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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's sickening.
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 preschools.
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 in 2004.
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 at all.
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 are.
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 have to.
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)
Leigh McClusky

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