Harsh Truth For Innocent Eyes
THEY say truth is stranger
than fiction - and the truth
about child abuse is much
worse than any fiction -
It doesn't seem that long ago
"stranger danger" became part of our
vernacular - the catchy phrase created
for the warning every parent needed
to give their children about potential
predators and the very real threat of
physical and sexual abuse.
The South Australian Government
has just announced that "stranger
danger" is in for an overhaul.
The Education Department's "child
protection curriculum" is being updated for the first time in 20 years and
this new approach is about to be
trialled in at least 18 schools and
From Kindy to Year 12, kids will be
taught about their right to be safe,
along with exploring "appropriate" relationships, recognising and reporting
abuse and protective strategies.
The message is that it's not just as
simple as "stranger" danger any more.
Because the truth is, It's not strangers
who are the problem.
It is estimated 85 per cent of child
abuse involves someone known to the
child and hard as it may be to believe,
very often the perpetrator is a biological parent.
And let's not kid ourselves for a
moment, that this is all about men.
This disgrace is shared by both men
and women - one of the harsh realities
we all have to get our heads around
It's not the dirty old man down the
street - it's the relative, the friend, the
partner you've openly invited into your
home and your life and who you
thought you knew so well.
How do we teach our kids to be on
the lookout for the sort of danger that,
most adults never even see?
The danger that most adults find so
hard to believe, that sometimes it's
almost, impossible to see the awful ugly
truth of it all, even when we're confronted by it?
We want our children to be aware of
the potential dangers, but none of us
wants our children so terrified of the
outside world that we strip away their
wide- eyed and gorgeous innocence.
But we increasingly have to teach
our kids that the world where we as
parents work so hard to cocoon them
in love and safety, isn't really like that
SMALL children are naive, trusting, wonderful creatures. Why
would one friendly face look any
different to any other?
Older children who parents think
"should know better" can slip when a
kindly looking stranger asks for help
to find a lost puppy or carry a heavy
bag "just out to the car".
And it's not unheard of for teenagers
to be drawn into relationships with
somebody who works hard at nurturing their friendship, and doesn't hassle
them like mum and dad.
Just thinking about what "can" happen next makes my blood run cold, I
hate the idea that there are freaks who
get their kicks out of abusing kids, it
makes me physically sick.
l don't care "why" they abuse kids,
there is no excuse in the world, no
rationale, no past experience that
makes child abuse understandable or
forgivable. None. Ever.
And I also hate the idea that every
parent has to look sidewards at
virtually everyone in their lives, wondering whether they really are as
normal and trustworthy as we think they
Or whether there's a monster bubbling under the surface.
Child abuse is not a new threat,
it's just an ugly reality we've
finally been forced to face.
It's been perpetrated for
generations and we only
have to look at the response both then and
now, to the abuse of
young South Australians by the Church
and other institutions,
to see how woefully
inadequately we've dealt
with the problem in the past.
I don't like having to think
about child abuse, but we all
Heaven forbid that we learn
nothing from the mistakes of the
past 40 years or so, when supposedly good people turned an
inexplicable blind eye to the horrors of
child abuse and left generations of
damaged children - and now adults
- in their wake.
Every child has the right to be to
safe. Not just the lucky ones.
That's a truth, that I wish wasn't
just an unlikely fairytale.
Leigh McClusky is the presenter of
Today Tonight which screens at
6.30pm weekdays on Channel 7.
Sunday Mail (1-8-2004)