Interview #70 — Whitney Yip

Interview by Madison Griffiths


Whitney Yip is an educator, sometimes-illustrator and the co-founder of Body Safety Australia.

In her work, Whitney advocates for a culture that values consent, and believes that—by centring the voices, interests and priorities of children—adults are able to keep them safe.

Whitney speaks to Madison about the importance of language, and the way in which children learn and navigate the world around them.


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You’re the co-founder of Body Safety Australia, an educational not-for-profit that ensures that children and young people are able to articulate physical boundaries and understand their rights, and responsibilities. How did you arrive at this place; advocating for the rights of children in the area of sexual abuse prevention?

In primary school, a friend disclosed to me about her abuse but I didn’t know what sexual abuse was – I just know that it was wrong but I didn’t know what to do. I thought if any of us said something, we would get into trouble.

In high school, several friends and schoolmates disclosed, and I still didn’t know what to do. As a young adult, I learned that child sex abuse was part of my family history. 

Then I was pregnant with my first child, and (numerous) advice that I received was that by being a young single parent, I was putting my child in danger of abuse, and that I should become a shut-in to ensure that my child was never looked after by anyone but myself.

This time, I thought we could do better for our children and young people.

I researched everything there was on protective behaviours, joined lobby groups and worked with a local not-for-profit delivering abuse prevention programs. Then I met Deanne Carson, my business partner and friend, and the rest is history.

Deanne was at the centre of an incredibly hostile media storm earlier this year. Without getting into the foul, violent nitty-gritty of what occurred, it seemed obvious to me that people were taken aback by the idea that babies and children should—and can—have their agency respected. Was it revealing to you, in that instance, that consent culture is highly stigmatised?

I think the negative response was very much a manufactured outrage. Most professionals, especially in the early childhood sector, have been practicing reciprocal communication with babies and children for almost 10 years now. Most families also talk to their babies while changing a dirty nappy. Modelling asking is an extension of what many families already do. It's to create a culture where children know their bodily autonomy is respected, and are surrounded by adults who want to empower rather than overpower (or disempower) them.  

I did not find it surprising that the most vocal and the most vicious of the hate were from white cis-het men who claimed on their social media profiles to be supportive of ending sexual violence and child sex abuse. 

What did surprise me, was how many used their work emails, real social media profiles and other traceable forms of communication. These men are not embarrassed by the way they behave. When we contacted their employers, the feedback was 'we are sorry this person did this, this was embarrassing to our company' rather than 'we are sorry that we have employed a violent person who sends other people death threats'. 

It reveals just how necessary our work is for generations to come.


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Your sessions with children have been reported as lighthearted and welcoming. Describe a child safety session of yours, and the importance of speaking openly about bodily autonomy, consent and help-seeking.

Our children’s sessions are a mix of games, songs and craft activities. We have a lot of fun, and there’s a lot of laughter and meaningful discussions along the way.

A typical class starts off with something familiar like naming emotions and how our facial expression and body language shows that feeling. We then move onto physical boundaries and consent. Children and young people grasp the idea of seeking permission before entering someone else’s personal space very easily.

Then we move onto understanding the flight, fight and freeze response, the concept of safe adults, as well as how to seek help.

In our classes, we also discuss and name body parts including the private body parts. This is to ensure that all children and young people have access to correct terminology about their own bodies. Our own research has shown that 49% of nine-year-olds cannot name their genitals correctly.

The importance of speaking openly about children’s rights is the adults are more aware and can listen better to a disclosure, and that a child is encouraged and welcomed to disclose.

What is your process like when brainstorming educational strategies for parents, carers and children alike?
Working with children and young people is fantastic. Their discussions are meaningful, tender and nuanced.

Working with adults, there can be many fears and misconceptions around child sexual abuse. Some of the adults that we work with are survivors of child sexual abuse, so we always approach with care and compassion.

We want to support families and communities in starting the conversation, not dictate another thing that parents and carers have to ‘get right’ when raising children.

We want to support families and communities in starting the conversation, not dictate another thing that parents and carers have to ‘get right’ when raising children.


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Grooming of children has increased dramatically in online spaces.  Most adults don’t really know or understand the latest online game or social media that children and young people use. 


I imagine the nature of your work is emotionally demanding. As somebody who faces structural barriers themselves, how do you take care of yourself adequately whilst also ensuring that others are taken care of as well?
I vent a lot to friends! For the team, we have processes and procedures are in place to make sure self-care takes place. 

Most of your work focuses on ensuring that children feel safe and heard; that their voices are central in the discussion, and ensuring that the adults around them hear the children. How important is it to prioritise the voices of children in general, considering the changing nature of how we communicate in the 21st century—be it online or otherwise?
Grooming of children has increased dramatically in online spaces.  Most adults don’t really know or understand the latest online game or social media that children and young people use. We don’t even download it and try to learn it.

So how can we speak with authority on the topic if we’re not listening to children and young people on how a particular game or app interacts with their lives, their social circles and world-view?

We, the adults, have the responsibility to protect children and young people. It’s not the children’s responsibility to protect themselves. How can we ensure that we are supporting children and young people if we’re not understanding the world they live in?

I saw you Tweet once that the 'only thing that empowers violence is silence'. The power of the #MeToo movement captures this phrase perfectly; revealing that, yes—the longer women are silenced, the longer violence prevails. Do you think the #MeToo movement has, in some ways, empowered children?
I think there needs to be a much more nuanced conversation about silence, and all the invisible barriers that prevent all of us from speaking out. Why is it that the victim of violence is expected to speak out? Why not the people around who can see that violence is happening?

Not everyone can say #metoo safely; whether that is because it might cost them jobs, or because there is no emotional support on the other end.

I think it’s better to say 'the only thing that empowers violence is the silence of the powerful and the privileged'.

I don’t think that #metoo has empowered many children, it’s quite a separate conversation. Movements like #metoo can indirectly empower children by forcing a change in policy and legislation.


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You’re a parent yourself. Has your child informed the way you engage with children and young people in your line of work?
Absolutely. I test all our products and resources on them first!

There has been a lot of discussion over the last few years about the autonomy of young children, and how—by ensuring that children get to decide who hugs, kisses or touches their bodies—they will form an invaluable understanding of consent in general. How do we stress this to older people, who begrudgingly refuse to see children as self-governing?
Change is hard for most people, especially if one feels like they’re being ordered. We share what we know with families and professionals, and if they can take away a few key messages and share the information with their communities, that’s great.

There is no cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all approach to body safety and protective behaviours.

Do you have any advice for emerging social entrepreneurs?
It’s hard and you will be doing the grunt work for a very long time, so make sure your systems and processes are written down for when you get a team.

Change is hard for most people, especially if one feels like they’re being ordered. We share what we know with families and professionals, and if they can take away a few key messages and share the information with their communities, that’s great.


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Who inspires you?
People who are curious, and always asking ‘Why is this the standard, and how can we do better?’

What are you currently listening to?

Kendrick Lamar.

What are you reading?
Sin Bravely: A Memoir of Spiritual Disobedience by Maggie Rowe.

How do you practice self-care?
I turn off my phone and computer for the whole weekend and cherish being an introvert. 

What does being Asian-Australian mean to you?
I think that’s quite complicated given that the Chinese have settled and flourished on stolen land. While we have faced discrimination (and still do) inside and outside of the community, we have access to many privileges that other people of colour do not.

We, Han-Chinese, have the social mobility to move very quickly into ‘middle-class’ territory, and yet there’s such a strong underlying attitude to be the next ‘white people’.

I think being Asian-‘Australian’ to me, means that we can do better for our fellow people of colour and First Nations people. 


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Interview by Madison Griffiths
Photographs by Leah Jing

2, InterviewLeah McIntosh