In the course of my writing work I meet lots of interesting people, and it was no exception when I met Tammy who works with sex offenders for a charity which works to prevent sexual abuse of children.
When I found out she had children, we talked about how we could keep them safe. I am not someone who believes that there’s a paedophile lurking round every corner (it’s estimated that between 0.5% and 1% of the adult population have a sexual interest in children under the age of 12) and I don’t want to wrap my children in cotton-wool. However, it does worry me that through circumstance or bad luck, my children may find themselves at risk. I’m sure it’s part of every parent’s worst nightmare. So I was interested in what practical ways Tammy would recommend that we can all keep our children safe and minimise that risk.
Here are some ways you could do that:
1. Don’t bury your head in the sand
The worst thing you can do, is nothing. Don’t assume that abuse only happens to other children, or that abusers will be caught and taken away. In 2015 the National Crime Agency estimated that 750,000 men living in Britain have an interest in having sex with children, with 250,000 sexually attracted to children under the age of 12. To put that in context, there are around 88,000 prison places in the UK.
Even where people have been jailed for abusing a child, they are likely to return to the community after their sentence with little or no rehabilitation. In fact the main national treatment programme for sexual offenders was recently scrapped due to conflicting evidence. A new programme is currently being trialled. Studies suggest around 40% will re-offend.
2. Paperwork and policies
One common factor that abusers have cited as the reason for a particular offence is simple – opportunity.
If your child is going to be away from you – at a club or event run by an organisation, even for a short time – check they have the necessary safeguarding checks. It will be a requirement for people working with children to have had an enhanced DBS check (a police check) and copies of these should be available for you to see. Similarly, organisations coming into contact with children should have safeguarding policies and procedures which you should be able to see. Make sure you are satisfied that staff take this responsibility seriously, and that the environment is safe – practical things like children’s privacy in changing areas, how children access toilets, security of the building and staff training.
It may seem embarrassing or suspicious to ask if an organisation has this paperwork (and we’re British – we’re not great at this!), but the more we as parents take an interest in it, the higher the importance safeguarding will have to everyone. The NSPCC provides comprehensive guidance to organisations to put the relevant plans in place
3. Encourage schools to talk about it
The Police have reported an increase of 78% in allegations of children committing sexual offences against other children, with an average of 22 reports per day in England and Wales. These reports can range from sexting to rape. It’s vital our children learn about healthy relationships, and what is and isn’t appropriate. Women’s Aid provide free resources for every year of school as part of their ‘Expect Respect’ project. Encourage your child’s school to use them.
4. Talking is good, tools are better
It’s absolutely key to talk to your children at home too. From watching things together such as the fun NSPCC ‘Pantsosaurus‘ video, or reading some of the excellent books available on the subject (Tammy read No Means No! by Cherie Zamazing with her children from the age of 5). These are great starting points to start those trickier discussions, but even better is to give your child the confidence and tools to deal with situations. We teach our children not to be rude or disrespectful to adults, but what if that adult is asking them to do something they feel uncomfortable with? Talk to you child about what they could say to get out of that situation – “It’s been really nice talking to you but my mum will be wondering where I am” then tell them to run to the nearest adult they know and trust.
5. It takes a village to raise a child
As well as providing consent training and advice to businesses and organisations, Tammy’s charity works with people who have concerning thoughts or feelings about children or have offended previously and are motivated NOT to cause sexual harm. The charity supports them and holds them to account.
A key message from the charity is prevention and it also encourages communities to help safeguard themselves. Over 85% of people who cause sexual harm are known to the victim, friends, family members. Evidence shows that social isolation and emotional loneliness only increases the likelihood of someone committing an offence. Support and accountability for those asking for help has been proven to make all the difference. Just as the saying says ‘it takes a village to raise a child’, perhaps it also takes one to protect them.
6. Share, share, share
Maybe the most important thing is that we keep talking about this issue. Hopefully by writing this, I’ve raised the profile that we can’t just keep insisting all paedophiles are hunted down and strung up, or assume the problem will go away or never affect us or someone we know.
Share this article, share your own experiences, share how you, and your children’s clubs and schools help keep them safe.
For more information on protecting children from abuse visit the NSPCC. Or if you are someone who was affected by abuse as a child, you can get support from NAPAC. For the latest from The Motherload®, pop over to our homepage
About Marianne Marshall
Marianne is a full time writer and PR professional and lives in rural Lincolnshire in a falling down cottage with her husband and children – Charlie (4) and Rosa (2).