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'Start sex ed in pre-schools'

Adele Horin, Brisbane Times, April 2, 2007

Sex education should start in preschools and child-care centres because pedophiles were targeting younger children, an expert in child abuse prevention said yesterday.

Holly Brennan, of Family Planning Queensland, was speaking before the launch of a picture book for children aged three to eight that uses explicit language for genitals and talks about inappropriate touching.

Ms Brennan said the book, Everyone's Got a Bottom, arose out of concern that sex education in primary schools was not compulsory, and came too late for many children.

"Australian research shows the average age of sex abuse victims is nine when abuse first starts," she said.

ABC Learning Centres, the nation's biggest provider of private child care, has said it will not buy the book.

"We respect the right of families to discuss private issues in their own way and in their own time," a spokesman said.

Ms Brennan said parents, libraries and other child-care centres had shown interest.

Australia's pre-eminent sex abuse researcher, Professor Freda Briggs, an adviser on the project, said preschool children were deliberately targeted by some pedophiles because they were too young to withstand cross-examination in court.

"In other words, the [pedophiles] are unlikely to be punished," she said.

The picture book is believed to be the first in Australia to use the words vulva, vagina, penis and testicles in the context of teaching young children about self-protective behaviour.

Published by Family Planning Queensland, it is a gentle story about three siblings learning to talk together about their bodies, and who can touch them.

"It might be a person that I know and like. It is still not OK for them to touch or ask to see my private parts or to show me theirs," it says.

Ms Brennan, the project coordinator, said age-appropriate sex education should unfold gradually from birth, starting with the use of correct names for genitals.

"If you communicate without shame from the start, you encourage children to do the same."

She said children should be taught early that they owned their bodies, and how to identify "wrong" touching. This would put them be in a better position to reject abuse or report it later on.

Running through the book is the refrain: "From my head to my toes/I can say what goes."

Evidence from Professor Briggs's research with 84 convicted child molesters shows they preyed on children who knew least about their rights. Boys especially were told the abuse was "sex education". Her research has also shown children feel they cannot report "rude" behaviour because it means using "rude" words that could get them into trouble.

Written by Tess Rowley and illustrated by Jodi Edwards, the book can be bought through

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