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Last week, a book you've probably never heard of saved a child's life..

I’m going to read you some lines from a children’s book that is saving lives; not metaphorically saving them but actually saving them. Right this minute.

“He said I would get into big trouble if I told anyone… I never wanted to be bad.

He said I would upset a lot of people if they knew what I had done… I didn’t want to make anyone cry.

He made hurts in place where Band-Aids could not reach… I tried to heal the pain but I wasn’t strong enough.”

These are thoughts no child should ever have. But statistics show us that a shockingly high number of Australian boys and girls will be sexually abused as children.

These words are from a new children’s picture book called A Secret Safe To Tell, by Naomi Hunter. It’s the most remarkable kid’s book published in a long time; if I could hand-deliver a copy to every family in Australia, I would. It’s that important.

The book follows a little girl’s thought process as she makes an adult friend, decides to trust and even love him, hides the way he hurts her, and ultimately realises it’s safe to tell a grown-up what she’s been through.

Naomi Hunter wrote it for girls like herself. She’s 30 years old now and still trying to deal with the trauma of being abused as a child. As so many good people say, Naomi tells me that when she wrote this book, she’d be happy if it changed the life of just one child.

That one child has already come forward.

Just yesterday, Naomi got a text message from a friend saying that a little girl has told her parents she was being abused by a family friend, right after reading A Secret Safe To Tell.

“That was a huge moment for me, I was overwhelmed with emotion,” Naomi tells me. “From day one of writing, I knew that if I helped just one child feel less alone, less scared, less isolated, then I’d be happy. When I got that news, I ran to my husband and I said, ‘we’ve reached the one, we did it’. Now that child doesn’t have to go through any more days of fear. She won’t be in my situation at 30, trying to come to terms with it now. That was so healing for me.”

Hopefully, this book will be healing for children long before they reach adulthood, like Naomi.

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Naomi Hunter.

As we watch cases of child sex abuse unfold in public — with famous perpetrators like Rolf Harris and Robert Hughes — parents are grappling with how to protect their kids. Because of those horrific stories, adults have been talking, talking, talking – but that doesn’t mean they know how to teach their kids abuse is wrong and telling the truth is safe.

“Parents have been really fearful of how to approach the subject, leaving the children powerless if they did find themselves in that situation,” says Naomi. “We talk about stranger danger, but it’s the people close to you who are more likely to abuse your trust, so we’ve got to re-educate kids that it’s safe to tell when anyone is making you feel hurt or sad.”

Parents – start by reading this book with your kids. It’s simple enough that they can identify the feelings and the consequences of abuse, without being graphic or terrifying like, say, the nightly news update on Rolf Harris. It reads like any other picture book, with beautiful pictures and an easy-to-follow narrative. But the message is clear: It’s safe to tell a grown-up if you’re being touched or made to feel scared by anyone.

When you get to the book’s final page, you might want to know what to say next.

Kids will have questions.

National child protection advocate Bravehearts says it can be difficult for anyone, especially children, to disclose to sexual assault. Bravehearts head of research, Carol Ronken, gave me this helpful guide to dealing with questions and, in some cases, confessions of sexual abuse:

LISTEN: Don’t investigate and avoid leading questions.  Instead of asking direct questions, ask your child open ended questions like “is there anything else you would like to tell me about that?”

AFFIRM: Tell the child that you believe them

DON’T BLAME: It’s not their fault

SUPPORT: Acknowledge it must have been difficult for them to tell

SAFETY: Let the child know that you will help them and protect them

DOCUMENT: Write down (in as close to the child’s words as possible) what they disclosed

ACT: Engage support services such as Bravehearts – 1800 272 831

If you need further support for yourself or your children, you can contact Kids Helpline on 1800-551-800, the Australian Childhood Foundation on 1800-176-453, or the Child Abuse Prevention Service on 1800-688-009. To report a case of sexual abuse, call the police on 000.

When you’ve read A Secret Safe To Tell, you might want to fill your bookshelf with other educational kids’ books. 

Here are some others that might help you talk about important subjects like safety, multiculturalism, and female empowerment.


Tags: current-affairs , kids , lead , media
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