Lessons in Preventing Child Sex Abuse
By Margaret Bozik
An astounding 93 per cent of child sex offenders have more than one victim, while 23 per cent abuse 10 or more children, psychologist Sandra Ifrah told parents attending workshops on ‘Parenting Safe Children’ held in Melbourne on Sunday, 19 May.
The workshops were run by Tzedek (Hebrew for Justice), Australia’s only dedicated advocacy and support group for Jewish victims/survivors of child sexual abuse, in conjunction with CASA, Victorian Centres Against Sexual Assault.
These statistics underscore the importance of reporting all cases of child sexual abuse to the police as abusers are extremely likely to repeat their crimes and/or to have abused other children in the past. “The seven per cent with only one victim is mainly because they got caught the first time,” Ms Ifrah said.
Studies have found that approximately one in three girls and one in six boys will be sexually assaulted before they turn 18, with a quarter of all victims aged under nine and 37 per cent aged 9-12. Eighty per cent of offenders are known to victims – a family member, family friend or other person of trust – and they are of all ages, academic levels and socio-economic statuses. Many are charismatic and seek out employment and activities that provide them with easy access to children, Ms Ifrah said. The over-whelming majority (98 per cent) are male but it is important to note that some abusers are female. Up to 50 per cent are minors, under the age of 18.
Ms Ifrah outlined the grooming process, a technique used by offenders to gain the child’s – and often the child’s family’s – trust, and manipulate the child into accepting the abuse. She then discussed ways parents could help protect children from abuse by creating a safe and open environment where kids knew they could speak freely.
Talking about ‘body safety’ (rather than sexual abuse), using the correct terminology for body parts and explaining the difference between ‘OK’, ‘Not OK’ and ‘Confusing’ touching, does not sexualise or traumatise children, Ms Ifrah said. Children need to know that it is never OK to keep a secret about someone hurting them or another person, they can say ‘no’ to touching that made them feel uncomfortable, they should trust their instincts and they will be believed and supported if they come to their parents with any concerns.
The value of teaching children about body safety was highlighted in a recent case where police found hundreds of diaries belonging to a paedophile teacher who documented his attempts to groom multiple children, Ms Ifrah said. Along with entries “Touched [child’s name] hip and she did not flinch” and “Brushed hand across [child’s name] bottom and she did not object” was an entry where a child resisted his attempts to tickle her, saying “I only allow members of my family to tickle me”. The paedophile recorded “Clearly [child’s name] has been coached”, referring to the fact that the child had undergone some form of child sexual abuse preventative training.
“Without even realising it, with that one sentence that child had saved herself from being a victim,” Ms Ifrah said. Emphasising that sexual abuse was never the child’s fault, Ms Ifrah noted that letting family, friends and other adults know you are teaching your child protective behaviours can in and of itself help protect your child from predators.
There was extensive discussion during and after the workshop by parents seeking advice for specific situations and several requests from participants for further workshops and sessions to be run at schools. Many participants also wanted information sheets and resources designed specifically for parents of children of different ages.
Tzedek Events Coordinator Lauren Gabriel said: “We were absolutely delighted with the quality of the presentations, the enthusiasm of participants and the clear desire of our community to learn more about this important issue. Many people, including myself, went home to start important conversations with our children. We received multiple calls from schools and community and youth groups wishing for the workshops to be run in house following excellent feedback from their parents. We plan to run additional workshops for those who weren’t able to attend this one and design further workshops and educational programs for our schools and community.”
Register your interest in further workshops by emailing: events AT tzedek DOT org DOT au
For support or advice, please visit the Tzedek website.
Margaret Bozik is a freelance journalist and Tzedek’s Head of Communications