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Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Bmag September 20th 2011 - Most abuse is in the home

With Daniel Morcombe’s remains found and a man charged with the Sunshine Coast teenager’s murder, the term “stranger danger” is again front-of-mind. Leading the way are Daniel’s brave parents Bruce and Denise, who have summoned unimaginable strength to travel the state, speaking to school students about personal safety. The Morcombes are also devising a universal distress signal so children can attract attention and fend off would-be attackers.

What concerns me is that any increased media and community focus on stranger danger has two undesirable consequences. Firstly, it creates a perception that our community is filled with child-abductors. The target of this paranoia is generally older men, as seen recently when a group of semi-retired blokes at Palmwoods set up a Men’s Shed so they could socialise and potter together. In no time, there was a complaint to Sunshine Coast Regional Council, arguing that it was no longer safe for children to walk alone in the area.

The second and arguably far more serious side-effect of shining the spotlight on strangers as perpetrators is that the abuse of children in the home, inflicted by trusted adults and family members, disappears into the shadows. As Megan Y said to me in a recent email: “Tragic as it is, cases like that of Daniel Morcombe are incredibly rare thankfully. Crimes like child abuse, abduction and infanticide are usually committed by family members, trusted family friends, church people or foster carers. Why the constant fear-mongering/repetition of the anti-public transport/you must drive your children everywhere meme? I haven’t seen any evidence that the risk of children abduction is higher today than it was when we all walked/rode our bikes/caught buses unaccompanied as children.”

Indeed, a 2007 Griffith University study found that strangers accounted for only 14 per cent of the sexual abuse of children. Friends and family friends were responsible for 50 per cent, whilst 35 per cent of cases involved a family member.

I’m also concerned about the false sense of security created by the Blue Card system which can only ever detect, and protect children from, those who have already attracted the attention of police. There is nothing to stop a child abuser who hasn’t been caught from holding a Blue Card.

All of this leads me to the importance of empowering children within the home. I’m not saying you should panic or suddenly be suspicious of your husband, wife or others who live under your roof or spend time alone with your children. Instead, be pro-active and talk to your children about safety and trust.

Brisbane blogger, radio producer and child abuse survivor Annie Reuss suggests using these words: “An adult who truly loves you will never make you feel afraid – they will always make you feel safe, even when they are angry at you. If an adult ever makes you feel afraid you should always speak to another adult who makes you feel safe.

“Adults should never, ever touch you in sexual places and if they do it is wrong and another adult needs to know about it straight away. Even if they tell you they will do something terrible to someone if you tell on them, don’t believe them. They won’t. “Even if it is someone in your family you must tell someone you trust. You can be brave and you can stop them from hurting others.”

Annie says she always wishes she had spoken up when she was little. “He went on to abuse others and I could have stopped him from doing this by speaking up, but I didn’t and I do feel very bad about that. I didn’t speak up because you know once you do everything changes. Even though you don’t like being abused, it is the only family you know, so it’s a double-edged sword.”

I know other survivors who haven’t felt strong enough to speak up until their 30s and 40s. They share Annie’s guilt – that they could have saved younger family members from the same pain – but at the same time they are relieved to have finally sought justice. It’s never too late for that once scared child inside you to find the strength to tell someone. Finally, a plea to anyone who touches children inappropriately. You are betraying trust, inflicting fear and impacting lives forever. You must stop. Seek help today. Please.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Bmag September 6th 2011 - E-Books smell good too!

I’m not sure how serious he was, or whether he regrets saying it out loud, let alone on radio, but according to Brisbane author John Birmingham, the place where you’ll find writers at a writers’ festival is the green room – partly to avoid the punters but mainly to pick others’ brains about tax minimisation! It’s perhaps devilish of me to have memorised that quote from Richard Fidler’s Conversations program, not to mention repeating it here, but it guarantees that whenever the Brisbane Writers’ Festival comes around – this year from 7 to 11 September – I always think of Birmo! Coincidently, John Birmingham has just joined 612 ABC Brisbane for a month, filling in for Richard Fidler!

Aside from tax minimisation, the other hotbutton topic at this year’s Brisbane Writers Festival is sure to be e-books. This year, e-readers have taken the giant leap from earlyadopter fanboi technology to widespread realisation that they really are the future. I’ll admit I’m still old-school. I prefer to spread out the newspaper, flick through my hand-delivered copy of bmag, browse my CDs and DVDs, and get my hands on a good book. Preferably one I’ve bought rather than borrowed from the library. And it goes without saying that books smell good!

I will admit that when Geoff Cavanagh from 612’s promos department thrust an e-reader into my hands a few months ago, I could see the appeal straight away. I learned that the screen doesn’t hurt your eyes like a computer monitor. That you can store thousands of books on your reader, and countless more on your computer. That you can look up definitions, check something on the internet, and even switch to audio-book mode (handy if you’re involved in a real page-turner but have to drive somewhere, or cook, or do the ironing!) Feeling somewhat conspicuous lying on the floor of Geoff ’s office, I felt how light it was to hold an e-reader above your head as if in bed. And finally, to my great surprise, I learned that Geoff ’s e-reader, with its leather case, smelled good! Not the same smell as a book but an appealing, comforting smell nonetheless.

Guess what I bought my wife for her next birthday? She hasn’t looked back. In fact, when Nikki decided to re-read George Orwell’s 1984, she chose to pay the – brace yourself – 99 cents for the e-book instead of reading the dog-eared hardcopy that’s been sitting in our bookshelves for years! Yes, she is an instant and complete convert. It takes a critical number of converts for new technology to take off but that is what has happened with e-books and e-readers in 2011. At least one online retailer recently announced it now sells more e-books than physical books.

Hence, as literary types gather for the Brisbane Writers Festival, talk will turn to e-book opportunities and challenges. Brisbane author Nick Earls – appearing at this year’s festival – shared some of his thoughts with me during a recent visit to the 612 ABC studios. Nick says he will still make his $3 a book whether a novel is sold in a shop or downloaded as a file. But without printing and transportation costs, the e-book version can be sold for much less. I could have paid just $17 for Nick’s latest (The Fix) as an e-book. Instead, to feed my need for another trophy with the rest of my Nick Earls collection, I parted with $32.95. Nick points out that in the e-book future, that back-catalogue of his will always be available. Books will never go “out of print”. Nick is already thinking about tapping into the next big development, the e-novella. Longer than a short story, not quite the full novel, Nick says they will be the perfect length for a flight, selling for just a few dollars.

Of course, the role of publishers in all this has yet to be established but Nick says there will always be a need for editors “to tell me what I need to be told”! And then there are the bookshops, which recently marked the inaugural National Bookshop Day to promote the value of a wellinformed, well-read specialist bookseller. For now, they will continue to appeal to those, like me, who enjoy a physical browse, but you have to wonder about their long-term future.