10 Questions with Robyn Salisbury


Q1: One doesn’t have to read too far into this book to see that it has been a passion project for you. What’s driven you?

I was compelled to produce this book by four powerful experiences all occurring in July 2017, within a couple of weeks. Prior to that I had no plans at all to write another book. Then suddenly, I was on a roll.


Q2: And books like this, on such a serious matter, are never easy. There will have been dark times. What kept you going?

Traditionally I’ve been someone who works alone but from its genesis, this book involved so many wonderful others I often felt it was being written through me. Further down the track when I was most deeply feeling the pain of the topic, it was my opening question: ‘How have we let this go on for so long?’ that carried me on. That and the beautiful, innocent faces of my grandsons and every other child I saw around me. I’ve become one of those older women who try to engage with every infant and child I see!


Q3: What were the moments that made it all worthwhile?

Reading the chapters from each contributor as they arrived and knowing for sure this was crucial information, another piece of the jigsaw puzzle.  Also the feedback when I gave a draft of my Destructive Sexual Behaviours chapter to a client who had been working so hard to address his out-of-control, destructive sexual behaviour (not child abuse). He said ‘Throughout this chapter I read about me. Until now I’ve never understood why I do this, I just thought I was hopeless/bad/hooked.’ Since then, he has made excellent progress.


Q4: It’s clearly a major undertaking. How long ago did you begin to think about it and work on it?

The whole book was produced in just over two years, however my first encounter with the topic of child sexual abuse was in my counselling training in the early 1980s so in some ways many decades of engagement with the resulting devastation on adult individuals and relationships underlies my drive.


Q5: The title, Free to be Children, will have been very well considered. Can you explain all the layers of meaning it has for you?

Being a pragmatic kind of person I’m usually pretty straight up in my communications. My working title was Tackling Child Sexual Abuse in Aotearoa. When the book was almost finished Kevin (my husband) and I were visiting our friends/colleagues Carol and Roy Bowden. Roy said he refused to buy books with negative titles, which opened a new door in my head. As we drove away I mulled over aspirational titles, coming up with Free to Be Themselves, which Katie Fitzpatrick of the University of Auckland, one of the contributors, refined to the title we settled on. Child trauma such as sexual abuse can shape, skew and inhibit child development in so many ways. Children are our taonga and our future, and each and every one of them deserves the right to become all they can be.


Q6: From the Chief Censor to those who work in the community, you have brought a remarkable group of experts together to write for this book. Were they all pleased to be part of it?

I was so very encouraged by the willingness to contribute and the networking that underlay that. Only two people I approached were unable to take part because of their hugely heavy workloads. It will be evident to readers that each contributor has brought not only their expertise but also their heart and soul to this book.


Q7: It’s pretty clear that you think that everyday New Zealanders don’t pay child sexual abuse enough attention and that our systems don’t sufficiently wrap around the issue. Why do you think that is?

It’s a scary topic that easily overwhelms, so denial is common. Who wants to think about a terrified child being raped? Traditionally there has been a very powerful backlash whenever the issue of child sexual abuse is brought to public attention. We are still far from being open, matter of fact and well-informed about any issue of sexuality. That’s high on the agenda for change! There will also be some who do not want their (destructive) power challenged. In many ways, children are powerless. They cannot drive change themselves, and they need us to do this for them.


Q8: What’s one thing you hope readers will take away from your book?

That they can make a difference. Readers will find it becomes clear what informed action is within their scope: personal, professional or both.


Q9: And what’s one new thing you learnt while writing it?

Only one? My most personal learning was the move from seeing myself as a little worker ant, beavering away within the field of sex therapy, doing all I thought I could to help New Zealanders become more at ease with their sexualities, to recognising that worker ants achieve massive intelligence and strength by working collectively.


Q10: Proud of it?

I’m stunningly delighted and proud of this book and the great country in which I had the good fortune to be born and live my life.