Opinionista Bonita Case 3 December 2019

Sex education: We need to protect our children from the dangers out there

The moral fabric of our society has been torn apart. Our culture needs radical change. Why can’t we arm ourselves with facts and work together to find solutions? Instead, we bicker on the internet while our children suffer.

After a lifetime of silence, I recently wrote about my experiences of child abuse, physical and sexual assault and rape from the age of four until my late teens. I told no one I was writing about this ahead of my story’s publication, except for my 13-year-old daughter. After the story was published, family and friends were shocked. They were also shocked that I had told my daughter and had given her the piece to read.

Why did I expose my innocent daughter to so much horror and pain? Because I had to. Let me explain. In November 2018, a man arrived at my mother’s house. He was known to my mother, but not particularly well. He carried a knife and a hammer in his backpack. He knocked on my mother’s front door and asked her to put her dog away before she let him in. When he saw that my sister was there, he lured my mother out of her house, asking for a lift to an ATM. At a stop sign, my mother looked to her right to check oncoming traffic. She turned to the left and saw him coming at her with a knife. He stabbed her repeatedly, aiming for her throat and chest. My mom, with unbelievable strength and fortitude, managed to defend herself and flung herself out of her car. Her attacker ran after her, stabbing her in the back of the neck. He stabbed her 14 times.

Miraculously, a few good men arrived on the scene. One chased after the assailant, who’d driven off in my mother’s car. This Samaritan rammed his own car into my mother’s one, to prevent her attacker from escaping. He, and a few others, managed to detain the assailant until the police arrived. One man staunched my mother’s wounds with his shirt. Another rushed her to the nearest hospital, mercifully only 10 minutes away. In the emergency room, the doctors told my sister our mom was lucky to be alive, but she had a 50-50 chance of surviving this brutal attack. Luckily for all of us who love and need her, she survived.

The court case dragged on. We found out what we needed to do to oppose bail and fight for justice. We demonstrated outside the court, created a petition, and asked people to attend the proceedings to show community interest. Our mother attended every appearance, so the magistrate could see the victim and the harm she’d sustained. We spoke to the state prosecutor and the investigating detective often, to check progress. How many families in these circumstances know to do all this – if their perpetrator had been caught?

My mother, my husband and I decided we could not tell our daughters – our 13-year-old and twins aged seven. How do you find words to explain to children who’d been sheltered from the evil in the world that a brutal, remorseless man tried to end their beloved granny’s life? But we had to tell them something – so we said Gran-Gran had been in an accident.

As I was to find out, my eldest daughter didn’t believe us. She put “Dianne Case” into Google, and up popped the news stories about the attempted murder of her grandmother. Six months later, she said: “Mum, I know about what happened to Gran-Gran. I know more – and can cope with more – than you think. You’re too overprotective.”

Having lied to my daughter to protect her before, I knew I had to be honest with her this time. And prepare her for what was to come.

When my story was published, I expected it to attract support, criticism and even trolling. I posted the piece on my Facebook account and on two groups – The Village and The Total Shutdown. These groups are far apart in purpose and demographics. Yet, as I found, they have significant similarities. Members of both groups care deeply about their children. And, as disparate as these groups are, the reactions were largely the same. Members who commented were divided into two camps: those who believed gender-based violence and sex education are critical in addressing the epidemic. And those who believe these lessons are harmful and should be banned from our classrooms. Astonishingly, some teachers also voiced their opposition to sex education, a few even saying they refuse to teach it.

I was pleased there was a debate, but it turned nasty quickly and, in the case of The Village, the comments had to be shut down. The moderator explained to me: “People on social media don’t listen. They just state their own opinion, and some are just rude. This is similar to the anti-vaxxers.”

As a parent, no matter your beliefs, you want what’s best for your children. You want them to be safe. But we live in a country where our women and children are not safe. We must prepare them for the dangers – both outside, and often inside our homes.

I reflected on why, after my lifetime of silence, I chose this moment to speak. There are two reasons – one is intense anger – because truly, enough is enough! But mainly it’s for my daughter, a child in a young woman’s body. My wonderful girl, now the same age as I was when I was raped. Suddenly she’s more interested in her appearance and in boys. When I’m out with her, I see men leering at her, staring at her breasts, her legs, her bum. She notices, though not as often as I do.

My daughter has reached the stage where she wants more independence. I’d love to give it to her. She wants to go to the beach with her friends, without a watchful adult. But at the beach, I see the men high on tik. I’ve been accosted by men who aggressively demanded money. So how can I feel it’s safe for a group of young girls in short-shorts and bikinis to walk by men like that?

I will not ask my daughter to dress more conservatively because she may attract unwanted attention. She should be able to dress however she likes. But it’s a tough one. She likes those short-shorts and cropped tops. All her friends wear them. And the fashion industry doesn’t help.

While many parents would rather not know, children grow up so fast today. Scientific studies show that puberty is now starting for girls at around 10 years of age. We know the dangers of social media. On Saturday night, my daughter went to her end-of-year class party at a friend’s house. The friend made it clear that there must be no alcohol. My daughter told me that two girls sneaked in a bottle of vodka and got very drunk. One ended up vomiting. The other jumped into the pool fully clothed and wanted to post on social media, in that state. Luckily for her, a few girls had the sense to take her phone away.

If the anti-sex-education brigade would actually read the new lesson plans, they’d see that the content is precisely about how to navigate such minefields. Would you rather your child be prepared for these issues, or wait until she’s done something like post photos of her breasts on social media?

The moral fabric of our society has been torn apart. Our culture needs a radical change. Why can’t we arm ourselves with facts and work together to find solutions? Instead, we bicker on the internet while our children suffer. We all know the proverb, “it takes a village to raise a child”. Grown-ups, I appeal to you: let’s work together to build a better village, so we can provide a better future for our children. DM

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