Stranger Danger

Why we need to end the ‘stranger danger’ myth

This is my column this week in the New Zealand Herald, which is published in the digital edition every Thursday…

Odds are, if you’re of a certain age, somewhere in your brain the words “stranger danger” are etched as a dark warning.

Images of dirty old men, strangers with sweets and trench coats dominate what we wrongly assume to pose a danger to our children.

Of course, we now know that this portrayal is, at worst completely wrong, at best a statistical anomaly.

Around 85-90 per cent of sexual abuse is by someone known to the child – family, extended family, neighbours, teachers, sports coaches and the clergy. This is where the danger lies.

So how do we protect our children? How do we teach them to be safe in the world, to protect themselves from sexual abuse without traumatising them in the first place?

Where we start is by helping kids – from the age of about three and up – understand that their body is theirs and that they get to decide who can touch them, hug them and be close to them.

Sex doesn’t even need to come up, although teaching them about “private parts” and the right names for such things is a good idea.

It comes down to boundaries and consent and as parents, building and continuing to build, a safe relationship that encourages openness, and hopefully leaves kids knowing that they can talk to us about anything.

Fortunately, there is a course in Auckland, offered by Auckland Sexual Abuse Help that has been effectively teaching such things in pre-schools for 25 years.

But, despite all the deserved credit the ACC has been getting recently for standing by their commitment to fund sexual abuse counselling – even in the face of recent increases in demand – they have strangely decided to question the funding for the HELP run “We Can Keep Safe” Course – and in doing so put the programme’s future in jeopardy.

Remember those terrible “man slips over in the shower” and “woman falls through glass coffee table” ads a few years back? Part of the ACC’s mandate is prevention.

Surely we have a moral obligation to do as much as we can to try and help our kids navigate the world they find themselves in, especially given New Zealand’s child abuse record.

This isn’t about victim blaming, it’s about empowering kids to make better decisions about how to treat their own, and others’ boundaries with respect. Lessons that will hopefully last a lifetime

How much does it cost to keep our kids safe? About a $100 per child, for a six-week course. Less than one session of therapy.

Come on ACC. Cough up. And I don’t even care if you do it because the numbers stack up.

We can keep our kids safe, we just need your help.

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