“We’ve got to pick our battles. If everyone who could help did help, what a difference we would make in this world.”
Natalia Perry is not your typical ‘save the world’ Samaritan, which is perhaps what makes her authentic. There is no ego, no desire for thanks or fanfare. She simply gets on and does what she does, selflessly, with a dash of humour, lots of love and a passion that has overcome mountains to get there.
Natural and authentic, Natalia Perry
Founder of Safe Childhood’s Foundation, Natalia is as real as they get. Someone who can clearly see good and evil to the point that in order to protect herself, she needs to put on blinkers 50% of the time. She likens it to the child in the Sixth Sense who sees dead people she says, laughing at her analogy. In short, Natalia is a gem in the fabric of life, carefully stitched into the different threads and colours to bring beauty and hope to a world she sees, that would bring most of us to tears on a daily basis.
We met Natalia yesterday for over two hours. This stretched into more casual conversation as the skies darkened. Her wit, strength and maturity were steady and we could see that Natalia is a constant. Nothing is an act. She is naturally diplomatic, very aware of her role in what she has created, and with a sharp sense of what needs to be done to ensure her ‘big’ vision becomes reality.
Natalia gives children who have been sexually abused a language. She gives them space to describe the horrors that have happened to them. In short, she gives. This blog is a snippet of that meeting. We will write more in Bali Soul Journals, but here is a cameo of a woman who is as inspirational as she is nurturing. Let me introduce you to Natalia.
Protecting our children
We are all aware of sex slavery, sexual abuse, exploitation. We all know it happens across the globe – daily, weekly, monthly, incessantly. We speak of it in hushed voices. People like Natalia make us weep when they speak at Rotary meetings or fundraisers. We dab at our eyes, wish it could all be stopped tomorrow, and we head on to the next charity.
This may sound cynical, but it’s reality. And Natalia pulls no punches when I ask her how she feels about the amount spent on say, cancer, when our planet’s children are being abused. “One in three of us will be effected directly or indirectly by cancer in our lifetime”, she explains. “But the statistics are the same for sexual abuse.” So with such alarming facts, it’s little wonder that she feels frustration at a global issue that she can only describe as “the tip of the iceberg” in terms of her help. Even in Indonesia.
“It’s my calling to go in and get them out”, she admits.
“Do you cry very often?” I ask.
“I used to”, she smiles. Now she is able to work with the end in sight – the faces of children who have resolution, with the perpetrator being prosecuted, or at the least, with the child being removed from harm to a safe place.
A calling to help
It’s natural to want to know why Natalia went down this route in the first place. She’s set this journey for her whole life, not just for a short career or part-time role to help her feel she’s making a difference. This is serious stuff and can’t be dabbled with in a half-hearted fashion. She lives with security around her every moment, needs to meet in public places and has heard and seen of images that even I didn’t want to explore with her. They are simply just too shocking.
When Natalia was seven years old growing up in the United Kingdom, it was the time when Bono was out to save the starving children, it was on the news nightly. And every night when she sat down to dinner, her parents would insist she watch the news. Images of children in Africa, painfully thin with bulging tummies and frightened eyes staring back at her. Those children stayed with her in her mind and she knew that somehow, someday, she needed to fill the haunted faces with love and joy.
But at 14 she discovered ponies, and like most teenagers, was distracted. She was blessed that her parents paid for her to have lessons, and began to see an instructor each week.
One day, he pulled her into a room and closed the door. In that moment, she saw the terror of a portion of humanity. In that instance, he changed from the caring and affable teacher, to a monster. And on that day, she understood the way in which a predator grooms its victim. Natalia had begun her training in sexual offender behaviour and in victim reactions. Unfortunately, necessary in order to be effective in the work she now chooses to do.
When she got home that night, dropped off by her assailant, she stood at the top of the stairs and listened to him tell her mother that she was doing okay, but definitely needed more lessons. As her mother served him a cup of tea, I can only imagine what ran through the mind of this abused 14-year-old girl.
She faced the emotions that most victims feel, particularly after a grooming period which is by design intended to manipulate you to feel guilt, shame, and importantly, to keep the secret.
So, she did.
She didn’t tell her mother until she was 17, a promise to herself that she’d made, to do on her 17th birthday.
Natalia imagined her mother would be in shock, hold her, comfort her, say sorry that these things had happened to her, race her to the police station to bring the offender to justice. But instead, her mother retorted that this must stay a secret, that the family could not risk the shame of being dragged through courts, that the police would not believe her and that they would be awful.
So Natalia’s secret was safe, just as he had planned it.
Committed to the journey
“There’s always the voice in your head, ‘It’s not going to work!‘ ” Natalia is like all of us who hear that voice when we pursue something we are passionate about it. But the difference between those who succeed and those who fail is what Bali Soul Journals is exploring. And Natalia’s journey so far is already one of success and achievement – not for herself, but for others.
And I think that this is part of the reason people like Natalia do succeed. Ego is put aside and purpose is clear. As I wrote in my article about Jack Canfield, defining purpose is a light bulb moment. Some of us need help to get there, to track back to what we love and care about. Natalia has carried her purpose her entire life. At just over 30, she knows with absolute certainty what she will be doing for the rest of her life.
Natalia is married, and describes her husband as her rock. “Although”, she laughs, “I’m not going to say I couldn’t do it without him! I could! …but he is highly supportive.” Her husband is an orthopedic surgeon, a skilled man who has studied medicine for 14 years. And there is no doubt that there is a bond and affection between them that cocoon Natalia when she gets home at night after being witness to the horrors of her day.
Natalia’s commitment is nothing short of remarkable. She has one, two, five and ten-year plans. For someone who’s only just entered her 30’s, she has a life mapped out that will eventually take her to Africa where she plans to build another Sanctuary which will protect and support Child Soldiers, continuing the vision she held when she was just seven years old.
Even death no longer haunts her. Instead, she sees the transition as being something that is positive, that can empower children. I ask her what she means. I’m not prepared for her answer.
“A lot of these children want to die.”
That’s a lot to take in. Children wanting to die is the end of life, surely. If we live in and condone a culture that has part of it wanting to leave before they are even grown, what hope is there for us as a planet of spiritual beings?
She goes on to explain.
The children who witness the death can see that they have climbed out of the blackened box, they have survived. And with rituals such as planting, sending the soul on its journey, and openly talking about the passing, other children are given hope.
If you’re ready to dance, dance
Natalia is experienced working with victims in the UK, part of her self-guided training. She deliberately took on roles which would help her for the challenge ahead. She even worked with sex offenders in prison, but after six months declared that she had had enough training, and left. “I decided it’s not my job to be a psychologist for the pimps.” But this insight, plus her own experience, was all necessary for her to understand the minds and workings of a crime ring that is carefully orchestrated around the world by often powerful people.
The Safe Childhoods sanctuary is going to be, to her knowledge, one of the first of its kind. Rather than using what she calls with disdain, the “talking therapies”, she will use methods that will connect to the child in a way that helps them safely move through the painful images of the past so that they can have relationships, function, have children, and live again with joy.
She explains that in Western cultures, there is an aversion to many therapies that she will introduce. For example, in the UK and Australia, victims are encouraged to only report it if they feel comfortable. Natalia disagrees, saying that for many, getting justice, or karma, is an essential part of the healing process. Her own perpetrator has not been brought to justice, something she has to live with, knowing with full certainly that he is continuing to do what he did to her. It’s a chilling thought. However she was 27 when she reported it.
Contrary to her mother’s statements, the police were kind and compassionate. But they were unable to act, as her mother was on her death-bed and was the only person who could give a statement of first complaint, something necessary in the absence of any other evidence. Ordinarily, what is known as “prior consistent statements” are not admissible as they constitute hearsay. In other words, a witness can’t give an account of what someone else has said. In general, it doesn’t make it more true, just because someone else heard it. The person who said it needs to say it for themselves. But due to the nature of sexual offences, a prior statement made about an attack are an exception to this rule, as it supports that something did happen.
They will introduce abused horses at the sanctuary. By seeing anger in an animal, and by being part of the healing of the animal, it gives children the ability to connect with what’s happened to them, to see the mirror, and to begin the healing process.
Touch therapy is also something that Natalia wants to introduce and is currently looking for authentic, trained people who can help with this. Victims need to gain trust of humans again. Natalia describes how the Western system is set up…a desk, a plant and a box of tissues. “How can that help a victim?” she asks. Her approach is different. Day one, sitting apart from them. Day two a little closer, day three perhaps touching.
“When you’re ready to talk, they will talk. When you’re ready to dance, dance.”
It’s not about interrogation, it’s about understanding that the victim is taking you to a place that only they have been, down the stairs into a darkened room, into a black box, and closing the lid after them. It’s only you and them in the box, witness to what I likened to a movie on a screen, painfully played back in stereo.
The aim is to help them out of the black room, dark box, movie theatre, and shut the door, close the lid. Yes, they know that they will have to return to that place, but there is a door that can be slammed, and with the passing of time, at any time when wanted.
It’s about giving them something that helps them to open up, it gives them a language. She laughs as she reflects on what some critics might say about “when we threw the book out of the window“.
I have a feeling she will listen quietly, and keep doing what she is doing, because she knows it works.
Natalia is what she describes as a spiritual atheist. She was brought up by her Christian mother, although her dad was an atheist.
At the age of four, even though she didn’t understand what one was, she declared to an assembly at her Christian primary school that she too, was an aetheist. She knew the feeling of having religion enforced on you and rejected that notion.
But she does believe in the energies of the universe, in karma, in metaphysics. And she feels certain that by the time she is old and grey, metaphysics will have an explanation, science will be able to support it as being real.
I ask how what has happened in her own life has shaped her spirit and soul.
“I no longer wear rose-tinted glasses”, she says and shrugs. “I know how horrible humanity can be.”
One of her poignant insights into the future is that one day, her charity will no longer be the golden child. One day, when the full extent of sexual slavery in Indonesia is revealed, there will be people who don’t want to hear about it. And she is planning for this, ensuring that funding can continue even if the original supporters leave. It’s hard to imagine they would, but Natalia is practical.
Bali relies on tourism, she explains, and there is an aversion to anything bad about Bali.
But she is also smart, and diplomatic. However she doesn’t rely on these attributes in stopping criticism down the track. “Bali, Paradise Island. No-one wants the paradigm ruined.” She knows that people will try to silence her, shut her down. In the name of protecting tourism perhaps, but more likely in the name of protecting the crimes she longs to end.
Natalia is currently working on 12 projects. One is a new centre for street kids. Morgana Cocoon (of Cocoon Bar and Restaurant in Seminyak) and Melanie Rich (Centrestage, Bali) held a Kids 4 Kids day earlier this year. These generous women quickly managed to raise over $5,000 in a day that helped make this a reality. Some of the children you might see begging on Sunset Road in Bali attend this centre. Slowly, they are getting an education. The vision is that the mothers can work in productive roles in the workshop and no longer need to place their children at risk by begging.
Everyday, these kids are approached directly or indirectly for sex. It might be by a cab driver with a white man sitting in the back. Or on the street. But it is happening, and it’s happening in Bali. The public perception is that it only happens in Thailand or Cambodia, but with Bali being a short hop from countries like Australia, with processes that make apprehension difficult, it is little wonder it is a target.
What can we do as guests in Bali to help the kids on the street, who are at risk of becoming victims themselves? Natalia will bring out a leaflet soon that lists three simple requests. It is called “How to be a good tourist”. Here is a summary of what Natalia requests.
1. Don’t feed the cycle. By giving money, you are helping the street kids continue on the streets and therefore, helping keep them at risk.
2. Orphanages aren’t zoos. Don’t go and get your Facebook check-in or social media image posing with orphans. They are people. You wouldn’t do it in your own country, you wouldn’t be allowed, for very good reason. Don’t do it in Bali.
We sit chatting with Natalia well into the night. She is warm, honest, passionate and blazingly smart. I am blown away by her articulation; she can explain things in a way that paints pictures. In short, her command of English, her self-training, her perception and insights, all combine into a formidable woman. Someone who just does what she does, not wanting accolades, not with Ego, not wanting applause. She just does it.
When she laughs, she throws her head back. When she talks to you, her eyes are steady and warm, as though she is consciously wrapping you in her energy. She makes you feel good, aware, and connected. This is a woman who will be able to face criticism if it hits. To deflect unwanted attention diplomatically. And to be a true advocate for the rights of children in Indonesia.
Warm thanks to Natalia for her honesty, openness and warmth. You are an inspiration x
And on behalf of the childrens’ souls on this planet, thank you. You give them a sanctuary, somewhere to love and be loved. And more importantly, a voice, when their’s has been silenced.
This is just an excerpt of the full article that will appear in Bali Soul Journals. To reserve your copy, send an email to the link below.
How to help
There is an urgent need for extra funding for several Safe Childhoods projects. If you would like to support Safe Childhoods or make a donation, please contact the team at email@example.com.
More information on their projects will be shared in Bali Soul Journals however there is also much more information at their website by following the above link.
If you wish to become a global guardian, click here.
Photography by Trish McNeill. Text by Clare McAlaney. All rights reserved 2013.
Please use the contact form below if you would like to use this article or photos, or if you would like to commission your own article based on the interview with Natalia Perry. Please note that any money earned by commissioned articles will be donated to the Foundation and can be done so directly.
- Sex abuse in schools: the parents who want a change to the law (guardian.co.uk)
- What is Listed on the Arizona Sex Offender Registry? (local.answers.com)
- Sweep snares 255 suspected child predators, rescues 61 children, officials say (usnews.nbcnews.com)
- Aceh Man Faces 20 Years for Rape, Murder of 6-Year-Old Girl (thejakartaglobe.com)