In this episode of the podcast, Alex speaks with former policewoman, child protection expert and author Kate Power about how we can protect our kids against child sexual assault, stranger danger and online threats.
Alarmed by statistics that show 1 in 4 Aussie kids will be sexually assaulted by the time they read 18, Alex takes a deep dive on the issue of child sexual abuse aided by the expertise of child protection expert Kate.
About Kate Power
Kate Power was a police officer for nearly 20 years during which time she witnessed some traumatic episodes of child sexual abuse. She then became a mum and found herself being regularly asked for tips and advice on how to prevent kids becoming sexual abuse victims from parents in her circle.
But when her son’s soccer coach (of whom she was a fan) was arrested for child sexual assault, she knew she had to take action. So, she decided to use her experience in criminology, psychology and teaching to develop a tool for parents to help them tackle this really awkward subject.
Kate has authored three books that each focus on child protection. Her first book ‘My Underpants Rule’ has become an international phenomena in this area and is used by a variety of child protection agencies in the UK, the US, New Zealand, Ireland and South Africa to educate kids. She has also written /My Tricky Eye-Spy’ – a book focusing on identifying and managing strangers and ‘My Device Rules’ which teaches kids about safe device usage and managing online threats.
Sexual Abuse Statistics in Australia
The statistics in Australia are very concerning:
- 1 in 4 kids will be sexually assaulted before the age of 18 in Australia
- 90& of assaults will be someone known to the child
- 1/3 of assaults are undertaken by another child
- Most abuse occurs between the ages of 3-8 when children are most vulnerable
Myths About Sexual Abuse
So many of us think that sexual abuse only happens in low-socio economic areas, that the perpetrators are always strangers or that worse still, it could never happen to my child, However the reality is that it can happen in anywhere by someone known to your child – all kids are vulnerable.
What’s the Right Age To Be Talking To Your Kids About Sexual Abuse?
As the ages between 3-8 are the most vulnerable years for kids, Kate recommends starting this conversations as early as possible. Children in this age group are at more risk of being groomed and will be more open to a potential groomer trying to develop a trusting relationship with them.
However, its important to teach your kids in a way that doesn’t scare them. Instead, focus on what’s appropriate, waht’s not and what to do about it.
While many preschools and schools may educate their students about body boundaries, it really is up to parents to tackle this subject with their children and reinforce appropriate body boundaries.
My Underpants Rule
Kate’s first book, My Underpants Rule, is designed to help parents broach this awkward subject in a fun and humorous way. The books are a little like a ‘Dr Seuss’ style book with colour pics, crazy fonts and lots of laughs! It also has a terrific rhyme which makes the key messages easy around body boundaries easy to remember.
What To Look Out For As Parents?
There are a few warning signs that as parents we should pay close attention to:
- Grooming – look out for the behaviour of potential offenders. If a child older than yours is proactively trying to make friends with your child then there’s a red flag!
- Remember, offenders are often some of the nicest people you can ever meet, They are outgoing and charismatic with the aim of gaining your trust so you will let your guard down. If an adult is bending over backwards to befriend your child then there could also be another red flag!
- Trust Your Gut – so many parents which they had done so when it was too late! If something feels wrong then do something about it!
Sleepovers – Should You Say Yes?
Kate believes that everyone needs to decide what best suits them however, there are a few things you should do if you allow your child to go on a sleepover.
- Always make appropriate inquiries with the parent. If you don’t feel comfortable then DON’T agree to it.
- Develop a code or phrase which your child can use if they are not feeling comfortable during the event. It could be as simple as how’s the dog? Always call your child during the evening before bed and ensure they are OK. If you have developed a code word or phrase then this gives them a chance to use this. And if your child does, jump in the car and go and retrieve them. You may need to get creative with your excuse to the host parents!!
- Make sure your kids are armed with knowledge about body boundaries – what’s appropriate and what’s not. And please make sure they know the correct word for penis and vagina – this is essential.
- Predators will often target the most vulnerable children and parents. So, if you are asking the right questions and your kids are well informed about appropriate behaviours, you’ll less likely be a target.
My Device Rules – Online Safety
Kate has also authored a book that helps parents teach their kids about how to use their internet connected devices safely and deal with online threats. With over a third of preschoolers owning their own device, the need for early intervention and education on this topic is essential.
Alex, who is her other life is McAfee’s Cybermum, shared that 40% of Ausse parents think that by their kids are 10, they should manage their own cybersafety and that more than 1 in 4 Aussie kids (aged 11-16) are in communication with people they first met online.
What Are The Threats?
Viewing inappropriate images is contributing to the growing incidence of child sexual assault. Kate believes one of the reasons the statistics on child assault are growing is because children are viewing inappropriate images including pornography online and are then acting out what they see.
Online Predators. Online predators will often disguise themselves as kids to gain the trust of a child online. Once the trust is established, the predator may start ‘desensitising’ the child by sharing a nude pic. They then request a pic in return and so-on. After a period of time, the online predator may start blackmailing the child and threaten to tell their family if they don’t continuing sharing pictures.
Cyberbullying. Year on year, the statistics are increasing. Treat someone the way you would like to be treated. Kate wants to get in before your child gets on social media. Alex mentions that so much research shows that the earlier you start taking with your kids about appropriate online behaviour, the better chance you have of protecting them online. Setting your kids up for a positive online experience.
What Can Parents Do To Keep Their Kids Safe Online?
Start Educating Your Kids Early. It is completely understandable for many parents to feel overwhelmed at how to best manage their kids and their technology usage. One of the most important things to do as parents is educate your kids from a young age. Alex shares that many experts believe that the earlier you can weave in online safety messages to your children, the safer and more positive their experience will be online. ‘My Device Rules’ is a great way for parents to educate their kids about safe device usage in a fun and humorous way.
Never Threaten To Take Away Their Technology. If your older kids come to you about an online problem and you threaten to take away their devices then you will never hear about a problem again. Reassure your kids that you have their back.
Talk About Online Safety Like You Do Road Safety and Sun Safety. Weave cyber safety messages into your family’s dialogue so their behaviour becomes automatic. For example, don’t share personally identifying information online, never share a picture of another person without their permission.
How To Buy Kate’s Books?
If you want to find out more about Kate and her books, visit her website Kids Rule Publishing. The website has some further great strategies for parents as well as helpful information and even webinars to view.