Updated: Apr 23
Like any other day, today I have awoken early and headed out to enjoy my early morning stroll that I refer to as my Walk with God. He and I have been taking these walks together ever since I was a child, sometimes a four legged companion has joined us, at other times it's just been He and I, and today was the latter.
I find God to be incredibly good company, full of wisdom and a very good conversationalist. He has some cracking ideas and I usually steal them! Don't get me wrong, I am not by any stretch of the imagination, a religious person, I don't think I ever have been, not by choice anyway - but I am deeply spiritual and as a result of these walks with God, I have come to know the difference between the two.
As is often the case, I was away with my thoughts this morning, reflecting on yesterdays events in Ayrshire, and planning the busy day ahead in Edinburgh. Admiring the natural beauty of this rural setting, still cloaked in darkness but which I know to be there.
Whilst enjoying the stillness of this usually buzzing little town that I now call home, my thoughts were suddenly splintered as I became consciously aware of the figure of a man, walking towards me. I felt my shoulders respond in a subconscious attempt to look a little taller or more confident, or whatever that automatic response actually means.
As the figure and I passed each other, smiling and exchanging our early morning pleasantries, like an owl attempting a 360 degree spin, I felt the pull as the muscles in my neck stretched to see over my left shoulder, checking the figure had continued on his way and had passed me by before feeling my shoulders return to their former relaxed state.
I smiled to myself, reminded of the fact that for 39 years now, I have been checking over my shoulder, making sure the figures pass.
I was 11 years old on November 3rd 1981, the night I felt the warm breath of a stranger in the night, permeating the back of my neck. Just the thought of it still makes me shudder inside, making the fine hairs covering my skin stand to attention.
Some people have no comprehension of the impact their actions have on others. I very much doubt the adult responsible; whose face, smell and touch are vividly imprinted in my memory, has given me so much as a second thought since that night.
The police officers, who I had been brought up to respect and believe were 'protectors' of the innocent, decided without further investigation the incident wasn't worthy of their time , concluding In their wisdom, that I had ‘egged him on'! And was therefore to blame! Which was convenient as tomorrow would be mischievous night, and they’d be busy!
Of-course, why else would an 11 year old child, be going out to fetch milk from the shop at 8 pm on a cold November night, still wearing a school uniform (after completing their homework), if not to encourage an unknown predator? What Other reason could there possibly be for a school girl to still be wearing a school uniform!
I had no clue what they were talking about at the time, but given they were the law and they were the adults, inside this incredibly naive child's mind - I concluded they must be right and children who don't change out of their school uniforms to reluctantly run errands for milk, can expect to be sexually assaulted by strange men in dark streets! - It makes perfect sense doesn't it!
I was one of those NSPCC statistics I now quote, the less than 10% of children sexually assaulted by a complete stranger #StrangerDanger.
More than 90% of sexual crimes against children are committed by someone known to the child! Can you imagine that.
Knowing first hand what the impact a single act by a complete stranger can have on a child's life, imagine what the impact is when its an adult that the child has come to trust!!
These days I write and deliver workshops on the subject of CSA prevention with the intention of contributing to the prevention of CSA & making a positive difference for children & their families.
It pains me to report that in 39 years, attitudes among many professionals tasked with protection still haven't changed. They pay plenty of lip service to it - but the thinking remains the same, which may be one reason for the continued increase in figures. I cannot support my theory of correlation between ‘Attitudes & Increase’, it’s merely an observation! However, According to NSPCC statistics, CSA figures continue to rise, despite all the work around Prevention that is being done! Why do you think that might be?
I regularly feel the impact of the familiar 'dismissive' glance, as I attempt to discuss the subject of Prevention with people who 'hold the belief' that CSA Prevention is either ‘not their department, or not their business.
Child Welfare is not a department, it’s an Attitude of people & CSA Prevention is everyone’s business!
So reluctant are some adults to talk about this subject that the NSPCC, have taken to teaching children as young as 5, how to protect themselves! And whilst I support & promote child advocacy, how it works when the subject is taboo at home is anyone’s guess, In my experience, it doesn't work.
For example, if a young woman becomes pregnant outside of marriage, and sex before marriage is a subject considered to be 'off limits' in the family home, due to religious beliefs for instance, any education on the subject becomes irrelevant because the 'fear of the belief' that the parents/family won't understand and will be; angry, ashamed, disappointed, disapproving, unforgiving, etc, becomes greater than the fear of the situation itself, effectively silencing the young women and preventing her from seeking support or advice. In this situation, she is unlikely to seek support at all, not only excluding the parents, but disregarding any available service, as the fear of the parents finding out becomes greater than the fear of dealing with the situation alone.
The same can be said about subjects like Abortion, Sexuality, Politics, Religion, Race, Culture, Status, Drugs, Sex, etc. any subject that the parents either have really strong opinions on or are reluctant to discuss. If the child has been brought up understanding that these subjects are taboo, or disapproved of in the home, then if faced with the situation, the options appear to be 'greyed-out' and unavailable for consideration to the child, essentially their options are invisible to them.
Parents may very well say to their child 'You know you can talk to me about anything' but if the child finds themselves in a situation where they know the parents hold a particular belief; Anti-Abortion for example, then the 'You can talk to me about anything' translates as - 'You can talk to me about anything accept Abortion because you know how I feel about this'.
(I am not suggesting the parents are wrong in their belief, I am merely pointing out that the strength by which they enforce their beliefs on their children, are likely to impact on the child & shape their thinking & reasoning.)
Only when the child is certain beforehand, that the parents are open and approachable on a given subject, is the child likely to confide in the parents. Therefore, it is essential we raise awareness, and learn how to communicate more effectively, as opposed to educating children alone. After-all, Parents are the protectors, and very often it is the case that parents let go of their strong beliefs on the subject in question when the situation involves their own child. Beliefs are only thoughts that we keep on thinking anyway!
Furthermore, if we are teaching children from the point of someone asking to look or touch their pants or privates, there is every chance a grooming process has already taken place which may again silence the child.
Talking with parents who are honest, open & comfortable to have these discussions with their children, it is clear that when parents are the ones educating their children on the subject of prevention, it is extremely valuable & effective, but it has to be a two way street.
Embracing the rule of HOW, is the way we describe it in our workshop; Honesty, Openness & Willingness.
When I convince professionals to watch a presentation of the STAND workshop, and while it is not always the case, far too often it is a battle just to get them to turn up to the mutually agreed appointments, and yet the response is always the same; the feedback, always entirely positive & supportive. After the initial reaction of 'I'm never, ever buying a car from this women' has subsided, they see the value.
Thankfully, we are beginning to see some changes, as a few people in relevant organisations, agree with our view point and are prepared to give this new approach a chance, which is good news all round.
Its always interesting to watch as the 'process' unexpectedly unfolds before the audience, seeing the unconscious signals that so often give our thoughts away, without us even realising it. Becoming aware of this is often extremely empowering.
Some people tell me how Powerful and Thought-provoking they find the workshop. Occasionally some people express concerns about how STAND might encourage some people not to trust - I disagree, I believe the information we share in this workshop, gives people more power, more choice and a greater understanding about who is trustworthy. It’s important to note that every single person, without exception, professionals & parents alike who have either attended a workshop or watched a presentation are in agreement that STAND contributes to the prevention of Child Sex Abuse! Surely that’s what’s important, because that’s what it aims to do! To protect children & families, that’s what really matters - isn’t it?
STAND is a Grooming & Coercive Behaviour Prevention Workshop that contributes to the prevention of CSA, presented using a non-offensive approach .
Delivered to organisations & agencies responsible for safeguarding, by A Positive Start CIC, A new solutions, profit for purpose, asset locked Community Interest Training Company.
STAND workshops are aimed at Parents & Caregivers, because no one is more qualified, dedicated or committed to protecting a child than a parent! #ParentsAreProtectors
My wish for today, which happens to a 'Big' birthday is this;
That every child, has the opportunity to live for at least 50 wonderful years without ever once having to look over their shoulder, and that the adults around them always choose to do the right thing; STAND and be their Protectors!
Have a great day & look after each other!