I have found it difficult to write this article because there are so many unsaid ‘rules’ of etiquette on ‘taboo’ subjects. Child abuse is one such area. We somehow assume that adults have more ‘power’ and we exercise it, when in fact we are all equal as human beings, children have power too and in an ideal world the word power would not often be synonymous with the word ‘abuse’.

Watching the Tuesday news and hearing the Chelsea Football club apologise for the child abuse uncovered from over 40 years ago made me both furious and sad. Yet another case where we let our children down as organisations, communities and indeed parents. Yes, it is hard to concede that as parents we may inadvertently collude with these perpetrators, just by our fear of speaking up.

So I write to try to help us understand a little further how on earth, when this kind of systematic; prolific abuse happens, we can prepare our children without frightening them of course, to be able to firmly say no and furthermore, know that we will champion them when they tell us why they felt uncomfortable and praise them for their courage. We will speak up!

There is plenty of help out there on the web for parents to explore, and some useful guidelines for when we fear our children may be in danger. The NSPCC website is very helpful identifying for us how we could spot early signs of potential abuse by adults in positions of trust. However, they point out that “There are many roles which are not legally defined as being positions of trust, such as swimming coaches or faith group leaders.” I was shocked to read this as I somehow assumed that all adults working with children, would be considered in a ‘position of trust’, but apparently not.

The most obvious answer to prevent child abuse is to work with the potential abusers, but that is complicated and difficult to ‘police’ there is no specific profile of an offender – easier once an adult has offended; but then of course at least one child’s life is affected for their whole life. A life of shame and disgust and usually self-blame, as the perpetrator is good at creating a ‘relationship’ where the child feels they colluded, went along with it and should have stopped it – but they couldn’t stop it, they were the child, powerless in such an horrendous situation. So they internalise simply to cope with life that ‘it must have been their fault’ in some way. We can help them say NO, it was not my fault.

The Chelsea club used the following phrase in their report “The intention of the review was to shine a bright light in the dark corners of the Club’s history so that we can learn lessons to help protect the players of the future”. I think we as parents can help our children to carry a flashlight around with them, in any encounter with adults and indeed other bullying children. When they attempt to shine the light for us to see we need to listen, listen carefully and check how this affects ourselves.

In cases such as the Chelsea Club there is an after-the-fact phenomenon where we focus on the individual perpetrator, possibly in the hope that once that one person is found out and punished, all will be well, but for me, in essays I have researched for in the past it is the wider collusion that makes me sad and quite frankly frightened that these patterns of behaviour will occur again and again, because the key in almost all these cases is thatchildren try to speak up and the other adults do not really listen. They collude with the power base of corrupted thinking; afraid to speak up.

So it is good to read the Clubs intentions and actions in terms of supporting potential youth players now and in the future. “We must continue to challenge ourselves to do better as a club and as a sport. This is an issue that has affected all of football. Police data indicated that by March 2018, 340 clubs had already been impacted, 300 alleged perpetrators identified and over 2,800 referrals and reports received. Tragically the number of victims stood at almost 850.

“While we implement the recommendations of the report, it is important that we also look to the future and ensure that abuse like this never happens again anywhere in football.”

Food for thought. What can we do as parents?
From a very early age we need to teach children that it is ok to say NO when they feel uncomfortable. They do not need to justify why, they can just say no. We need to observe and listen carefully when our children show signs of discomfort around other adults, and facilitate a listening ear that lets them speak, without judgement. We can explore websites like this one https://www.cfchildren.org/blog/2017/08/activity-teaching-touching-safety-rules-safe-and-unsafe-touching/ to help our children understand what behaviour is appropriate and inappropriate.

And finally, we can teach them to know that it is absolutely ok to say NO and we will listen and act.