Many years ago when I was having a break from teaching, I worked as an editor at an educational publisher. One of the first books I ever edited was a teacher’s resource called ‘Keeping Children Safe’ by Dr Freda Briggs. It was all about teaching children body safety and it had a huge impact on me as a young woman. Many years later when I became a mother, I made sure my three daughters were educated in body safety and knew the difference between good and bad touch. Knowing I had educated them from a young age (3 years onwards), was reassuring when they went on their first sleep-over and school camp.
So when I became a school councilor at my children’s local primary school, I was shocked to find that there was no protective behaviours program in the school. Every time (and I was on school council for 7 years) I asked why not, I was put to the bottom of the agenda. I felt extremely frustrated, so I decided I would do something about it. I challenged myself to write a picture book that parents and teachers could use as a tool to open up the discussion on sexual abuse prevention. My husband was not convinced I could do it (bless him!) but I was determined I could. I had seen story used in philosophy classes with young children and I knew it was the perfect vehicle to talk to children about difficult and sensitive topics.
I wrote the manuscript for ‘Some Secrets Should Never Be Kept’ about three years ago and the final book was released in October 2011. The journey to get this story published, has not been an easy one. I approached three mainstream publishers and even though I am a published author, the publishers I approached all said the same thing — it was too ‘educational’ for them. I also approached two illustrators. Both felt uncomfortable with the topic. I then approached Craig Smith, who I had worked with before, and the wonderful and talented illustrator said yes! He also said, quote: ‘This manuscript makes me feel uncomfortable but that is every reason why I should do it’. What a lovely man! His illustrations are so beautiful and sensitively done.
My husband and I have a very small publishing company — so small that we had never actually published a book. ‘Some Secrets Should Never Be Kept’ is our first! We decided about two years ago if mainstream publishers wouldn’t publish Some Secrets, we would.
Protective agencies and professionals who deal with sexually abused children have embraced this book, and we thank them for this. We do all our own marketing and many agencies have placed information about ‘Some Secrets Should Never Be Kept’ on their websites, in their newsletters and linked to us on Facebook. We rely on professionals, parents and teachers to spread the word, and we are very grateful when they do.
Returning to my original motivation for writing this book – it is really two fold: one to have sexual abuse prevention education mandatory in every state curriculum in Australia and world wide, and secondly (and for me, a very important reason) for parents to see ‘body safety’ as just a normal part of their parenting role. Parents and teachers are comfortable with educating kids about road safety and water safety – why not body safety? The statistics are 1 in 3 girls and 1 in 6 boys will be sexually abused before their 18th birthday and 93% will know their perpetrator. Surely preventative education is the key! As one reviewer of ‘Some Secrets Should Never Be Kept’ said ‘Parents or teachers can let the story do the talking, taking the pressure off them to start a conversation about abuse.’
This book can be read to kids as young as 3 through to 12. The Note to Reader and the Discussion Questions guide parents and their children through the essential discussion.
Finally, and this is my personal plea to parents — let body safety, protective behaviours or sexual abuse prevention education (whatever you choose to call it) be just a normal part of your parenting. Remember — confident children are rarely target by perpetrators. I saw a video recently of a child sexual abuser being interviewed and he said, quote: ‘I am the nice man next door, your friendly bank manager, the man you and your family go camping with. Then one day you can't go and I take your kids.’ It was chilling viewing.
We need to protect our kids and we need to talk to them about body safety. We need to do exactly what the perpetrators don’t want us to do — we need to make sure our kids are educated and that they know that some secrets should never be kept!