Personal Space

Personal Space

There’s a lot that’s fun about growing up – greater freedom and the power that comes with that. But with power comes responsibility. In your case, that translates to you having to take more care for yourself in a greater number and range of situations. It’s not all bad, though – because it also means recognising when you can’t do it all yourself and that there are a lot of people around you who will help you, if and when you ask.

Young people have the right to feel safe at all times. It’s the responsibility of parents, schools and the community as a whole to provide young people with a safe and caring environment. Being ‘safe’ isn’t simply about being injury-free, however – it’s about knowing that those people with whom you spend time care for you and can be trusted to act in a caring manner.

If someone you know is abusing you – physically, emotionally or sexually – you should try and find the courage to report that person. What the abuser is doing to you is illegal, and may have long-term effects on you and any other person he or she is abusing now or in the future. It can be hard to report abuse, but remember it’s not your fault - it’s the abuser who is acting in an abnormal and dangerous manner.

It’s important to try and talk to someone you trust, with the ultimate aim being to have the abuse stopped – hopefully before long-term damage is done. You may find out later that the person you’ve told has reported the suspected abuse to someone else – the police, medical personnel or a representative of a government department.

Again, this is because it’s the aim of everyone involved in caring for children and young people to try and keep them safe, and the law in Australia now makes it mandatory for health care professionals, welfare workers, teachers and others to report suspected abuse of anyone aged under 16 years.
Abusive situations
Young people have the right to feel safe at all times. It’s the responsibility of parents, schools and the community as a whole to provide young people with a safe and caring environment

Being safe isn’t simply about being injury-free – it’s about knowing that those people with whom you spend time care for you and can be trusted to act in a caring manner

What kinds of abuse are there?


Neglect is the failure to provide the basic necessities of life – food, warmth and shelter, clothing, safety, medicine and personal hygiene. At its worst, neglect becomes abandonment – when a child is left alone to care for his or herself.

Emotional abuse

When a child is deprived of love, warmth and attention, it’s emotional abuse. Emotional abuse may involve constant criticism, scapegoating, terrorising, isolating, rejecting, ignoring or excessively teasing a child. Either way, the child feels unloved and unwanted.

Physical abuse
This includes all non-accidental physical injuries to a child, such as shaking, slapping, bruising, biting, burning, scalding, poisoning, throwing, near drowning or near strangulation.

Sexual abuse
Sexual abuse occurs when an adult or older child uses a child for his or her own sexual pleasure – either by performing acts on or to the child, or forcing the child to perform acts on or to him or her.

Domestic violence
Domestic violence occurs when one person in a household or family exerts power over another through emotional, sexual or physical abuse, social isolation, financial control or deprivation of food, liberty or other rights. Children can be direct victims of domestic violence or be affected by witnessing the violence on or between other family members (such as one parent hitting another) or both.

What should I do if I’m a victim of any form of abuse?

It may be that the person abusing you is a family member you don’t want to betray them, or someone who has threatened harm to you or someone else if you tell. It’s important that you do tell, otherwise the abuse could continue and become more severe, and the abuser may look for other victims. (There may already be other victims.) You should always tell a trusted adult or older person, and if there is any evidence (such as bruises), show them. If there’s no evidence, keep telling people – if no one close to you will accept what you’re saying, tell a teacher or a professional such as a doctor or police official. Remember, no matter what the abuser says, no one who cares for you in a normal way will want to hurt you. The behaviour may be illegal – and if it’s not, it should be stopped because it’s not right to purposefully hurt a child.

There are many things you can do to keep yourself safe, or to help yourself when you’re not feeling safe

What should my parents or other adults do if they suspect I’m being abused?

Parents, teachers and others close to you may– as part of their everyday monitoring of you – realise something is wrong. If so, they will try and talk to you about what’s happening in your life, and it’s a good idea to tell them as much as you can.

Sometimes, though, young people are great actors, so that even the most caring, attentive parents can’t see or decipher the hints their children may be giving. If this happens, you may have to open the discussion yourself and tell them what is troubling you.

What if I suspect my friend is being abused?

Again, tell a trusted adult. Then, depending on the form of abuse, the adult may talk to your friend, or inform a teacher or child welfare professional of his or her concerns. It may be that your friend will become very angry with you and accuse you of breaking a confidence and even betraying him or her. It’s difficult, but you have to weigh up what’s more important to you – and your friend: short-term anger, and even possibly the loss of a friend, or that friend’s safety and well-being.

What can I do?

There are many things you can do to keep yourself safe, or to help yourself when you’re not feeling safe. Possibly the most important is to be aware that you don’t have to keep your fears or knowledge to yourself – that you should tell someone you trust about what, or who, is making you feel uncomfortable.

Even when there is a threat of more harm to you, other people, or your possessions, it’s best to tell someone about what’s going on. To the people who love you, there’s nothing too awful for them to hear – especially when it means they can help you through a troubling time or help you avoid a threatening situation.

Other things you can do include avoiding being alone in potentially dangerous places such as public toilets, deserted areas, or streets and parks at night. Try and travel with a friend, and if that’s not possible make arrangements to be picked up or met.

If you have a mobile phone, call or text someone when you’re leaving school, sport or music practice or any other place you’ve had to leave alone, so there is someone who knows where you should be and when.

The most important thing parents and other trusted adults can do is to create and maintain a caring environment.

You should also try and maintain communication with your parents. It’s unlikely they’re being as ‘nosy’ as you think – children’s lives today are very different to the childhoods experienced by your parents and grandparents, and most parents ask their children questions because they want to be close to them and understand as much as possible about what’s going on in their lives. Think of it this way – if your parents didn’t care, they wouldn’t ask.

What can my parents or other adults do to help me?

The most important thing parents and other trusted adults can do is to create and maintain a caring environment – one in which young people feel safe to talk about what’s troubling them, no matter how important or insignificant it seems to other people.

If a parent or other adult has regular discussions with their child about his or her day, relationships with teachers and friends, and the sorts of things that trouble them and even their friends, it’s more likely they will notice when something more significant happens or changes.

Other things your parents may consider to help prevent a dangerous situation:
  • Notice who you feel uncomfortable around
  • Discuss with you how your body automatically responds to danger or risk, and how you can ‘read’ your body
  • Discuss with you how crucial it is that you tell someone you trust about any feelings of being unsafe – whether they are based on events that have happened or suspicions
  • Encourage you to trust your feelings and instincts
  • Explain that while some adults may react to what children say with disbelief, they should keep telling people until someone believes them
  • Explain to you that if someone abuses you, it’s not your fault.

What are the warning signs that someone I know is being abused?

There are many warning signs of abuse – but some of them aren’t easy to ‘read.’ A friend who seems to be increasingly depressed may brush away your concerns with an ‘I’m just tired’ or ‘I’ve been fighting with my sister’; if you notice bruising, your questions may be answered with claims of clumsiness at sport or on a bike.

If your concerns about your friends or relative continue, it’s best to talk to someone you trust who will take you seriously – your parents or a teacher or someone at school who knows you and your friend.

Some of the emotional signs can also be related to ‘normal’ personalities or behaviour for some people, so it may be that a sudden change to a more depressed or aggressive mood is the key.

The signs include:
  • Physical – frequent or unexplained bruises or injuries, such as severe bruising, broken bones, burns or scalds
  • Emotional – depressed or miserable moods, frequent anger or irritability, difficulty making friends, difficult behaviour such as outbursts in the classroom
  • Neglect – being dressed inappropriately for the weather; frequent hunger and even stealing food; poor health; unclean body and teeth; dirty clothes and hair; children left alone for periods inappropriate for their age; frequent absences from school or other regular engagements
  • Sexual – sexual knowledge and behaviour inappropriate for the young person’s age; physical signs that may be noticed by medical personnel (or perhaps during a friend’s sleepover); signs of depression or suicidal tendencies; fear of being touched by an adult; sudden avoidance of familiar adults or places; changes in use of drugs, alcohol and food intake (and the effect on weight), and clothing choices.
How can my parents better manage their behaviour towards me?

You and your parents know that hurting young people is a crime, and that adults should be able to control their temper and behaviour so they don’t hurt you. There are behaviour management strategies that adults can learn – the same kinds of strategies that new mothers and fathers are told about to cope better when their babies cry a lot, such as walking away, going outside or taking deep breaths.

Parents and other caregivers who have trouble controlling their temper or behaviour should seek professional help, either through a doctor or psychologist or through a helpline such as the Child Abuse Prevention Service (1800 177 135) or Parentline (1300 30 1300).

One of the ways in which you can help yourself stay safe is through ‘protective behaviours.’

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