Susan Dobson from NSPCC Scotland says the unthinkable is the reality for many children
The abuse of children and young people – sexual, physical and emotional – isn’t purely a historic issue that we need to shine a light on. For some children and young people, it’s something they’re dealing with very much in the present.
We know that an estimated one in five children in Scotland have lives which are blighted by the actions of those who are responsible for nurturing and protecting them. That’s a staggering figure, not least because many of those children may not feel able to reach out, or indeed may not realise that what is happening to them is wrong.
At Childline we know that abuse is disempowering. Offering children and young people a safe space to talk about what is happening in their lives, and giving them guidance on the options available to them can be the first step in them taking some control of their situation. Or, if they’re not ready to take those steps, we can be there to listen when they need us most.
Sexual abuse particularly isn’t something as adults we can easily comprehend or bear to think about – imagine how difficult it then is for a child to talk about it
Abusers exploit vulnerability and use whatever power is at their disposal to ensure that their crimes remain hidden. The NSPCC’s Underwear Rule offers an invaluable toolkit to help parents teach their children skills to protect themselves and the language to talk about abuse. But there is another weapon in our armoury – our ability to listen. Listen to the children and young people in our lives and to our own instincts when we feel something might be amiss.
Sexual abuse particularly isn’t something as adults we can easily comprehend or bear to think about – imagine how difficult it then is for a child to talk about it. If you don’t have the words to articulate what’s going on, if you’re terrified of your abuser, or if you fear disclosure will tear your world apart – where do you turn?
We understand that children find it incredibly hard to speak out. One third of all children who are abused never speak to anyone about it, even when they are adults. That’s the beauty of Childline – we’re a voice on the phone and a digital presence, totally anonymous and available whenever and wherever a child is in need of support.
Thanks to our volunteer counsellors, we’re there for every childhood hurdle – the good and the bad, the testing and the devastating. In a world where adults are your persecutors, not your protectors, where you don’t have the words or the will to act, we will be there to listen and to guide, but never to judge.
When thinking about abuse is so difficult, just imagine how hard it must be to say the words.
If you have concerns about a child, or want to know what you can do to help, visit our website and find out more about our helplines and volunteering opportunities.
Susan Dobson is NSPCC Scotland’s Childline services manager for Glasgow