Category: Sexual Abuse

My Body is a Gift Discussions: Page 17

Just as the initial pages of this book about body appreciation and body care are the foundation for healthy sexuality, this page teaches the foundational principle around prevention of sexual coercion.  The concept that my body is my own and I have a right to determine how others interact physically with me is key to standing up for oneself and not being victimized.  This may end up making changes in your family dynamics around physical affection.  It certainly did in my family when I realized the subtle messages that were, or could be, sent to my children.  Some of the messages in these examples may initially feel extreme, but is is the consistent subtle messages that give children the underlying foundation for how they live their lives.  Every message counts.

  • Give your sister a hug.  I know you’re mad but just make up.  (The message: Others get to decide what I do with my body, not me).
  • Grandma/Other Adult: Give me a kiss.  Oh come on, it’ll make me feel bad if you don’t.  (The message: Other people’s feelings are more important than yours, and if they’ll feel bad if you don’t do something physical that you don’t want to do, you better just do it.  The especially dangerous part of this is the family/well known component—not many of us would try to convince our child to hug/kiss a stranger—since most sexual abuse is perpetrated by family or someone well known to the child.)
  • Girls chasing a boy on the playground trying to kiss him.  “Oh, it’s fine, they’re just playing.”  (The message: It’s okay to sexually assault someone if it is billed as “fun and games.”)
  • Boys chasing girls on the playground to pull their pigtails.  “Boys will be boys.”  (The message: By virtue of being male it is acceptable to physically assault others. This is important in teaching healthy sexuality because if a boy learns always to respect others’ bodies he will not ever get in a space to be sexually coercive.  He will also have learned to reject out of hand the vast majority of pornography because of its violent nature.)

Make a family plan of how to respond when a child doesn’t want to physically engage with someone else.  What should they say?  What should they do?  Can they come find you and talk to you about it if someone is persistent?

Have a family discussion about the culture in your family.  Is there anything you want to change?  We simply started repeating to our children, especially in their interactions with each other, “I get to choose who touches me.”  This reminded them of this concept when they were poking each other to be annoying, wrestling without consent, etc.

I Thought Kindergarten Was Safe…

I’m including this school abuse incident with permission, as there are valuable insights for parents, whether or not their child has experienced this type of situation.

A mom, who attended one of my presentations and who has been reading my book with her children, wrote me (we’ll call her Amy).  She asked her oldest, a kindergartner, about school and her little girl (we’ll call her Bonnie) said a boy in class had pushed her down and touched her “privates,” but Bonnie said it wasn’t a big deal because he didn’t seem dangerous.

Amy was able to stay calm on the outside (while freaking out inside) thanks to what she had learned in my presentation, and gathered information from Bonnie.  Bonnie said she was afraid to tell her teacher or other adults at school because she was afraid they would get mad at her.  What a blessing she had just read My Body Is a Gift From God, which reinforces to children that their parents will never be mad at them for others’ choices.  With my help Amy recognized that while Bonnie had said it “wasn’t a big deal” and she didn’t feel danger, Bonnie really did think it was a big deal because she had been afraid of others’ responses.  She was downplaying her own emotions and own internal voice to avoid others’ judgement.  I pointed her to the last follow-up discussion question in the book where it helps parents explain to their children the importance of feelings and intuition about their body.

Amy was able to use the book to reinforce other concepts with Bonnie as well:

  • She gets to decide who touches, hugs, or kisses her.
  • No one touches the private areas of her body unless her parents are helping her taking care of her body (like parents helping bathe, or a doctor giving a check-up with a parent present).
  • Always telling parents if someone touches her, even if it feels difficult to tell.
  • Her parents will always love her and help keep her safe.  They will never be mad at her, or think it’s her fault.

We also discussed other safeguards and helpful conversations:

  • Formulating a plan and role-playing what Bonnie can do in the future if this type of situation happens again:  Tell the person loudly/firmly to stop and push them away.  Run away, tell a teacher and ask to call mommy right away!  (If your child has not experienced this before, a plan is still very important).
  • Reinforce (because she had downplayed the event and thought others would be mad at her–indicating a potential level of guilt/fault) that she has NOTHING to feel guilty or ashamed of.  It was in no way her fault.  Whether or not a child seems to feel guilt or shame, reinforcing this concept is very important because often children will not express these feelings.
  • Reinforce many times a recognition of her feelings and her own intuition.  Even though Bonnie initially said it wasn’t a big deal and didn’t feel like a dangerous situation, I recommended her mother help her recognize feelings and intuition she had:  “I can see that you didn’t feel it was quite right, because you thought people would be upset with you if you told them.  You knew something was wrong–and you were right!  (Something was wrong with the situation, not you, and it wasn’t your fault).”  Discussing this with Bonnie can help her recognize her instinct and intuition (or God’s spirit communicating with her).  That is an essential part of protection in the future.  When she can recognize that her body, mind, and God were saying it wasn’t right, it will make sense to her to push people away/yell/run as she learned from the book and her parents.  She will recognize that she is standing up for herself and what her body knows is right, and what God was telling her.
  • Get Bonnie into Play Therapy.  Even if she seems fine, children often hold the incident deep inside.  Age-appropriate therapy (play therapy) will help her heal.
  • Email the school and keep records of the exchanges.  “I’m just following up with you about the situation with my daughter.  You may remember I came to you/called/emailed on X day to tell you X.  My daughter said X happened (all details).  You took X action.  Can you confirm this has happened?  Can you send me documentation of the reporting done?  What other actions are required by policy when this type of thing happens?  Have those things happened?  Are there any other precautions you are taking?  Thank-you so much for helping me understand the process of reporting and prevention and of helping to protect the children at the school and getting help for those who need it.”  This is legally admissible evidence, which likely you will not use, but it tells them you are serious and you want them to be diligent in following through with their policies.   And they will.  This helps both the school and you.  And thanking them helps them to realize you’re not loaded for bear and looking for a chance to prosecute–you just want to make sure everything is done to help all of the children involved.

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