At a dinner party two years ago, mother-of-four Michelle Derrig was horrified to hear two separate stories of primary school children who had been sexually abused by their peers. It prompted the Sydney-based mum to produce a book, Only For Me, to help kids develop the skills they need to keep themselves safe.
"What struck me about this was that we have to enable our kids, we have to empower them to know that it's not OK and what to do in those situations," she says.
Derrig soon realised there was a dearth of resources out there for kids and parents - something confirmed by an Australian paper she came across, called, Keep telling until someone listens: understanding prevention concepts in children's picture books dealing with child sexual abuse.
The researchers found that there were only 58 picture books in English on the topic of child sexual abuse. When they analysed 15 of the books, they also discovered that – while each book encouraged children to talk to someone they trust – none of the stories provided information about exactly what happens next. "This common message, that telling is the end point and that after that it will be smooth sailing, is common to most of the books," the authors wrote.
Derrig says, Only For Me builds on that feedback – including space for children to record the names of five adults they can trust along with contact numbers for the Kids Helpline. From there, Derrig writes:
Now that adult's job
Is to help set me free;
From the bad things
happening to me.
First they should
make sure that it ends;
then take me to someone
to help me mend.
The book is designed for children aged 3-8 years, however, Derrig admits there's some leeway, noting that she's already heard of one two-year-old who "absolutely loves it" and that she's also used it in conversations with her 11-year-old.
According to Bravehearts 1 in 5 children will be sexually harmed in some way before their 18th birthday - and are most vulnerable between the ages of 3 - 8 years.
Derrig teamed up with mother-of-three and former Disney animator, Nicole Mackenzie, to produce the picture book, which she says - through rhymes and colourful illustrations - provides kids with critical information, "whilst maintaining their innocence".
Only for Me has been endorsed by one of Australia's leading child protection organisations, Act for Kids. It was devised in consultation with experts, as well as survivors of sexual abuse.
Derrig notes that the book seeks to disarm predators by educating and empowering children with knowledge such as:
- Children can say no whenever someone's touch doesn't feel right (Including kissing, stroking, cuddling snuggling, either through clothes or direct touch).
- Abusive behaviour is not their fault and they won't be in trouble.
- They need to tell a trustworthy adult if someone does the wrong thing to them.
- Anatomically correct names for body parts.
Since the book was published, Derrig received feedback from one reader, a mother-of-one that the section on secrets was particularly invaluable. "During the first reading of the book, my child disclosed something to me," the mother said. "I hope it helps other families who may not be aware of things happening with their children."
Derrig chose to self-publish Only For Me – despite receiving interest from a publisher – to make the book affordable for the majority of Australian families. And, she's donating 100 per cent of author royalties to Bravehearts and Act for Kids to help these organisations in the work to do protecting and empowering children.
Derrig adds that while it's important for schools and preschools to run programs around protective behaviours as part of their curriculum, parents need to be reinforcing those messages at home, too. And, while the book provides an introduction to these important issues, it's not intended to replace conversations between kids and their parents. Instead, she says, Only For Me is designed to help facilitate these conversations, providing an opportunity for questions, clarification and sometimes even disclosure.
"You need to talk to your kids, you need to be having these conversations so you can build rapport around this subject and make kids feel comfortable about discussing this subject," she says.
The book, which retails at $11.95, can be purchased online. International shipping is also available.
Watch a video about Only For Me, produced for National Child Protection Week, here: