Reactions to another post, Protecting our children from sexual abuse

I read this post at another blog and had so many reactions to it. Some were very intense, and I was not able to immediately write and share. I am finally ready. Thank you to Morven for posting such a difficult, but important topic.

Please note, my intention is not to agree or disagree, but to share my point of view after reading something like this as an adult survivor of childhood sexual abuse, and as a mother of young children. I’m going to copy and comment on parts here, but you can read the original at the link below.

http://morvensblog.wordpress.com/2012/09/13/protecting-our-children-from-sexual-abuse/#comment-1068

Teach children to use the proper names of their body parts. Just as you teach your children to call their nose a nose, they need to know what to call their private parts. This knowledge gives children the correct language needed for understanding their bodies, for asking questions they might have, expressing concern about parts of their body, and for telling about any behavior regarding sexual abuse.

I did not grow up in a world where the proper names were proper. As a child, I certainly knew the proper names for vagina and penis, but I would have been scolded or punished for using those “dirty words”. Those words tend to make people uncomfortable and can actually distract from the conversation. I am still uncomfortable using those terms with children. As a teacher, I used the general term “private parts” when necessary to avoid embarrassing kids – or myself – further. It just is not reasonable to ask a 1st grader who slipped on the playground if she hurt her vagina. So we need to have common words, but depending on the age, social situation, and location, sometimes the proper names may not be needed. My own children, still young elementary and preschool aged, call it a “pee-pee” or a “pee-er”. Because that is what it does – it pees. They can also say crotch, privates, butt, boobs, behind, chest, etc. Lots of words, and never any confusion. My eldest niece was raised with the proper terms, and made everyone uncomfortable by asking loudly “why the dog was licking its penis?” at age 3. Socially, it just makes us uncomfortable to hear those words from children, and I think that is ok. As long as you have a word that you and the child understand and everyone is comfortable using, this can vary by family. 

Teach children to set boundaries. Have a child practice moving your hand away from their body within a simple safe touch (like a shoulder or hand) and saying something like, “please stop.” This prepares children to set boundaries with a more uncomfortable or dangerous type of touch. Teach kids that it’s okay to say “NO” to touches or situations that make them feel uncomfortable. You might also consider having them practice interrupting a busy adult to say, “I need help.”

This one bothered me greatly. Just reading this paragraph filled me with fear, anxiety, and anger. Why? A few reasons, but perhaps mainly the thought of even pretending to inappropriately touch my own child, to make them uncomfortable, does not seem right. I could never do this. My young children would not understand anyway. Touching their shoulder and having them say stop will not prepare them for someone all of a sudden touching their privates.  Now we do enforce that “Stop” means stop and support and empower whoever says stop. More so with the siblings wrestling or tickling, that they need to respect each other and stop immediately.  I understand this suggestion, but would never actually do this. Just reading this, made me remember actually saying “stop” and “no” to my brother and my father, who both molested me during my childhood. But these words only work on people that already respect boundaries. They were useless to me as a child. The only way I could actually stop them from touching me, was to leave the room, and that was not always possible. And I didn’t even know I could actually leave the room, or even should leave the room until I was much older. When I was in preschool, I did not understand the sexuality part, and did not even feel uncomfortable enough to say no to Daddy. It was just how he touched me. In preschool, my privates did not seem any different from my knee tickle, or a tummy raspberry, and if Daddy wanted to touch me, I didn’t really care. I remember liking the attention and feeling very special that Daddy loved me so much, and only me. It took a few more years for me to realize what he was really doing. And not until my twenties to fully realize the extent of his grooming, brainwashing and abuse of me. This may be shocking to some. But when you don’t know it is wrong, you just don’t know it is wrong.

I have often thought what happened to me, and how it could have been prevented. But I always come up blank. My Dad knew exactly how to control his family, and orchestrated every step. Could my mom have helped me? If she had done some of these suggestions? If she had talked to me? Well, I think if Mom had talked to me, or actually, had listened to me – ever – then my whole life could have been different. But by the tame I came around, the youngest child, into a family already so dysfunctional, with dad as supreme being and everyone else bowing down to him, Mom just barely survived herself. She did not know exactly what happened in my room. Should she have? Well, I say yes, but, to move on with my life, I can’t just blame her for not stepping in, not following dad when he left her bed each night, for keeping her blinders on. We all feared making daddy angry. Mom was also a victim, and so could not always be a mom. I do think she knows he went into my room, but I have to believe she did not imagine he was capable of molesting me and never thought she needed to protect me from that.  I am not excusing her completely, just trying to explain how complicated living with a brilliant, pedophilic, psychopathic father really was.

that no one is to touch them in their private areas—and that their private areas are the areas their bathing suit covers. Teach them that the “safety rule” is that other people should not be touching or looking at their private parts unless they need to in order to provide care (like a doctor)—and even in those cases, a parent of trusted caregiver should be there with them. Explain to the child that “you need to tell me if anyone—no matter who it is, or how much we love them—breaks this safety rule and touches you inappropriately.” Also explain kids that it is unacceptable for someone else to use manipulation, blackmail, coercion, control, etc to get them touch someone else’s body.

Yes, absolutely! Except for the last sentence. Children don’t understand those concepts, or even those words. Possibly for teenagers, not my little ones. And the problem here, is that my dad made it clear he was the only one supposed to be touching me. My mom never told me that “no one” was to touch me.  I never told anyone when I was little because Daddy told me it was alright. Now my Mom never told me these things, she never told me much, other than not to interrupt her and other grownups. So I do wonder if she had known to tell me this, would it have helped? I’m thinking no, because I think it would have been impossible for a 3 year old to mistrust her dad. Daddy was always right. Always. So these suggestions may help older children, which I think many people assume sexual abuse happens to girls who are sexy, but pedophiles start grooming quite young. Way before sexy.

that their bodies belong to them and they can make choices related to the boundaries of their bodies.Let children know that it is okay for them to decline a friendly hug or kiss, even from a friend or family member they love. Making kids feel obligated to kiss or hug people when they don’t want to, sends the signal that they must use their bodies to make others happy or that they are responsible for the emotional state of others.If your child doesn’t want to sit on Uncle Joe’s lap and read a book, or if he doesn’t want to kiss Gramma or hug family friend Phil goodbye, don’t force the child. Teach your child multiple ways of greeting people, like high-fives and hand-shakes…or do like the Bromley’s and pass out fist-bump-explosions. 

I do follow that one. My kids have never been required to hug, kiss, sit on laps. Not Grandma, not Auntie, not even Santa. We encourage affection, but respect boundaries. If a kiddo wants to hide behind me while a very loud Auntie seeks out a way too big kiss, well, then, I am happy to be a physical boundary to enforce that psychological boundary. I remember being forced to kiss relatives goodnight and sit on all kinds of laps as a child. It was never my choice what to do with my body, and how or when to express affection. I never learned to be affectionate, only to follow commands. Even now, I don’t naturally feel like hugging anyone, even my own kids sometimes I must remind myself to touch them, that they need it, and it is ok. Once I do, it feels right, and we get all snuggly. But it is not automatic for me. I learned very young that affection was to be hidden, kept secret, or “special” as daddy said.

I decided to finally share this post today because my daughter asked me last night what “sex” is. What??? Panic. Sweat. Die. Run. Smile stupidly while brain races for an answer.

(So I froze up at first, wanted to die rather than answer this, but somehow managed to ask her where she heard the word.  Girly reads many years above her grade level, so characters in her books are older than her. Hmmm. She said someone read a book in her book, and said “it was OK but needed more sex” . I then provided a simple answer based on her context. I said “It is what mommies and daddies, or husbands and wives do together to show they love each other”. She said, ” Oh, like kissing?” I said “yes”. She was satisfied, so I stopped there. I know more will be needed. I hope I did ok for now. I hope she continues to ask me questions, but really I don’t want her to at all. Deep breath. OK. I did it. And I didn’t die.

Oh man, my babies are growing up. I need strength and guidance to continue raising these kiddos, prepare them, love them, guide them, empower them. I am going to make mistakes. But it seems that if the mistakes come from love, then it all works out eventually. Life is meant to be a bumpy ride. So we can’t remove the bumps, but we can give our kids helmets and bandages.

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8 thoughts on “Reactions to another post, Protecting our children from sexual abuse

  1. To be perfectly honest, I couldn’t read much of this post…my reactions are a lot like your initial ones. I did, however, read the end about your daughter and wanted to cheer for you!! My guy is autistic so I suspect the questions will have to be answered for him without him asking, which is utterly terrifying to me. I think you gave your girl an appropriate answer that leaves room for more explaining later, when she’s ready. (way to go!!)

    • Yes, I often think of you and your little guy, and how everything will be just a bit different for you and him. You will have to guide him a bit more perhaps, and like you said, anticipate his questions and needs. No problem not reading it all, I do that with many posts, keep myself from sinking in too far.

  2. Using proper terms would work if everyone used it. They don’t. I like your perspective to teach them words that are comfortable and understandable.

    Saying “No” doesn’t have to be to inappropriate touch. Respecting a child’s “No” to things that aren’t so important will translate to the more important stuff. If their “no” isn’t respected in the little things, they won’t believe it will be respected in anything. To children, everything is important. Including saying “no” to unwanted attention.

    One of my friends taught their children that secrets are meant to be told, no matter what. Surprises are also meant to be told, but they have a time limit. This way they could plan a surprise party, but no one could trap them with a secret.

    Great responses, R2B. 🙂

    • Good point. We need to let children have a voice for everything, big and small, so they know it matters when they say no to anything. As parents, we do have to ignore those no’s many times, and do what we know is best. I often try to explain why, but sometimes you just can’t with little ones. Like when they need vaccinations, and the kid says no and kicks and fights, but I decided it is best for them, so we hold them still for a shot. I hate doing this, using my power to hold them still and make them feel so small.

      • Oh… makes me remembering having to take my dog to the vet and how afraid she always was. It was always such a traumatic day of the year for both of us, and there was no way to explain to her how important it was. You’re right; sometimes you have to say, “No” and hold to the decision. With my dog, I would give her choices between toys and treats and even which direction we went on walks or when we headed back. I tried to never give her a choice I wasn’t willing to accept. 🙂 You really are doing an a great job. Go you!!

  3. You make very good points in this post and they apply to other types of abuse (such as psychological, etc) too. We all think that what goes on in our families of origin is normal until we grow up and start comparing with others. It’s very hard to explain to people who did not grew up in such environments because it is so alien to them. I’m glad you spoke up. It takes a lot of courage to tell the truth. I think you’re doing a great job with your kids. I loved what you wrote on the previous post about making house chores fun. I was thinking how lovely for your kids to have such happy memories when they grow up and have to look after their own houses and families.

  4. Pingback: Keeping Your Body Safe From Sexual Abuse « bummyla

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