Today I am celebrating 50 years on this Earth, that's half a century! A few near misses along the way, but Whoop Whoop, I've made it this far!
Like any other day, today I have woken 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 its been just 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 of a complete stranger can have on a child - imagine what the impact is when its an adult the child has trusted!!
These days I write and deliver workshops on the subject of CSA prevention - go figure!
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 increasingly familiar 'dismissive' glances 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 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. For example, when I was growing up, sex before marriage & abortion were subjects completely 'off limits' in our house due to religious beliefs. I'd sat through sex education at school, and been involved in debates on the subject of abortion in College, so I was aware of it.
When I became pregnant at 18 (engaged but not married), I felt unable to tell anyone, least of all my parents. Knowing my parents were 'Pro-life', meant a termination was not even a consideration for me let alone a option. I concealed the pregnancy for as long as I possibly could until I became so ill with the whole pretense that I collapsed in the street, was hospitalized & the truth finally came out. I was 18 years of age. It wasn't that I didn't know about these things, rather could find neither the courage or the words to speak out knowing the disappointment, embarrassment and shame that I would be bringing to the family. It didn't actually turn out to be that way, but 'the fear of the belief' that it would, silenced me.
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 could again silence the child. Talking with a few parents who are honest and 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, its extremely valuable, but it has to be a two way street.
When I finally manage to convince professionals to watch a presentation of STAND, and I kid you not, it is often a battle just to get them to turn up to the mutually agreed appointments. The response is always the same; the feedback, always entirely positive. After their initial reaction of 'How does she know this & 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 forward thinking individuals in organisations are prepared to to listen to a new approach and are getting on-board with STAND - which is good news all round.
Its always interesting to watch as the audience wriggle uncomfortably in their seats as the 'process' unexpectedly unfolds before them, unconscious of the signals they are giving away.
Some professionals tell me how Powerful and Hard hitting they find the workshop, before expressing their concerns about how 'uncomfortable' STAND might make some people feel. There's only one thing I can say to that - A damn sight less uncomfortable than the children experiencing sexual abuse!
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 on my '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 on my 50th Birthday & look after each other!