A friend of mine was about 14 when her Uncle touched her inappropriately for the first time. She was frightened. She was confused.
After the incident, my friend took some time to gather her thoughts. She bravely determined that someone needed to know, so she told her mother that “Uncle Jim has been touching my privates”.
On hearing her daughter describe what had happened, this girl’s mother did not sit down with her daughter to ask if she was ok. She did not pause to think about whether she needed more information. And this mother did not assure her daughter that police would be called, justice would be served, or that she would help her make things better.
Instead, her mother slapped her across the face, chastised her for saying such horrid things about her uncle, and threatened her it would be much worse if she said something like that to anyone ever again.
When I first heard my friend’s experience I could only say, “Huh?” I was dumbfounded. Would a parent really do that? Is protecting her brother’s “good name” more important than the safety and ongoing wellbeing of her daughter? Apparently so.
What would you imagine a 14 year-old might do in such a situation? Or a 10 year-old? Or a 6 year-old?
Would they be likely to tell someone else? Would they try to be heard again? Or would their confidence be broken, replaced by fear of recrimination and pain, with questions of self-worth, or with a belief that such inappropriate behaviour is actually normal? Or would they just give up, feeling like too many other victims that there is no point telling anyone because no one cares, it happens all the time, and it will only get worse?
Who are your child’s 5 safe adults?
Experts in child safety encourage parents to help their children identify 5 adults they might talk to if something bad happens to them, whether it is inappropriate touching (or worse), or other fears about safety. Those 5 adults could be parents, a school teacher, a church leader, a sport coach, a family friend, a police officer, an aunt, a grandparent, or the family doctor.
Whoever it is, children need to feel safe.
Sadly, the child in the situation I outlined above is unlikely to have had such conversations with her parents. But it only takes a few minutes to chat with our children about keeping our body safe, and feeling comfortable telling others if we feel unsafe.
What to tell your children
For parents who wish to teach their children about being safe, a brief conversation might include these points:
- My body is mine
- No one should ever touch the private parts of my body
- If someone tries to touch me in ANY way that makes me feel uncomfortable, I should yell “Stop it!”
- If a person tells me to keep touching a secret I should tell someone I can talk to safely
- If the person who touched me threatens to hurt me or other people I should still tell anyway
A good example
Another friend of mine told her dad that one of his friends had made her feel uncomfortable during his recent visit. He had said something about her body, and placed his hand on her inappropriately.
Her dad never had that man in his home again, and after speaking with him about the incident they never spoke again.
Guess which friend went on to have a better-adjusted, happier, childhood and adulthood? Our children need to have trusted adults who will listen to them and believe them – and who are willing to act for their safety. One safe adult ought to be enough. But more is better. Talk to your child about being safe today.
PS – Check out the children’s book, Some Secrets Should Never Be Kept for help in teaching your kids about staying safe, and talking with grown-ups if they’re afraid.