(WARNING: Contains sensitive material.)
Recently, a close friend of mine confessed that her twenty-year old daughter had just told her that, while in middle school she'd been inappropriately touched by another girl her own age.
When she was even younger, that same daughter also had an older girl force herself on top of her and grope her genitals, during a visit to a family friend's house.
When asked why she hadn't told her mother about the incidents sooner, the daughter had replied that, I was always warned to watch out for grown- ups who might touch me inappropriately, or the white van with the stalker inside, or someone trying to lore me in their car with a puppy.
During that same conversation, the daughter had also admitted to being ashamed about the incidents and had blocked them out.
When I was teenager, I remember learning that one of my cousins had 'made a pass' at their younger sibling. I was appalled by the news. It shook me to my core. I couldn't comprehend why anyone would do that to a loved one.
|Janko Ferlic https://unsplash.com/photos/oWDRVgk04EA|
Like my friend, I was stunned into sadness to hear her daughter's well-reasoned argument for not alerting anyone of the assaults. As adults, we constantly warn our children to be wary of grown-ups who may sexually abuse them: never conceiving that other children or siblings could be potential perpetrators. Our naiveté on this subject stems from the lack of disclosure to the authorities and the media, as well as our disbelief, that children are sexual beings capable of such harmful actions.
Stop It Now reports, that over a third of sexual abuse that occurs among children is committed by a person under 18 years old. Culture of Safety states, that the younger the victim of the abuse is, the higher the probability that the offender is a minor. These are disturbing statistics that require our undivided attention.
|Pin Me Please!|
As deplorable as it is to contemplate, sexual harm does indeed happen among adolescents and very young children. Sadly, I have been a witness to such events. One year in my kindergarten classroom, there were three sexual assaults among the students.
The first one occurred shortly after the start of the school year. While sitting at a table, a little boy put his hand on the private part of the little girl beside him. He refused to move his hand when she protested and tried to push it off.
The second one happened a month later, when another boy crawled under a table and kissed a little girl's private part.
The third one occurred closer to the end of the school year and was the worst. A little boy, who was new to the class, forced a girl onto a shelf and lay on top of her. He put his hand down her underwear and wouldn't get off of her when she asked. Another child intervened and pulled him off of the little girl.
|Kat J https://unsplash.com/photos/NPmR0RblyhQ|
Needless to say, I was troubled by each occurrence, but the third horrified me the most. I was so heartsick by the episode; I took off the following day. At such a young age, I knew the boys couldn't appreciate the harmful consequences their behaviors were causing their classmates. Still, I needed time to collect myself, digest what had happened, and plan my lessons accordingly.
I reported each incident to the school office and they were investigated by the administration. The first two boys were placed in the other kindergarten room, while the third remained in my classroom.
I was extremely uncomfortable with the third child being so close to the boy who had harmed her. I couldn't understand why he was allowed to remain in my classroom, when the two other boys had been promptly removed.
Apart from my reporting the third incident and receiving a notification of the boy's suspension, the school administration never communicated with me again about the event. No plan of action was discussed; no follow up by the administration regarding prevention and student safety.
The third boy stayed home for two days, and after a meeting with the school counselor, he returned to class.
While I was home, the office had handled the situation, and it appeared that all parties involved were content with the outcome.
For my part, after dealing with the three sexual assaults, and a host of other socially, emotionally challenged students, I was too burnt out to pursue administration for their opinions. I did what I could through targeted lessons on good touch, bad touch, and by separating the third boy from the little girl.
Of course my lethargy, didn't assuage my concerns.
I felt responsible. I had been present for each episode. My assistant and I discovered the first two almost immediately.
However, during the third episode, my assistant had left for the day, and I was in the middle of a small group lesson on the other side of the room. I kept telling myself, "It's difficult to watch over and instruct 30 kindergartners by yourself". The mantra didn't ease my conscience.
Often, children who commit these harmful acts, have been victims of sexual assault themselves, or have been regularly exposed to adult sexual activity or pornography. In addition, these same children may have either experienced or witnessed some form of physical or emotional abuse at home.
In other cases, children are just exploring their curiosity about their bodies.
So, how can you tell the difference between the two?
|Chinh Le Duc https://unsplash.com/photos/TV1QYUtTxJ8|
Distinguishing Between Sexual Harm and Curiosity
Whether it is innocent curiosity or a visceral response to mistreatment, a child who performs a sexual action toward another child, can do serious harm.
One common way children explore sexuality is through playing games like "doctor". Once this expressive method is identified, it can be corrected with a conversation about respecting another's privacy and keeping everyone safe.
What is cause for alarm is when a child continues to display aggressive behavior, after being corrected.
Other potentially harmful behaviors include:
*Older children spending a large amount of time with younger children.
*Maintaining physical contact with another child who refuses the attention.
*Forcing another child to have sexual intercourse.
*A child speaking sexually to children or adults.
*Children viewing child pornography.
Awareness and Prevention
Sexual harm among children is under reported, which in turn leaves children as vulnerable targets, unprepared to handle uncomfortable and confusing situations. Instead of alerting an adult, the victimized child will often internalize the incident, blaming himself for what happened. If left untreated, this feeling of self-guilt can lead to a lifelong pattern of depression, self-harm, and drug abuse.
According to Dr. Gemma McKibbon, from the University of Melbourne, a proactive way to prevent child-on-child sexual harm is to teach age-appropriate sex education classes to elementary students, warning them that other children may hurt them in this way.
Additional strategies to help protect children from mistreatment are:
*Let children know there are trusted adults with whom they can talk.
*Observe how children engage with each other.
*Teach children to be respectful toward themselves and others.
*Reach out to organizations that specialize in child safety and welfare for information to educate your entire family.
*Design a safety program for your family and with your child's school. Parents Protect! offers a downloadable family safety plan booklet at: https://www.parentsprotect.co.uk/resources.htm.
*Be vigilant. Images of violence and abuse are evident in video games, movies and television shows. Curtail how much of this media your child views.
*Model appropriate social and familial behaviors.
*Spend quality time with your child and have meaningful conversations.
If you suspect that your child or a child you know is harming other children get help immediately. Stop It Now! is an organization experienced with these behaviors.
You can contact them at their national, toll-free line: 1-888-PREVENT (1-888-773-8368).
How would you deal with this situation in your family or classroom?