Meet the Australian writer changing the conversation on body safety for kids.
Jayneen Sanders believes in the power of a good story. The educator, children’s book author and mother of three still clearly remembers seeing a documentary in high school about the dangers of drugs when she was 15 years old. “I've never touched drugs in my life, and it was from that story,” she says. “So, stories make a difference; they change lives. ”While working as a teacher and educational publisher, Jayneen (who goes by Jay) was shocked to learn the statistics on childhood sexual abuse: one in five girls and one in eight boys will experience it before they turn 18 and 95 percent of them will know the perpetrator*. Although Jayneen is not a survivor herself, she knew more needed to be done to protect children. “I decided that the best way to get people's attention was through story,” she says.
In 2010, Jay wrote ‘Some Secrets Should Never Be Kept’, a picture book that sensitively encourages children to speak up if they experience unsafe touch. Jay, along with her husband and business partner Mark, took the book to three publishers. They all said no. So, they took out a loan with Bank Australia to publish the book themselves, and Educate2Empower Publishing was born.
‘Some Secrets Should Never Be Kept’ has now been printed over 250,000 times, and Educate2Empower has created over 30 books and resources exploring the topics Jay is most passionate about: body safety, gender equality and emotional intelligence. One of their free posters – ‘My Body Safety Rules’ – has been translated into 24 different languages, and they’ve donated books to countries that might have trouble accessing these resources themselves, including India, Kenya and Tanzania. While conversations around consent and body safety have come a long way in the last decade, Jay believes there’s still work to be done. Many people remain fearful of these topics, or think they’re inappropriate to teach to children. Some persistent myths include that learning body safety skills will steal a child’s innocence (“No,” Jay counters, “if your child is sexually abused, it will [steal their innocence].”) or that abuse only happens to other people and families. But perpetrators can be anywhere and target anyone. “The statistics tell us how rife it actually is, so don’t put your head in the sand,” Jay encourages. “Play your part, educate your child and don't be fearful."
Think of this this way: body safety skills are not so different to traffic safety skills. “You put a seatbelt on your child and hope you never have to use it,” says Jay. “It’s the same with body safety skills. You put those in place and hope they never have to use them, but they’re there if they need them.”
So what do body safety skills actually entail? Jay’s resources teach children about having autonomy over their own body, building a safety network of trusted adults, how to identify early unsafe warning signs, which parts of their body are private, and why secrets that make them feel bad or uncomfortable shouldn’t be kept.
In action, this means not forcing a child to hug or kiss someone if they don’t want to (Jay suggests asking for a high five instead), using the correct names for body parts (including genitalia) and fostering an open, transparent environment where a child can tell a trusted grown-up immediately if something feels wrong.
Delivering these skills in an age-appropriate way can have a huge impact on how children learn to respect their own bodies – and the bodies of others. “Children have an ability to understand a lot more than we think. And we know just starting to teach consent from a young age, these messages will stay with children,” Jay says. “An empowered two- or three-year old is an empowered child, is an empowered teenager, is an empowered adult.
”In an ideal world, Jay’s books wouldn’t be needed. “That's what I would really love: a world where people don't abuse children, but sadly they do,” she says. And until all children are safe, she will keep harnessing the strength of stories to give children a voice and to tell them they have rights. “I can't tell you how much I feel rewarded by the work we do,” Jay says. “Storytelling is the gift that I have to use while I'm on this planet, and I’m proud it’s making a change."
If this story has brought up anything for you and you need support, you can call 1800Respect on 1800 737 732 or Lifeline on 13 11 14. *Child sexual abuse statistics are difficult to verify due to underreporting and inconsistent measurements in survey-based studies. Educate2Empower has a list of statistics and sources here.
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