Why ‘Stranger Danger’ Education Doesn’t Cut It

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“I am a survivor of child sex abuse and abandonment. I write this article for every survivor, for every child confused by trauma, and for every life shattered through the selfish hands of others.

I am proud of who I am today and what I have achieved so far in life, despite being told at age 16 that I was a failure, the girl going nowhere – most people thought I would be dead or in prison by the time I was 20, fortunately neither.

In my professional world I am an author, speaker, child sex abuse activist, and founder of The Works Company, Breaking the Silence, and Project 90/10. In 2021, my first TEDx Talk was shared across the world. ‘It’s not just the strangers we should be careful of,’ was an uncomfortable listen for many, but for many it is their truth. I am also regularly asked to represent the UK as a World Leader on this conversation: child sex abuse.

As an adult I have never been afraid to stand up for what I believe is right and I’m comfortable having uncomfortable conversations with whoever wants to listen to me and even those who don’t; I make sure I am noisy and heard! However, as a young girl the thought of speaking up and supporting myself or others was too much for me to get my head around. It was something that made me feel uneasy, usually giving me a tummy full of butterflies. I had no confidence as a child and would usually vomit, make excuses for my shaking hands and blushing cheeks, and pee every second (which was probably one of the reasons why I never told anyone I was being sexually abused as a child until I was in my 20’s). Only through tons of therapy did I gain confidence.

childhood pic
Courtesy of Emma-Jane Taylor

As a child, I was affectionately called ‘Emmy-loo’ because I frequently needed a pee; this was my nerves on full alert 24/7. I used to also bathe before bed to wash away the feeling of being dirty and I suffered terribly with OCD, paranoia, addictions, night terrors…the list goes on. Sadly, most young people who were sexually abused as children have lots of physical difficulties and never speak out until much later in life, though some never at all. Dawn Walton, therapist and brain reprogrammer, told me that our brains don’t fully develop until our mid-twenties, so it is no surprise that it takes a while for us to catch up, mature, digest, understand, process, and get help.

I like to regularly have uncomfortable conversations on the subject of Child Sex Abuse, and have recently been confirmed to represent the UK as a leader on this conversation at the World Leader Summit 2021 and also for a new Charity in Australia to raise awareness for this heinous crime, and on that note I am also taking part in a series of challenges (some extreme) over the next 12 months that will be raising awareness for a new charity being set up in the UK to reduce child sex abuse. I am also currently writing my next book which is created by many voices from around the world from survivors, to police, support groups, whistle blowers, and sex offenders. By listening to these voices on the subject of child sex abuse, we can introduce conversations that bring about change.

We can use this research to educate young people to understand what healthy relationships look like and by using this education we can then guide young people to recognize what a potential groomer might look like and give young people the right tools to be able to cut the perpetrator off before anything sinister happens.

Have you dug a little deeper with that child who just seems different? Have you dug a little deeper with that child whose behavior has just changed? Maybe that child is suffering in silence and needs YOU to be brave for them.

If we want to make a difference, if we want change, and if we want to make sure that children aren’t being stripped of their innocence and left with traumatic challenges for the rest of their life, then that ‘uncomfortable conversation’ is a low hurdle to jump.

Statistics report that of those that have been sexually abused as a child, 90% knew their perpetrator. If we continue to educate young people on that basis around the concept of stranger danger, then we are only educating a very small 10% out of the millions of children being sexually abused every year by someone they know. The misalignment of this 90/10 statistic combined with the guidance we are offering young people produces a stark reality: young lives are being catastrophically ruined.

I see warning signs in children all the time, and behaviors that are just not normal for children. I find it incredibly frustrating that no one is asking the right questions or listening to the young person who is clearly suffering. I recognize now that my behavior as a young girl changed rapidly, and it wasn’t long before I was in junior psychiatric care being labelled a juvenile delinquent and told I was a failure, the girl going nowhere.

It took years for me to share my story with my family and then many years after this to speak out publicly. My reality up until this point was that I never thought I would share my story publicly, just with my therapist, until one day when I became the face of The Wellbeing Show for That’s TV (UK) and something just hit me! I discovered I had Imposter Syndrome and suddenly everything made sense and I knew what to do. I had a voice and wanted to help others who, like me, were suffering in silence.

Before I knew it, I was speaking up in front of large audiences, football stadiums, magazines, on TV, national press, Raphael Rowe’s (Netflix) podcast, global platforms, and the list goes on. It was overwhelming, but hugely empowering to be in this space supporting others through my voice. When my TEDx talk was shared, I knew then that I was proud of ‘me’ and what I have stood up for and achieved.

ted talk
Courtesy of Emma-Jane Taylor
Courtesy of Emma-Jane Taylor

It is also important for me to say that I didn’t achieve what I have achieved to date without a lot of therapy and support around me. I do not advise anyone to speak up or share anything personal until you have a greater understanding of you, your journey, what you are facing, and how you are facing it. I thought therapy would be a 12-week fix. 30 years later, I know this isn’t the truth. And for that reason I hope you consider this deeply before doing anything in public that could potentially cripple your world. If you need someone? Just get in touch, my door is always open to you.

Since I started speaking out publicly, I have had many people contacting me (young and old) including men and women in their 80’s (even someone in their 90’s) sharing with me for the first time their child sex abuse stories. While this older age group have not wanted to share it with anyone before now, they told me they now feel unburdened as well as hugely liberated to have shared their story with me. This disclosure is important, regardless of your age.

I often thought I was the luckiest girl in the world when I met that new friend who showered me with shiny nice things and kindness, BUT this quickly transitioned to child sex abuse, and that was just me. Multiply that by millions of children around the world being abused sexually abused every year, by someone they know.

Courtesy of Emma-Jane Taylor

My determination to have these uncomfortable conversations is anchored around a desire to see children sleeping peacefully at night with happy dreams not nightmares that darken their days and strip them of their childhoods.

As children we are taught to respect our elders, be polite, listen and don’t answer back, and that adults know best and as children we must trust them. But what about turning that premise on it’s head and giving children a new education that would give them the tools to protect themselves if ever faced with a difficult situation?

Have you ever empowered your child to be able to say NO to an adult they knew? Have you ever stopped to ask your child what THEY would do if an adult they knew asked them to keep a SECRET? And are YOU confident knowing that wherever your child is they are armed with knowledge and a language that would PROTECT them?

As a child the thought of saying ‘no’ to an adult and someone I knew would have just felt rude and I would probably have been told off. But if that adult was a menacing stranger then I had full permission to not only say no, but to scream and shout or anything I could to draw attention. See the issue here? Of course, this isn’t about being scared of everyone we know and love, but it is about giving young people the right tools to know how to handle difficult situations.

Protecting children seems like the most natural thing a parent can do. But the guidance being shared with it’s focus on stranger danger, is just not aligned with real life. I recently asked 50 children aged between 4-16 years old what they thought the word ‘trust’ meant. The majority of the responses I received showed no real comprehension of this word. More importantly, these responses and the lack of understanding would not protect a child standing in front of a potential groomer.

There was real confusion around when and when not to allow trust. Trust can be really misconceived when used in inappropriate circumstances. If we are telling children to trust by ‘letting someone in to help make them feel safe’ then this could be opening dangerous doors. And here’s the rub, of course we need to keep children innocent and enjoying the magic of their young lives with the people they love, but how can any child judge a situation if they cannot distinguish between right or wrong?

On many levels, the subject of Child Sexual Abuse continues to be the elephant in the room. I’ve been with people who just don’t want to hear about these stories because it upsets them. BUT what about the child that’s been degraded and traumatized – what about their upset? How about lending a more patient ear to the child attempting to tell you about the darkness in their life or being more aware of warning signs pointing towards a bigger and more important consideration?

This is clearly a huge beast of a conversation that not many want to fully acknowledge or engage with, but we need to because it is a life destroying reality. Once you have been sexually abused as a child, your life changes forever. You don’t live the ‘normal’ that others talk about, because you will never know what that means. Let’s start having these uncomfortable conversations because somewhere in the world right now, a child is being sexually abused by someone they know.”

Courtesy of Emma-Jane Taylor

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Emma-Jane Taylor. You can follow her journey on Instagram and her website. Submit your own story here, and subscribe to our best stories in our free newsletter here.

Read more from Emma-Jane here:

‘There’s a problem in our relationship.’ My father stopped the car. I had an instant sick feeling. In a blink, my hero was gone.’: Woman overcomes abandonment issues, sexual trauma, ‘I can finally stand tall after 36 years’

Read more empowering stories from sexual assault survivors:

‘I recall sitting in the dark on the couch after the worst of it all. I knew I was being hurt. It was the day where from beneath him I screamed, ‘DAD! STOOOOOPPPPP!’’

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