It's a "sobering thought" that some children will become "the sexual abusers of tomorrow" - but one that hammers home just how important education is, according to a local rape charity counsellor.
The comments come from Jersey Action Against Rape's (JAAR) Ruth Le Cocq, who in this column explains the vital necessity to empower children and young people to talk about their emotions, and help them better understand how healthy personal relationships should work...
"RAPE. It can be one of the most difficult words for a survivor of sexual abuse to say about themselves.
It becomes even harder if they have been abused, as a child, by a parent, a sibling, a trusted ‘friend’ or someone their own age.
Pictured: Children find it hard enough to verbalise sexual abuse - let alone when it comes from a 'trusted' person.
Often they feel guilt, shame and confusion as they blame themselves for freezing in fear instead of hitting back at their attacker, or telling someone. They do not realise that, during the assault, their body and mind were being hijacked by an innate, primal mechanism to avoid death, which meant that appeasing, running away or fighting were no longer options.
It’s a sobering thought that some of our children and young people today will become the sexual abusers of tomorrow.
Here at JAAR, one of our aims is to educate others on the facts and myths surrounding rape and extreme trauma, and promote progressive and forward-thinking attitudes.
Encouraging children to develop their self-resilience to withstand the challenges of life, by perceiving and managing risk appropriately, is a vital step to reduce the number of sexual assaults in the future.
Also, it is important to help children to develop their ability to empathise by encouraging them to recognise when they are making assumptions and judgements about others. It’s much easier to rape or sexually assault somebody, if you no longer see them as an individual.
Pictured: JAAR aims to help rape and sexual assault survivors feel less alone.
UK statistics reveal the number of young people experiencing mental-health issues is increasing with half of all mental-health problems starting in early adolescence, and 75% by the time people reach their mid-twenties. It is clear young people feel vulnerable when facing adversity.
While the Island’s agencies and schools have a strong foundation of offering counselling to young people, wouldn’t it be better if they didn’t need to access these services in the first place?
Empowering children to better understand themselves and others is the way forward. Now is not the time to protect them from feeling powerful emotions, but to encourage them to recognise what they are feeling, before they become overwhelmed, so they can be helped to discover self-soothing techniques and ways to cope with whatever life throws at them – corona virus or no corona virus.
Courses in effective listening and responding skills would be an invaluable addition to the secondary school curriculum and are known to improve communication, enhance work and personal relationships, and promote better community relations.
But why wait until then? In one of my roles, as an early years learning practitioner, I have witnessed children as young as three years old noticing subtle differences in others and, by acknowledging their curiosity and facilitating their understanding of diversity, they have shown me that they are more than capable of empathising and helping their peers without prompting.
In 1949, Canadian neuropsychologist Donald Hebb, who studied how humans learn, discovered that ‘neurons that fire together, wire together’ – let’s make sure our children’s neurons have the opportunity to fire in a way that empowers them throughout their lives."
JAAR is Express's chosen charity for 2020.
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