From the moment we first hold our newborn in our arms, we make a vow to do our utmost to love and protect them. We instinctively keep them close to us, and as they grow bigger, we meticulously select their care givers.
On their first day at “big school” we often shed a tear watching our “babies” take their first significant step towards independence; a big, wide world largely outside of our control. However, we reassure ourselves that school is important for their development; they are safe around trusted adults, but are they?
BBC Panorama recently reported that in the UK, child on child abuse has risen 71% since the academic year of 2013-14, with suggestions that these statistics are just the “tip of the iceberg”. The number of reported rapes among under 18s rose 46% over the same time period and reports of sexual offences on schools premises have increased including rapes on school grounds.
Do we face similar problems in Gibraltar? Regardless of its size, big or small, sexual violence is an issue we need to be vigilant about and aware of. Most importantly, what can we, as parents, do to protect our children?
No means no
New pressure group No means No held their first AGM in October to promote their campaign against sexual violence in Gibraltar.
I asked Founder Member and Chairperson Nyree Turnock Robinson what had motivated her to start the committee which they eventually wish to become a charity. She shared that recent stories in the media as well as having a daughter drives her to raise awareness and look for solutions. Inadequately short sentences, repeat offenders, child protection and a culture of victim blaming are among the many issues the committee wish to tackle. “The beauty of Gibraltar is that because of its unique status and size, we can determine the kind of place we want to be. We can make a society where sexual violence has no place.”
Let’s talk PANTS
As parents, there are different approaches we can take to assist children even as young as pre-schoolers. The NSPCC UK have created the Let’s talk PANTS approach.
Privates are private
Your underwear covers up your private parts and no one should ask to see or touch them. Sometimes a doctor, nurse or family members might have to. But they should always explain why, and ask you if it’s ok first.
Always remember your body belongs to you
Your body belongs to you. No one should ever make you do things that make you uncomfortable. If someone asks to see or tries to touch you underneath your underwear say “no” and tell someone you trust and like to speak to.
No means no
No means no and you always have the right to say no – even to a family member or someone you love. You’re in control of your body and the most important thing is how you feel. If you want to say “no”, it’s your choice.
Talk about secrets that upset you
There are good and bad secrets. Good secrets can be things like surprise parties or presents for other people. Bad secrets make you feel sad, worried or frightened. You should tell an adult you trust about a bad secret right away.
Speak up, someone can help
Talk about stuff that makes you worried or upset. If you ever feel sad, anxious or frightened, you should talk to an adult you trust. This doesn’t have to be a family member. It can be a teacher or a friend’s parent – or even Childline.
It’s good to talk
For older children in Gibraltar, Childline is a great resource with features such as “live chat” which allow teens to find support with a medium comfortable to them.
While Childline ensures there is support for children and teens, young adults have limited options. No means No chairperson Nyree shared “One of the main things that came out of the annual meeting was that we need a support group. Some survivors were present who have no access to help locally.”
With organisations like Childline and No Means No, there has never been better awareness in Gibraltar of what is a very serious issue. The stigma is being broken and alongside that conversations are being started.
As parents, the best thing we can do is to empower our children with knowledge, teach them respect and ultimately lead by example. If we want to buck the trend occurring in the UK, we need to take a proactive approach and be part of the change, raising a generation of adults with an understanding of consent, respect and kindness.
If you are interested in joining or finding out more about the No means No committee you can email them on [email protected] or like their page on Facebook.
For further support for teens and children visit Childline.gi which also provides basic information on how to recognise sexual abuse.