Shockingly, almost 50% of children who are being sexually abused will celebrate Christmas lunch this year with their abuser.
Whilst this statistic seems hard to believe, Michelle Derrig, Mother to 4 and Author of bestselling protective behaviours picture book ‘Only For Me’ explains. “Sadly, statistics indicate that 90% of victims will know their abuser, with approximately 45% being abused by a parent, step-parent, grandparent, sibling, cousin, aunty or uncle – all people who are likely to be attending Christmas lunch!”
Whilst you may be thinking that this isn’t relevant to your family, Michelle says that is the biggest mistake a parent can make. “The reality is that childhood sexual abuse cuts across all demographics, cultures and socioeconomic groups in Australia. Statistically, 2 girls and 1 boy in every primary school class will report being abused by the time their 15 years of age and as so much abuse goes unreported, we know this is just the tip of the iceberg. So it is absolutely imperative that all parents take the time to educate their kids with the knowledge that their body is private and they have a right to protect their privacy .”
Surprisingly, Michelle admits that she hadn’t had these critical conversations with her own children until a little over 3 years ago. It was only when she heard about some shocking events in her immediate community, which involved young children (aged 7 and 9 years) being abused by their friends, that she realised that she had a responsibility to empower her own children.
Michelle reflects “When I discovered that both incidents had occurred during playdates at the park whilst the mums were chatting, I realised that even my own kids were at risk of abuse and that it was critical that I taught them that they have a right to say ‘no’ to anyone – no matter if the abuser was another child, an adult or someone they knew.”
Yet she wasn’t sure how to broach this subject with her kids without frightening them, nor was she confident about how much detail she should give. In the ensuing 12 months, Michelle began researching and quickly became inspired to create a resource for parents that would present the information that kids needed to know, in a fun and engaging format whilst still protecting their innocence.
The result is her highly successful rhyming picture book titled “Only For Me” aimed at 3-8 year olds. Written in consultation with expert professionals, adult survivors of child abuse and endorsed by one of Australia’s leading child protection organisations, Act For Kids, it gently empowers children with the information that they need to know in order to protect themselves.
With the festive season fast approaching, we asked Michelle what were her top tips for parents to help them empower and protect their kids?
“I think it’s really important not just to speak in general terms to our children, but provide our kids with some specific situations that predators might use (to seduce them). For instance, Only For Me teaches kids that it is not ok even if someone calls it a game, it’s not ok for them to take a photograph of their private parts and it’s not ok for anyone to show them images of private parts on any sort of device or screen. It is also really important to empower our kids to say no whenever someone’s touch doesn’t feel right. For instance ‘it might be a kiss, or maybe a cuddle or stroking their body when having a snuggle”.
Michelle recommends that you begin speaking with children at a young age, always use correct anatomical terms and teach your kids that abuse is never a secret, not matter what the perpetrator says. She also says it’s important to realise that resources like Only For Me, are not designed to replace the conversations you should have with your children, but are designed to help facilitate those conversations, prompt questions, clarification and sometimes even disclosure.
Only For Me has been beautifully illustrated by former Disney Artist and mother to three, Nicole Mackenzie. One image which particularly stands out, is the double page spread (pictured below), which teaches children that they can say no to anyone no matter their gender, age, relationship or status in the community.
Since Only For Me’s release last year Michelle has simply been blown away by the response, with thousands of copies sold across Australia, international orders from the UK, USA, New Zealand, Japan and Spain and a recent order for 300 copies by a Florida based Child Advocacy Centre. Only For Me has received critical acclaim from child abuse experts, psychologists, teachers, educators, parents and grandparents and has been reviewed by Kids Book Review as ‘possibly the BEST BOOK on the topic of sexual assault prevention for young children’.
Despite many more glowing endorsements, Michelle claims the one she treasures most is from a parent who received a disclosure from their child on the first reading, when they got to the page about secrets. “When I received that email I just burst into tears – it has been quite a challenging and at times difficult journey, but receiving that email made everything worth it.”
Michelle encourages all parents this holiday season to begin introducing and/or reiterating these important body safety concepts. “Whether you use Only For Me, another resource, or are confident broaching the subject yourself, I encourage everyone to make sure that they sit down and have these critical conversations with your children”.
Only For Me is available online at www.onlyforme.com.au for $11.95 (plus $4 postage and handling), with 100% of Author Royalties being donated to Act For Kids, who have a 29 year history in preventing and treating child abuse in Australia.