Fortunate our Children's Sexual Assault Therapist sat down with Diane from Radio MAMA to chat about our children’s safety and how we can help our children by talking to them early about body parts and personal boundaries.

This interview discusses children sexual assault and what community support services are available locally to help children and families. The sensitive content may be triggering to victim survivors. If you need help or someone to talk to, you can call Desert Blue Connect on 9964 2742.

Diane: With us in the studio today we have, Fortunate Mlambo from Desert Blue Connect, who is the Children’s Sexual Assault Therapist. Today we will be talking about: our children’s safety and how we can help our children by talking to them early about body parts and personal boundaries.

Diane: Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your responsibilities at Desert Blue Connect?

Fortunate: I am a therapist and counsellor for children who have been sexually assaulted or children who have witnessed domestic violence. I work with children ranging from 3 years to 17 years old. I do play therapy and counselling.

Diane: You mentioned play therapy – what is that?

Fortunate: Play therapy is a form of therapy that I use for children to make sense of what happened to them. Toys are the child’s words. Children may not be able to express their feelings but through play they can play out their feelings and tell their story. Play therapy is not just play, it has themes which includes real life story toys, creative expression and emotional release toys, acting out and aggressive release toys.

Diane: So what are some of the other services you provide?

Fortunate: I provide counselling. We also have services for children who have sexually assaulted other children or at risk of sexually assaulting other children. We have staff members who provide protective behaviours one to one programs to help children through safety strategies and assertiveness.

Diane: What results can you see from therapy and your services?

Fortunate: Through play therapy children may change in their behaviour which usually is caused by what they have been through. Children may improve their social skills and relationships with their family or friends. For example children may be withdrawn and as they start to heal we can see that they start to go back to their normal self. Therapy is not going to be a quick fix though. It may be weeks or months before you see change. It’s a process and it does take some time.

Diane: What are some of the short and long-term effect of child sexual abuse?

Fortunate: Short term effects may include feeling isolated, emotional reactions such as rage, guilt, anger or fear, confused thinking, feeling responsible for the assault. Long term effects may include depression, anger issues, fears or phobias, anxiousness, self-harm or suicidal thoughts. Mood swings or sometimes night mares. Sexual abuse often affects the children in their future relationships, affects their mental health and it can turn them into perpetrators as well if not dealt with.

Diane: So obviously, this is a very sensitive topic and for anyone who has children this is just so hard to think about, but to help us all, what advice can you give us and parents around reducing the risks of this happening?

Fortunate: Unfortunately we that with most children who are sexually assaulted, the perpetrators are the people they trust and usually family members or family friends.
As parents or care givers I encourage you to talk to your children and teach them while they are young. Teach them about respecting their personal space and other people’s personal space. Talk to them about body parts and what are their private parts. What adults and other people are not allowed to touch. And use proper names like your vagina, your penis. Not silly nick names, we all do that right? But it’s important for children to know clearly about their body and their personal boundaries. Understand your child’s normal behaviour and if something has changed. You know when you child is sick right? You know when somethings not right with them…it’s the same thing. And listen to them.

Diane: Are there any tell signs of a child who has experience a sexual assault or is there anything parents can look out for as warning signs?

Fortunate: Children react differently. You may be able to see your children withdrawing from the things they like, isolating themselves or they may start acting out and showing challenging behaviours. Children may not want to be touched by anyone, feeling unsafe when alone, emotional reactions like anger, fear and rage. So look out for those things.

Diane: If there is a parent or someone listening right now who maybe thinking “yes, this sounds familar” what would you say to them?

Fortunate: If you suspect that your child may have been sexually abused, please do not be embarrassed to come to us, you’re not alone, it’s not your fault and we are here for you and your child to help heal and move on from this. You can call Desert Blue Connect on 9964 2742. Talk to our staff and they will provide you with information that you need and to make an appointment with us.

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