I educate families and professionals in preventing childhood sexual abuse.
When I tell people what I do, it often brings up a lot of different feelings for them.
In my workshops with parents, guardians and professionals, I do touch on tragic facts such as;
- 1 in 5 Australian children experience some sort of childhood sexual abuse before they reach 18 years old,
- 90% of perpetrators are known family members such as uncles, fathers, step-fathers, grandfathers and brothers,
- A child or young person must disclose at least 5-8 times before being believed and supported.
But the bulk of my work is facilitating positive and empowering programs for children and young people.
In these evidence-based programs, children and young people learn to acknowledge and give voice to their emotions and feelings, to understand how fear physically manifests in their bodies (early warning signs), and to practice consent and assertive communication online and offline. They are also given activities to develop their own sense of bodily autonomy.
Describing my work as sexual abuse prevention is straight to the point, but I think of my work as teaching children life skills to navigate the adult world as kind, considerate and respectful people.
- As a teen, did you ever feel pressured to go physically further then you wanted to in romantic relationships?
- As a young person, did you ever feel that an older colleague or boss demand work beyond appropriate work boundaries?
- As an adult, have you ever felt the social pressure of ‘being polite’ when responding to someone’s request for help, to attend a social outing or even, to purchase an item you don’t really want?
Imagine if you had been taught as a child that you are allowed to say ‘no’ and that ‘no’ was respected, that someone checked in that your words matched your body language, and you were given skills to approach supportive adults for help.
Childhood sexual abuse, and abuse of any kind is based on a power imbalance. It relies on the complicit culture of authority, silence and ‘respecting elders’ in a non-questioning way; that a child or young person does not have the right to respectfully assert their opinions, thoughts and/or the rights’ to their body.
A recent outing with my child reinforced just how important my work is still.
My child has a large strawberry mark on their forearm and back. A strawberry mark is a bright red protruding blemish on the skin. It usually harmless, and fades to skin colour over time.
My child’s blotches have faded, and are often mistaken for burns.
In the playground, some curious children spotted my child’s mottled skin. Nonplussed, my child explained the birthmark and they all carry on playing. A parent noticed this exchange, and mentions that their child also has one, but it has yet to fade.
Interested in how a strawberry mark may end up looking, the parent walks over and grabs my child’s arm saying, ‘let me look at your strawberry mark.’
A tug of war ensued. The parent wins with might.
The parent continues with ‘turn around,’ while physically manoeuvring my child and pulling up their shirt.
This is not sexual abuse situation; the parent is not a predator, but an ordinary exchange between child and adult.
- What does it say to a child about their bodily autonomy?
- What does it say to a child’s right to choose who and where and when touches their body?
- What does it say to a child that if they indicate with their body language that they disagree?
Protecting children from sexual abuse is an adult’s responsibility, and by changing how our children expect to be treated and respected, we can create a safer community for all children.
Whitney Yip is co-founder of Body Safety Australia, a social enterprise offering whole community protective behaviours education in line with the national curriculum and Victoria’s Child Safe Standards. Whitney is a member of International Society for Preventing Child Abuse and Neglect’s (ISPCAN) Young People Advisory Board and was invited to speak the 13th Australasian Conference on Child Abuse and Neglect.