washed”. I would then be made to shower with him. This is where the sexual abuse happened. The abuse consisted of oral sex, bathing each other and molestation. After the abuse, I remember being curled up in the foetal position in my bed. I was cold and shivering. My hair soaked the pillow and the back of my nightie. The showers and shivering became part of my bed routine for the next three years.
Children who are sexually abused often believe it is their fault and that they are deserving of the abuse.
My four year old trusting mind believed that I was dirty and therefore solely to blame for the “late night showers” as it was all my fault for wearing my knickers to bed. I did not need persuasion, reasoning or justifications as I was frozen in fear and therefore compliant and scared of further humiliation and abuse. After all, this man was someone that my mother trusted enough to live with her children.
Statistics tell us that a child is most likely to be a victim of sexual abuse between the ages of three to eight. And it is overwhelmingly (90-96% likely) that the perpetrator will be someone the child knows and trusts – a family member or trusted friend of the family. This is unarguably why all children need to be educated in Protective Behaviours from as early as possible. You may recall the ‘stranger danger’ campaign alerting children to be cautious of their surrounds & faces they didn’t know – strangers. This campaign was a major set back in keeping our children safe as it distracted both children and more importantly parents from the truth about sexual abuse and where the real danger lies. The statistics overwhelmingly indicate that the child sex offender will be known to the family.
I get it, no one wants to think that someone they trust could hurt their child but the statistics speak for themselves and sadly, the best chance of protecting your child is for myths surrounding sexual abuse to be dispelled and for empowerment to come from facing up to the ‘ugly truth’ and in turn equip children with the correct skills and knowledge to keep themselves safe.
The Protective Behaviours program has several messages that we want ALL children, parent’s caregivers and educators to be empowered with by the time they have completed the program. These messages aim to combat every step of the grooming process that is executed by child sexual predators and therefore empower children, giving them ownership of their bodies and a voice.
We all have the right to be safe and to feel safe at all times
As we all know, talking about our feelings is difficult for most adults, yet somehow many of us fail to understand why a child would withhold such a burdensome secret of sexual abuse. Understandably so, it still complexes me that for such a long period of time (14 years) it never occurred to me to disclose what I endured.
One of the topics in the Protective Behaviours program is ‘Feelings’. We are teaching children,parents and educators emotional literacy by expanding their feelings vocabulary.
Research indicates that the feeling people struggle expressing the most is shame. “Who would like to share their most shameful experience?” is a question that I often ask my adult participants in my Protective Behaviours workshops. The outcome of this activity is invariably a room full of immobilised adults frozen in fear, fear of being shamed.
For a child this is incomprehensibly difficult. Shame is the most powerful grooming strategy that perpetrators deliberately cultivate in their victims, the purpose of which is to maintain silence and secrecy and therefore acts as a barrier to disclosure.