The First Symposium on Safeguarding & Child Protection, Cambodia, August 2023

This week I was honoured to be a part of the first Symposium on Safeguarding and Child Protection in Education, held in Phnom Pehn in Cambodia, alongside Sian Jorgensen from Encompass Safeguarding and the Child Protection Unit a non-governmental organisation dedicated to helping the local police solve serious crimes against children.

On day one I trained 16 people from the Anti-Human Trafficking and Child Protection Unit of the National Cambodian Police, teachers, charity workers and representatives from the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Womens Affairs, in Basic Psychological First Aid for Young People. This was a Training the Trainers course, meaning they will then be able to train their colleagues and other staff who may find it helpful. Psychological First Aid is a relatively new concept in Cambodia and I hope the training is cascaded to those who need it.

The conference started in earnest the following day with Sian training 130 teachers from 40 schools across the region, in Level 1 Safeguarding. teaching them how to spot if a child or young person is being abused and what they need to report to their designated safeguarding leads. She also had trained about 16 people the day before to be safeguarding trainers themselves.

On day two participants heard talks on the laws in Cambodia with regards to sexual consent and sexting, safer recruitment of staff, how to talk to children who are disclosing abuse, and from me, a presention on Peer on Peer Abuse with a focus on sexually harmful behaviors, and a talk on the importance of believing children when they disclose, and being mindful of our body language and tone of voice as to not victim blame or further shame children. The main points of my presentations are below:

Peer on Peer Abuse: Main Points

  1. Young men under 18 are the age group most likely to be victims of, and perpetrators of serious physical violence.
  2. The place young women are most likely to be sexually harassed or assaulted worldwide is school
  3. The strongest indicator of adult interpersonal violence is early exposure to it and peer approval of it. Young people because of their age and experience may not know what a healthy relationship looks like and will rely on scripts from their friends.
  4. Where peer on peer abuse is normalised by friends and family, there is less safety seeking.
  5. School has the opportunity to disrupt the normalisation of peer on peer abuse by teaching about consent and healthy relationships.
  6. It is important to by tackle the “lower levels” of sexual violence such as sexualised name calling, rape “jokes” and cat-calling, because these normalise more serious sexual violence.
  7. Do an audit of your school with your students – where do they feel unsafe? Where is bullying and sexual or physical violence most likely to happen? What suggestions do they have to disrupt this?

Responding to Children Who Have Been Harmed: Main Points

  1. Hearing stories of abuse can be heart-breaking and it can be tempting to ignore the signs that something is wrong, but we mustn’t do that.
  2. Shame, fear of, or attachment to their abusers can hinder a child disclosing what is happening to them.When we are talking to them, we must ensure we don’t blame them or shame them as this will stop them from talking to us, or perhaps even seeking help in the future.
  3. What children and young people can’t tell you with their words they will show you with their behaviour. As educators we must look out for changes to their ABCs – appearance, behaviour or communication (this can include social media posts, drawings and creative writing).
  4. Tone of voice and body language is incredibly important. We must pay attention to the messages we give off when talking to children and young people. A sharp or angry sounding tone of voice will make them feel shamed or a nuisance and will shut down conversation. Looking distracted or like you need to be somewhere else will make them feel like you don’t care, and shut down conversation.
  5. It is not your job as educators to determine guilt or innocence. You don’t need to interrogate them, you just need the basic facts to handover to your DSL or the Child Protection Unit.
  6. There have been too many cases where children have died at the hands of parents because, despite lots of people knowing that something was happening, no-one did anything, because they questioned themselves “what if I am wrong?”. As a former DSL in a school I would much rather get a report that turned out to be nothing, than something not being reported that was something. Don’t ask yourself “what happens if I am wrong” ask “what if I am right”
  7. Sexual predators don’t only groom young people – they also groom the adults around them. In schools, it is important to be clear on what is and isn’t appropriate behaviour in terms of teacher-pupil. And let the students know who to report to if it happens to them. Students are rarely surprised when a teacher is arrested – they know who the creepy teachers are, the problem is they assume you do too.

I had a great time in Cambodia and I hope that I am able to go back to build upon the work we started there. Many thanks to Sian for inviting me along, and to everyone at the Child Protection Unit for their amazing hospitality and for pulling together a packed conference in a few short months.

You can donate to the Child Protection Unit, through their parent NGO the Cambodian Childrens Fund here. They are a small team who help the Cambodian National Police to solve serious crimes against children. They also support child victims and their families by supplying basic foods, and help train the Cambodian Police Force in interviewing and forensic skills. They do amazing work for victims.

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Counsellor and Training Specialist supporting Globally Mobile Populations and International Schools.

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