A couple of months ago my 11-year old son overheard me talking about an incident that occurred when I lived in Europe in my 20s. I wasn't explicit while I was talking to my husband but my son picked up on enough to ask me some questions. Because I do my best to be honest with him, I tried to answer his questions instead of deflecting. And that's when I had to figure out how to explain why a man would approach two girls sitting on an empty train, expose himself and complete a sexual act on himself. That was tricky to explain. Mostly because I can't ask his biggest question which was, "Why would he do that?"
The takeaway from our conversation? I'm still not so sure. I told him that I felt awful and vulnerable and I was angry that I reacted in exactly the way I'm sure made that man happy. I told him that I could still hear my scream and that it was unlike any scream I had ever before or since let out. I told him that I was scared and jumpy for a week as I rode public transportation. I didn't feel safe and I was hyper aware of anyone around me. What do I hope he heard? I hope he knows that it's okay to talk about things that scare us and that aren't right. I hope he knows it's not okay to make others feel the way that I felt. But possibly, the best thing that came out of this conversation was that I was open and honest with him and it was hopefully building both trust and understanding.
That story is one of several that could have prompted me to write #MeToo on Twitter or Facebook this week. I didn't share it for reasons I won't go into in this blog post BUT I am glad I shared it in a discussion with my oldest son and plan to have similar conversations with my daughters when I feel like they are at an age where they can understand and it will have some value. Because I do think there is some value to sharing things like this as strange as that may sound.
If you are like me, I read many friends and strangers post #MeToo and it's taken a lot to process it all. Just as #YesAllWomen had me reading story after story, #MeToo had me reading about men and women who had been victims of sexual harassment or sexual assault. I didn't quite know if and how to have any conversations with my kids as a result.
Then I read one more #MeToo story that was shared on social media.
Click image to enlarge. Read on Twitter here.
I have a 7-year old daughter who is entering the world of competitive gymnastics. I have already been aware of allegations of abuse in USA Gymnastics and we've had talks about how to protect our daughter because of it. But after reading McKayla's #MeToo post, I thought it was again time to have a chat with my daughter. Tonight, I brought up the topic of what kind of touching is okay and what is not okay. She promptly replied, "it's okay if it's the doctor". Queue alarms blaring in my head. McKayla's perpetrator was her doctor. And this is when I had to explain to my daughter in no uncertain terms that doctors have limits. We've been having talks about good touch - bad touch since before they could even speak in full sentences. But that's not enough. Now, I have to expand that conversation. I need to have these conversations where I can tell them there is not blanket permission for anyone to touch them.
McKayla gives her thoughts on where to begin changing this culture and it translates perfectly into ways you can teach your kids skills to prevent sex abuse.
I mentioned that I talked to my kids about their body parts and privacy before they could even speak. It may sound silly but even when they were in diapers, I told them things like, "I'm just going to change your diaper now", knowing they had zero comprehension. Why? Because it got me in the habit of telling them what I was doing when I was near their private parts. As they grew older, those conversations turned into asking for permission when helping them change or to wash their body. This type of interaction prepared them to expect an adult to be respectful of their privacy and their body parts.
Not only do they need to know that there are boundaries for touching, they need to understand that not only should others not be touching them, they should not be asked to touch others' private parts. This includes photos! Take any opportunity to remind kids of boundaries and whenever there is another story in the news, take it is a reminder to continue the conversation. It is not a one-time kind of conversation.
Makalay writes that "People, Institutions, Organizations, especially those in power, etc. need to be held accountable for their inappropriate behavior and actions." As a parent, how can we hold others accountable for inappropriate behavior and actions? Once way is to begin now being an advocate for children within your community. Seek out groups working to prevent child abuse and learn more about what to do if a child does disclose abuse. A great resource is Darkness to Light where you can see events and training courses near you. Take accountability upon yourself to learn more as a parent to be pro-active in protecting your children and children in the community.
Education and Prevention
The Mama Bear Effect has loads of education intended to empower children of all ages with the goal of preventing abuse, creating stronger families and safer communities. Keep talking about this. Keep it in the conversation with your neighbors, friends and family. There are many tools to prevent sex abuse, too many to list in this post. You just need to access those tools and use them.
Don't forget to check your local sex offender registry regularly to be aware of offenders near your home. When my son wanted to walk to and from the bus stop alone, I also learned that there was a convicted violent sex offender living three houses down from the bus stop. While I didn't know the details of his case, and understand that it shouldn't send me into hysterics, it made me aware. From that point, I made the personal decision that it was worth sticking close by and to be at the bus stop with him. I know that the likelihood of something happening was extremely minimal but I also explained the reasoning to my son. If anything, it taught him that my actions were an effort to protect him and the other kids at the bus stop.
Makayla ends her suggestions for change with the statement, "Have zero tolerance for abusers and those who protect them." Not long ago, I watched a discussion live on Facebook about preventing sex abuse. A mother had discovered her child had been abused by a family member. She knew that cutting this person out of her life meant cutting many other family members out as well. Although painful, she knew that she had to put her child first. And that is bottom line.
Read more on Today's Mama: