Holly-ann Martin’s Safe4Kids program teaches skills to protect children from sexual abuse

30th July, 2021 1:38 pm

Children as young as six should be taught what to do when they stumble across pornography, a campaigner for “protective education” says.

WARNING: This article deals with child sexual abuse and pornography.

It is just one of the awkward and difficult issues Holly-ann Martin discusses with thousands of Australian children, parents and teachers each year through her program Safe4Kids.

She said protective education involved teaching children about consent, cyber danger, bullying, sex abuse, grooming and pornography.

“I believe that 100 per cent of Australia’s children will see pornography before they’re 18,” Ms Martin said.

In her opinion, that exposure amounts to abuse.

Children can find graphic porn with click of button

Ms Martin said some of today’s parents might recall sneaking an adult magazine from under an uncle’s bed and having a peek when they were young.

But she said access to pornography had changed a lot.

The images children were seeing now were nothing like the comparatively innocent magazines their parents remembered from their own childhood, Ms Martin said.

“So, 100 per cent of Australia’s kids will be sexually abused by 18 because even if they google ‘bum’ or ‘boobs’ or ‘sex’, that’s not what they’re going to see, and nobody prepares them for the heinous acts they’re more likely to see.”

The topics and conversations were confronting, but Ms Martin said schools welcomed her into classrooms when they realised how easily the content could be taught.

Leap of faith pays off

As a teacher’s assistant, Ms Martin worked at one of the first WA schools where teachers were trained in “protective behaviours”.

In 2007, she took long-service leave and visited some remote communities in WA’s north-west that had experienced some horrendous child abuse.

“I saw a huge need for resources,” Ms Martin said.

“When you believe in something, it’s not a gamble really.”

From her home in the Perth suburb of Armadale, Safe4Kids was created.

Ms Martin said Safe4Kids was now sold around the world and she had delivered the course in places like Cambodia and Mexico.

She is currently developing an online education program to reach more children.

“I’m no cyber expert, but I’m learning from the experts, the 10-year-olds. The stuff they tell me is why I wrote my last book which covers grooming,” she said.

Safety team key to protecting young people

Ms Martin said one aspect of “protective education” was to encourage children to nominate adults in their network they could talk to.

“Protective behaviours was a program developed in the late 70s in America and came to Australia in the late 80s around ‘stranger danger’, but 90 per cent of children know their abusers, so stranger danger is a misnomer,” she said.

“[Protective education] is about empowering children and giving them strategies that, should something happen, they can tell somebody on their safety team.

“One of the things I do with children is we help them set up a safety team of five adults they can go to if they feel unsafe.”

Teachers then give the kids a set of invitations they can hand out to their safety team members that reads: ‘Congratulations! I’ve picked you on my safety team and I expect you to listen to me, believe me and be available.’

‘I believe you’

Ms Martin gives parents and teachers a script of four sentences they must say to that child: “I’m glad you told me. I believe you. It’s not your fault. I’m going to do something about it.”

Ms Martin said many parents had approached her after her workshops to say “I wish I had have known this when I was a child, because this happened to me and my mum didn’t believe me”.

But she said it could be hard to convince parents to come to her workshops, as many parents believed their children would never be at risk.

“If I had $1 for every time I’ve heard a parent say ‘my child would never look at pornography’, I’d be a very rich lady,” she said.

‘It’ll never happen to my child’

Now, rather than telling parents disturbing statistics about child abuseor even offering wine and cheese, Ms Martin flips her message.

“Parents think ‘it’s never going to happen to my child, but it could happen to someone else’s kid, so ‘gosh, I’d better go along to see that’.”

Recently, Ms Martin ran a session for parents of a Year 3 class in Perth.

She asked the parents if they were aware that most of the students were on the TikTok app.

“They said ‘yes Holly, it’s just that dancing app’, and then I blew their minds and showed them what else is on there. They just don’t know.”

She said abuse happened in institutions in part because of the content children were exposed to online.

“Because kids are seeing pornography and then acting it out on other children,” she said.

Reaching children as young as three

Ms Martin said parents and teachers could understandably find it difficult to talk about these topics with children.

She said her program did it for them in a way that was age-specific and by giving children tools and language so they can protect themselves.

Her lessons are aimed at children as young as three.

“It’s simply teaching children that no one’s allowed to touch your private parts,” she said.

“So it’s not about frightening them and being scary, it’s just giving them really clear messages about keeping themselves safe.”

Getting rid of ‘good and bad’

The lessons for children are not about “good” or “bad”, but about “safe” and “unsafe” — specifically pictures, touches and secrets.

“If kids hear ‘bad’ they think they’re bad, and they’re not bad, so we use safe and unsafe because there’s no judgement there,” she said.

She also teaches them about the early warning signs their bodies get when they feel unsafe — butterflies in their tummies, sweaty palms, fast heartbeat and legs feeling like jelly.

Ms Martin said police officers she had worked with had told her children quoted phrases “Miss Holly” had taught them about safe and unsafe behaviours.

Schools urge parents to play role

The WA Education Department’s deputy director-general for student achievement, Jim Bell, said students were taught about healthy relationships from their pre-primary years.

“We listen to the experts and we ensure schools teach content which is appropriate for each age group,” he said.

“Parents also play an important role in teaching their children and teenagers about protective behaviours and educating them about sex, consent and healthy relationships.”

He said many schools used the Department of Health’s Growing and Developing Healthy Relationships or the Respectful Relationships Education resources which were linked to the WA curriculum.

The Department of Education said decisions about the use of resources were made at the individual school level to enable schools to select resources that best meet the specific needs of their students.

The department uses organisations including Safe4Kids to provide child protection and abuse prevention training.

“The department contracts service providers to deliver professional learning on a range of topics. This takes place in all regions, and may also involve parents and community stakeholders,” it said.

Source: ABC News, July 2021

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