Lismore chalks it up for child sex abuse survivors
GIRAFFES are known for many things, but saving lives, not so much. Until now.
About 26 years ago, Life Education's iconic Healthy Harold giraffe gave a little piece of information to 10-year-old Jimmy Morrison that would change his life forever.
"I wasn't aware that I was suffering sexual abuse," Mr Morrison, now 36, told NewsRegional.
"It wasn't until we had a visit from Healthy Harold ... he explained about people touching your body and all these things started to line up.
"My abuser said not to tell anyone about the abuse, it was 'our secret'."
Bravely, the youngster put a plan in place to make sure the abuser would never touch him again.
"I made people in my life aware that it was happening so they could do something about it."
The perpetrator was never held to account and the abuse had a devastating impact on Mr Morrison's adulthood, with him turning to the bottle to dull his pain.
Now completely sober, the child safety campaigner hopes his story will inspire Northern Rivers residents to teach their kids about sexual assault.
Experts believe one in five Aussies will experience abuse - this means about 4100 of the 20,341 Northern Rivers children and young people are at risk.
Northern NSW Local Health District Child Protection Manager Rosa Flaherty said most child sexual assault was perpetrated by someone known to the child.
"The most critical thing adults can do to assist children who are, or have been, the victim of sexual assault is to present yourself as a safe, non-judgmental, trustworthy, steadfast adult," Ms Flaherty said.
"The child will think it is okay to tell you anything, regardless of how sinister or yucky the problem is or regardless of the threats that have been made," she said.
"The child should run, shout and tell someone they trust."
Bravehearts founder Hetty Johnston hopes our region will join the fight against child sex assault by "chalking it up" for White Balloon Day, on Friday, September 8.
Participants can draw white balloon murals with safety messages for kids and share their artworks with Bravehearts.
"The most important thing about the white balloon is it brings hope," Ms Johnston said.
"We're asking people to draw white balloons so others will see it and know they can seek help."
Kids Helpline's Tony Fitzgerald said his organisation had 130 counsellors across Australia who were able to respond to range of issues facing kids, including abuse.
"One area that's always been a big issue is child safety and child protection issues," Mr Fitzgerald said.
"Last year we had about 5300 contacts - or 100 a week - from children and young people being abused or at risk of abuse.
"If the child is at imminent risk of harm, we will make sure an emergency response is provided immediately."
IS MY CHILD A VICTIM?
How to tell if a child is being sexually abused:
- Unusual or new fears, sometimes around touch.
- Difficulty concentrating or with memory.
- Eating or sleeping changes.
- Fear of being alone with a particular person.
- Sexual themes in artwork, stories and playing.
- Showing a knowledge of sexual behaviour beyond their years.
- Bedwetting or soiling after being toilet trained.
- Aggressive, destructive or truanting behaviour.
- Withdrawal from friends, depression.
- Vaginal, penile or anal soreness, discharge or bleeding .
- Problems with friends and school work.
- Vague symptoms of illness such as headache or tummy ache.
- Self-harm behaviours
- Zoning out or not listening
HOW TO HELP A CHILD
if you are concerned about a child's safety please:
LISTEN: Listen carefully to all that they say. Have eye contact at the child's level, check that you have understood, put your adult thoughts aside and be respectful of the child's perspective.
AFFIRM: Tell the child that you believe them.
DON'T BLAME: Let the child know that what has happened is not their fault.
SUPPORT: Tell the child that they are not responsible for the assault and acknowledge that it must have been difficult for them to tell you.
SAFETY: Let the child know that you will do everything in your power to help them.
DOCUMENT: Write everything down, using the child's own words as best you can. Include behaviours and anything they have said previously that may have hinted at the assault.
CHECK: If you work for an organisation or government department, check your organisation's policy on reporting disclosures.
ACT: In the best interests of the child, report the disclosure to your statutory child protection authority or the police.
For more information on White Balloon Day please visit whiteballoonday.com.au/chalk-art-project.
Kids Helpline can be contacted on 1800 55 1800 or at kidshelpline.com.au.