It had been a typical day in my life, of a mum to four young children. I had tried desperately to make some headway with the mess strewn across my house and the loads of dirty laundry that had piled up over the weekend. However, when my 2 year old refused to have his day sleep after lunch, I knew then that it was a lost cause and I had to accept that there would be very little I’d be crossing off my to-do list.
Before I knew it, it was time for the mad dash for school pick-up (how could it be 3pm already!) Now with all four kids on board, we shuffled through the school traffic and arrived at swimming lessons with just a few minutes spare. My elder son (aged 7 years) hopped straight in the pool without any drama, but my younger son, who was still adjusting to swimming lessons decided to scream the place down until I sat on the edge of the wet pool, with my feet in the water, reassuring him that all was well.
Thankfully we got through the 30 minutes without my youngest escaping from the pool and all seemed well with my older son, who was swam just a few metres away in the same pool, in a group of 5 or 6 other kids.
It was as we were on our way out to the carpark that one of the other little boys from my elder son’s class called out a very polite farewell. My 7 year old just ignored him and so I reprimanded him, reminding him he should be polite to his friend. My son shot back “but that boy is not my friend” and so point taken, I told him he should still be polite to others even if they are not your friend. My son then responded with the chilling words “but Mum he does what Only For Me says you shouldn’t do”.
In that moment my heart skipped a beat and my mouth fell open aghast – I knew exactly what my son was talking about! “Only For Me” is my protective behaviours picture book, which teaches young children about inappropriate touch and how to protect their bodies and their privacy, which I had written and released 18 months previously. I spent my time as an advocate, raising awareness about the important responsibility parents have, to educate and empower their children against sexual abuse, so this was a very well covered topic in our house. I knew the statistics, I knew the danger of peer-on-peer abuse, but somehow you never imagine it will happen to your child. You never imagine, that your child could be in danger, essentially in full view, just a few metres away from you!
Thankfully though my son had spoken up. He had the knowledge to recognize the inappropriate behaviour and the language to be able to disclose to me exactly what had happened. Of course, I was devastated for my son’s experience, but I was also so very, very, proud that he had spoken up and that we were now able to take action, to ensure that this was an isolated event and not an ongoing trauma he would continue to experience at each weekly lesson.
Whilst I won’t go into details of exactly what had transpired, when my son explained to me the nature of this boy’s actions and the way he had justified his behaviour, my main concern shifted to this other young boy (also aged 7). It was not the typical and normal behaviour that young boys would display while playing in the pool. It was predatory and the language that he used to justify the behaviour was that of someone much older, someone trying to manipulate, coerce and convince the recipient that it was an acceptable way to ‘play’. His behaviour was instead, typical of a victim, reenacting what they had been exposed to.
I of course, took appropriate action to alert the swim school of what had taken place, I ensured my son was given the support he needed and I expressed my concerns for the other young boy’s welfare. I will never know if those concerns were truly taken onboard by his caregivers, but I hope and pray that they were, and that by speaking up, my son has somehow had a positive impact on this other young boy’s life.
Peer-on-peers abuse is a very real and prevalent issue in Australian children’s lives, with somewhere between 30% to 60% of child sexual abuse*, being committed by other children or young people. If you are an Aussie parent, I plead with you – do not ignore this issue! Make sure you teach your children about body safety from at least 3 years of age and make sure that your children have the knowledge to recognize abusive behaviour and to speak up, just like my amazing son did. If you would like to know more you can check out my other Kiddipedia articles, or go to www.onlyforme.com.au