Thinking. Protecting children from adults

I've been doing a little bit of reading on sexual abuse by clergy for a project I'm working on with a friend, and came across this site with loads of information.

I thought the below was useful to think about in terms of how we equip our children to protect themselves from abuse, should it ever start happening to them - God forbid - so I've pinched the entire page. If you want to read it in it's context, here it is.


Protection Skills

As we realise more and more that sexual abuse is happening everywhere, we also learn that there are specific things we can teach our children in order to protect them from being abused. Many of these factors, though, are aimed at combating abuse itself, rather than changing the structure of what we teach our children.

That is, we teach our children things that help them recognise abuse when it is happening, and hopefully rebuff an abusive advance, but we don' t teach them things that will enable them to reject the structures of adult authority that enable abuse to continue.

While we omit this factor in our teaching, we are expecting our children to resist the power of adults in one situation, while not giving them any encouragement to do so in others. It's not enough to teach our children to resist abuse, if we don't also empower them. For instruction on the basics of how and when to teach your child about what abuse is, ask your local school, who should be teaching a child protection course. For further details, keep reading.

We teach our children a number of things, often almost unconsciously, that perpetuate the structures within which abuse functions. We teach them that:

  • when you're hurt, it was something you did that caused it eg. "well, if you hadn't been running so fast you wouldn't have fallen over" or "if you'd been more careful, you wouldn't have broken your leg". This teaching reinforces the perception of responsibility that victims of abuse hold, and consequently perpetuates their silence.
  • when there's conflict, the adult's opinion takes precedence over the child's eg. "because I said so" or "just do as you're told". This only constrains children in an abusive situation to do as the adult tells them, rather than listen to their own feelings of discomfort.
  • they shouldn't tell an adult that the adult is wrong eg. "it's none of your business" or "don't you tell me what to do!" The effect of this is to make it almost impossible for a child to tell an abusive adult that what they're doing is wrong.
  • they shouldn't listen to their fears eg. "don't be silly, there's nothing to be afraid of". The effect of this is to cause children to repress their fears in an abusive situation, even if they have been taught to recognise them.
  • they should always be physically affectionate when it's socially required (such as when greeting grandparents) whether they feel like it or not. This teaches the children that they should be physically affectionate when an adult expects it, even when they feel uncomfortable about it.
  • attention-getting behaviour is bad and should be ignored. This only causes a child in need of help to keep quiet, rather than ask for the help they need. Attention-getting behaviour is actually a cry for help, and should NEVER be ignored, since an unanswered cry for help only engenders further problems.
  • church is a safe place to be eg. "I'd much rather you were at Youth Group than just hanging round the shops". While we elevate church people, and clergy in particular, our children are not likely to put their instincts of danger ahead of what church-going adults tell them to do. The statistics indicate that sexual abuse happens just as much in church circles as anywhere else, and we must teach our children that people respected in the church can abuse too.

In other words, it's no good teaching children to recognise abusive behaviour, if we don' t also equip them to believe they have the right to tell the abusive person not to do it.

And yes, it means drawing a fine line between approving intelligent censure and encouraging rebellion. I believe the most important distinction is teaching children to rebuke politely. However, it can still create problems, especially with teachers who don't understand what the child has been taught about relating to adults.

The best solution to this problem is to speak to each teacher and let them know what your child has been taught, and why. The same applies to explaining to family members why you don't insist on the child kissing them. Most problems can be solved with adequate communication between parents and other adults, although there will always be some who can't or won't understand.

Naturally, there will still be times when we find ourselves repeating the negative messages we grew up with, but children do distinguish between momentary lapses and an established pattern.

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