New picture book to teach young children about sexual abuse
Parents and teachers can use picture book to help children recognise and prevent sexual assault
Uncle Mok, a trusted family friend, was teaching little Jun how to swim. Each time after swimming, they would bathe together and Uncle Mok would dry the boy with a towel.
During these occasions, he would sometimes touch Jun's private parts. Then, it happened every time they bathed together and even at other times when they were alone.
Jun is a fictional character in a new children's picture book, Jun And The Octopus, published by the Singapore Children's Society (SCS) to facilitate conversations with young children about sexual harassment and abuse.
But Jun's experiences with Uncle Mok are not purely fiction, with many children across the world falling victim to inappropriate behaviour by adults.
Written by Mr Goh Eck Kheng and illustrated by Ms Lim An-ling, the book simplifies the intimidating and taboo topic of sexual assault into an easy-to-understand children's folk story.
Accompanied by colourful illustrations, the story serves as a resource for parents and teachers to help young children understand sexual abuse and how they can protect themselves.
At the book launch yesterday, Ms Lin Xiaoling, deputy director of SCS' advocacy and research department, said that while child sexual abuse happens more often than one might think, it is still under-reported and not discussed enough.
Recalling a female victim's account of sexual abuse by a gas delivery man when she was five or six years old, Ms Lin said: "One day, he carried her while chatting with her mother."
The man then put his hand into her underwear and touched her inappropriately.
Ms Lin said the woman, who had kept the incident a secret until their conversation, told her she wished the resources SCS is providing were available at the time.
The book, along with SCS' efforts, is aimed at not only helping children recognise and prevent sexual assault, it also serves to facilitate an environment in which parents can broach the topic with their children.
Ms Lin said: "Often, parents ask when is the right time to talk to their children about this, but it is never too early to start.
"It is us parents who keep things from our children and think they won't understand."
She said having worked with children as young as four, she and her team know even at that age, they are able to absorb and understand such information.
Mr Goh said the hardest part about writing the story was having to get into the mind of the perpetrator.
"It is horrible because people who do these things do them intentionally," he told The New Paper after the launch.
"It is awful to think that someone would do a thing like this and take advantage of a child."
Psychologists who work with young victims of sexual assault told TNP that the book is a step in the right direction, because education is key in helping children and families confront and prevent such assaults.
Ms Evonne Lek, a therapist, said: "Sometimes, children do not know who to talk to, or think they are supposed to keep quiet about it, or think they won't be believed.
"It is important to give them a voice by making them realise it is okay to talk about it."
Particularly if the perpetrator is a family member or a trusted friend, she added.
Psychologist Frances Yeo said that child victims may even love or share a special relationship with the person who groomed them for sexual abuse.
"Children might not understand what is happening to them or not know that it is not right.
"They might have been told to keep it a secret or do not dare to voice out," she said.
Ms Yeo stressed while it is important to educate children on how to protect themselves, it remains important for adults to do their part in ensuring the child is in a safe environment, such as checking the credentials and backgrounds of those who work with children.
Dr Carol Balhetchet also stressed that while the book is a good step, it should be made accessible and readily available.
Apart from making the book simple and attractive for children and adults of all backgrounds to understand, the psychologist suggested that free copies be given to pre-schools or family service centres to reach more children.
SCS said it has plans to translate the book into different languages, and it hopes to distribute it in regional countries such as Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam.
The hardcover book is now available at selected bookstores at $18 each.
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