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Abuse Against Children: ‘I know What It Is To Keep A Secret’

It was a lunch break in year 10. My friend said she wanted to share something with me, but first I had to promise I would never tell anyone else.

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I promised.

She shared that she had been sexually abused by a relative for seven years.

I kept my promise and never told. And so, still a child myself, I became part of the shame and silence which hides the violence against children happening all around us. Today, I am breaking my promise and telling the secrets that need to be told. I’m speaking up along with other young people around the world so children can stop carrying the guilt, grief and stigma of abuse.

Today, 18 young and brave survivors of violence from around the world share their stories in a letter to world leaders: calling on them to end the widespread abuse that affects millions of children.  Drawing on the experiences of violent conflict in South Sudan, sexual abuse in Iceland and child trafficking in Pakistan, the powerful letter highlights an epidemic of violence facing children in every part of the world.

Two young women from Australia, Beth, and adolescent, and Parwana, 20, have shared their experiences with UNICEF Australia as part of this letter. Beth was sexually assaulted in her home by someone her family knew.

Violence too has shaped Parwana’s life, though her experience of it is different, yet not unlike the experiences we see children this week facing in the Middle East and across Europe. Her story started in Afghanistan and ended in Australia four years ago.

“I remember always sleeping in fear. Always being people who have to escape or run away to survive. That’s made us be refugees in our own country, then refugees in Pakistan. Then after so many struggles, we made it to a place we can say is peaceful,” Parwana says of her journey, though she adds she never understood what made her and her family a target.

“A child doesn’t understand the difference between religions and nations. My uncle was killed just because he was a Hazara. We didn’t understand why this was happening to us and our families. When you’re born in a country, you think that country is your own because your mum and dad are from that country. It’s really hard to understand that other people in that country want to attack and kill you.”

Beth and Parwana remind us violence against children is a real and lived experience, and that it is wrong. We have the power to end it. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989) states every child has the right to be protected from all forms of violence, abuse and neglect. We are all responsible for ensuring children can grow up safe and free from violence, but governments must take leadership in keeping children free from violence.

At the end of this month, world leaders will meet together to formally endorse the Sustainable Development Goals. These goals present a historic opportunity to change the situations so many children endure, but only if we focus on the most disadvantaged and vulnerable children and put their safety, education and health at the heart of the agenda.

The inclusion of Sustainable Development Goal number 16 – to promote just, peaceful and inclusive societies – shows there is a will to end violence in all its forms. We need our leaders to be strong on this issue.

The experiences of Beth, Parwana and 16 other young people have been shared with our leaders in a letter to remind them of the scale and seriousness of violence against children. Almost one in 10 girls under the age of 20 experience sexual abuse and an estimated 230 million children live in countries affected by armed conflict. Almost one billion children worldwide are subjected to physical punishment by their caregivers on a regular basis.

Every five minutes a child dies as a result of violence. The symptoms of violence surface daily in our communities. A boy locked in a cage in a Canberra school because he has autism. Luke Batty, killed by his father at a cricket training session on a weeknight. A Royal Commission into Institutional responses to Child Sexual Abuse hearing tens of thousands of experiences of sexual abuse from people all across Australia. These are just the things that we see. The majority of violence is not visible. It happens in private spaces, out of sight.

Children in Australian communities have lived through conflict, and even though they are safe now, they carry the stress of loved ones still living in danger in conflict zones.

Children notice when a family member comes home drunk and volatile. Children have been beaten up on their own streets. Children self-harm because they can’t find the support they need to cope with stress and anxiety. Children endure relentless cyber-bullying, which follows them out of their school and into their homes, making no place safe. Children are often the first ones to see or know when another child is experiencing violence, but are often the last to be listened to or believed.

I know this because I’ve heard from children first-hand as part of a conversation with children to find out what matters to them. We cannot minimise the urgency of this situation. We need to take the experiences of children seriously, listen to what they are saying to us and act swiftly before another five minutes passes and another child is lost to violence.

I cannot presume to ever understand the experiences of children I have heard and read. However I can be an ally and use my time, voice and skills to act on what they ask for. You can too.

Article provided and written by UNICEF. If you would like to make a donation, please head to unicef.org.au/donate.

The Dangers Of Arguing Via Text

Most of us have a mobile or cell phone at our disposal pretty much 24/7. So when we’re arguing with others regardless of who they are, it can be really tempting to carry it on via text.

Unlike verbal or face-to-face communication, digital communication is in a class of its own. There are real dangers of communicating  using this medium particularly when the conversation is heated.

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Tech issues

People need to be aware that although texts are super handy, there are also downsides to communicating this way particularly during an argument. Firstly, tech issues such as spellcheck can interject into a conversation. This can add fuel to the fire. Unfortunately the person on the other end won’t be aware the text they received was corrected. They will take it at face value and this can prolong an argument.

Then there’s the premature send. I’m sure most of us would have accidentally done this and it’s caused no harm. However when arguing via text we might rethink our words before sending. If this opportunity is missed we may send words we’d possibly delete before sending.

Additionally some texts may never get to a recipient, a phone may go flat or be turned off. This too can spark a texting war due to the lack of response. We can’t know for certain what’s happening so presumptions often heighten or even cause arguments. Therefore, we need to keep all this in mind which isn’t easy in the heat of the moment.

Communication differences

Another danger of arguing via text is the way we communicate. Although we may think our text messages are similar to the way we communicate in other ways, we need to be aware that isn’t always the case. For one text messages can easily be misinterpreted especially during an argument. This occurs because people search for the tone of the text.

This is done instinctively in traditional ways of communicating and while this is relatively straight forward, correctly identifying the tone of a text can leave plenty of room for error. For example, even a simple word like ok can mean various things when we add tone to our voice. Therefore when we argue via text the things we say can often be misconstrued. This is when things can get ugly!

There’s also the fact that people say things in texts which they wouldn’t say during other forms of communication. This is because they can’t physically see or hear a reaction. Someone can emotionally destroy another person with their words without really understanding how they’ve effected them.

Of course some idea can be gained by a response but it’s much easier to identify hurt feelings face-to-face or verbally. This is why some texts can get vicious or threatening. Without a clue to how the other person is reacting things can get quite server quite quickly.

So regardless of who is on the other end of a texting argument or whether a lack of response starts the initial fury, people should really refrain from arguing via text. While it maybe preferable to text someone a negative comment, it should be done face-to-face or via a phone call. That way there is less room for the downsides of digital technology to interject. Plus you’ll likely find the argument will be resolved much quicker.

Image via youtube.com

Jodhi Meares’ Alleged Assault Not “Minor”

A small phrase which caught my eye in yesterday’s reporting of Jodhi Meares’ alleged assault by her fiancée Jon Stevens made my blood boil.

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The fashion designer and former swimsuit model was granted an interim apprehended violence order (AVO) against the former Noiseworks frontman after Rose Bay police were called to Meares’ Point Piper luxury home at 2am on Monday following reports of a domestic argument.

Stevens, 52, who was charged with assault and released on bail, cited medical reasons for failing to appear in court yesterday over the allegations. The AVO will stand until he is due to reappear in court on May 18.

The incident comes only a week after Meares, 42, the ex-wife of billionaire casino magnate James Packer, and Stevens posed for photos together at the VIP Sydney David Jones Autumn/Winter Collection Launch.

Jon Stevens and Jodhi Meares

The offending phrase, which I’ve seen reported a few times now was “the former swimsuit model… suffered a minor wrist injury during the dispute”. Oh and these ones too: Meares has “minor bruising” and “Meares, it is claimed, has some bruising on her wrists”.

I strongly object to the use of the word “minor”. What’s minor about police being called to a couple’s home, where a man is then charged with a woman’s assault? Why is the incident being downplayed?

There’s nothing small or insignificant about it; indeed it’s an increasingly ugly occurrence in our society. The matter is currently under police investigation.

Meares, the founder/fashion designer of luxury active wear label The Upside, which made its catwalk debut at last week’s DJs show, was last year also embroiled in another very public scandal.

She attracted public scorn and criticism after rolling her luxury Range Rover in a Bellevue Hill street and later recording a high range blood alcohol reading of 0.181 last June.

Jodhi Meares

Meares was charged and received a one-year licence suspension and a $1100 fine last August after confessing to consuming five glasses of organic wine at a Bondi restaurant.

Images via ninemsn.com.au; veooz.com and 2gb.com

How To Deal With Difficult People At Christmas

Picture this: It’s Christmas day; you’ve got 12 people staying with you – including your critical, difficult mother-in-law, your drunk, obnoxious uncle and four kids under three – and instead of enjoying the festivities in a calm, serene manner, you’re hiding in the pantry, swigging on a bottle of champagne (French, obvs) to calm your frayed nerves.

Related: Managing Stress In The Lead-Up To Christmas

The festive season can bring great joy, but great stress – it ain’t easy dealing with a multitude of difficult personalities when your extended family unite under one roof for the holidays.

We can choose our friends, not our family, so the saying goes – but your urban tribe will probably be of no good use to you when battling your own private Vietnam on Christmas day, they’ll most likely be too busy trying to win their own battles! And, on a serious note, the festive holiday season proves so stressful, sad and lonely for some people each year that for Lifeline’s 24 hour crisis support telephone line, 13 11 14, the days leading up to Christmas and New Year are its busiest time of the year.

So, how do we keep Christmas stress on the down low? Here are some fast tips from relationship experts and Lifeline alike:

  • Try not to expect too much – aiming for the “perfect” Christmas or New Year’s Eve and assuming that everyone will be on their best behaviour is unrealistic.
  • Keep tidy – there’s a temptation to drink too much at Christmas, but alcohol can fuel arguments and cause conflict.
  • Avoid the expectation of disapproval, because this leads to misunderstandings – everything your family says then sounds like a criticism which may not have been intended.
  • In-laws should avoid giving unsolicited advice and criticism.
  • If you are the recipient of unsolicited advice and feel criticised, don’t be over-sensitive. State calmly that, yes you can see their point but you and your partner prefer to do things differently.
    in-laws, Christmas, conflict
  • Try your best to treat in-laws (this goes both ways of course) as you would your friends: be tactful, thoughtful and kind.
  • Set firm boundaries with your in-laws in a calm way about things you feel strongly about, for example: children’s bedtimes and eating sweets, so that in-laws don’t inadvertently break the rules.
  • Look for mutual topics of interest that are not contentious, avoid topics that are likely to lead to conflict. Remember, most grandparents love and are very interested in their grandchildren and want what is best for them. This is a good place to enhance the relationship – stick to talk of them.
  • If you have a house full of relatives, keep calm by reminding yourself that they are most likely very pleased to be there and grateful for the time they can spend with their grandchildren. Try to focus on the positives and not expect disapproval or criticism.
    in-laws, Christmas, conflict
  • Know your limits and listen to your emotions. If you need to calm down, take a walk or find a quiet place (pantries can come in handy).
  • If times are tough financially, don’t be a hero and try to shoulder all the costs alone. Make a plan as a family for a Christmas that is reasonable, or ask people to chip in and/or bring a plate.

If you are feeling in crisis, tell a trusted friend or family member, or talk to your GP/counsellor, or phone Lifeline on 13 11 14 or visit www.lifeline.org.au.

Main image via gawker.com; cartoon via lifewithasideofsarcasm.wordpress.com and final image via www.womansday.com