When I thought of this phrase in relation to my work, I could only wonder how many children heard this literally and never felt able to disclose that someone was abusing them. It’s meaning is literal and it dates back to the medieval religious culture of 15th century England.

Originally it was specifically young women who were expected to stay silent unless spoken to or asked to speak but as time went on it evolved to include all children. Unfortunately, it is still used today usually to reprimand a child who might want to say something when the adults around them are in a conversation.

The things we say to, and around children can leave a lasting impact and can influence a child’s beliefs about themselves and the world around them. To a traumatised child this phrase means, ‘don’t tell because no one is listening’.

Children who are being sexually abused, by the adults who they believe are supposed to care for them causes unimaginable emotional pain and confusion. As a young child I innocently believed that all adults were here to take care of we children, to keep us safe – not to hurt us. Because several adults abused me, I thought that must mean that I was born unlovable and not worthy of protection and safety.

I and many other survivors of abuse carry these beliefs and feelings into adulthood where we struggle to live with the devastating impact of the trauma we were forced to endure in our childhood.

The message we want to convey to every child is that they will be heard when they tell. By being more aware of our language and terminology we encourage and reassure a child who is being abused that there is an adult around who can protect them and will keep them safe.