No laughing matter

Perhaps best known for bringing smiles to children’s faces as Koko the Clown, Latrobe Valley resident Frank Bezzina’s latest venture is no laughing matter.

In the hope of reducing sexual abuse rates across the region, Mr Bezzina is empowering parents and children’s workers to discuss inappropriate sexual behaviours with children.

Since 2014, he has been fighting to provide a string of seminars, known as Protective Behaviour, to parents across the Latrobe Valley.

Inspired to bring the program home after attending a protective behaviour conference in Western Australia, Mr Bezzina has spent the past two years coordinating with support groups to provide a localised service.

He admits at times the battle was tiring but the cause is slowly gaining momentum.

About 50 residents attended each of the three sessions held at Federation Training late last month, learning how to discuss ‘red’, ‘orange’ and ‘green’ light behaviours with children.

Green behaviours are those deemed normal and age appropriate, orange behaviours are outside of normality, while red light behaviours are sexual behaviours that are harmful, forceful and require immediate protection.

The idea behind the program is, if perpetrators know a child is well equipped with knowledge of right or wrong behaviours and knows to tell someone about inappropriate behaviour, they are far less likely to abuse.

“We don’t pull punches about what you call certain anatomy,” Mr Bezzina said.

“We teach parents to tell the kids that anything underneath your underwear is yours and we help establish a network of five people a child can turn to if they are experiencing inappropriate behaviours.”

With waiting lists of up to six weeks for counsellors in the region, Mr Bezzina said the statistics signified the area had a “real problem”.

“The statistics are overwhelming and cannot be ignored,” he said.

“Too many people get abused but it’s too late, this program prevents it.”

Not just protecting children, the program has given abused parents the strength to come forward.

“I’ve had people open up to me about abuse they had suffered as a child and I’ve been able to direct them to the support they need,” Mr Bezzina said.

Looking forward, Mr Bezzina is discussing providing the program to a group of teenage girls with disabilities and expanding the seminar across the region.

“It’s exciting to see your vision come to life,” he said.

“It has its ups and downs, but I’m really pleased to see the momentum going ahead.”