Saturday, August 28, 2010

He wouldn't hurt me, he's my friend...

I recently agreed to babysit for a Catholic prayer group that meets quarterly on Saturday mornings.  It's a paying gig that would help a friend of the family.  Because of all the abuse allegations and substantiated cases, our local Diocese is requiring all adults whom come in contact with children take a "Safe Environment" course.  The aim of this course is to educate and make us aware of how/when/where abuse can occur, and thus how to prevent it.  The materials they handed out were informative and accurate.  The instructor's interpretation of these materials was shameful, misguided, misinformed, and served to perpetuate the myths which have allowed and aided sexual abuse to continue.

Anecdotally, I would venture to guess that the rates of sexual abuse are much higher than statistics show.  RAINN says that 1 in 6 women will be sexually assaulted but that 60% are not reported to the police (1).  I can honestly say that I cannot think of a single (female) friend who has not been sexually abused in some manner, myself included.  It's all very hush-hush and shameful.  I didn't even recognize that I'd been abused for years.  I let myself change the story.  I ignored that he forced himself on me, ignored that I'd try to push him off of me, ignored that I cried after our sexual encounters, ignored that I was ashamed of my body (so much more so than before the abuse started), ignored so many tell-tale signs.  Why?  Because I didn't know you could be raped by your boyfriend.  I didn't know that I could think I loved someone who was raping me. I didn't know that rape wasn't necessarily something that happened in a dark alley by a creepy man in a trench coat.  I didn't know how to accept that my virginity was taken by force and not lovingly given.  I didn't know that rape was most often (73%) done by someone the victim ALREADY knows(1).

I was disappointed in the way the material was presented today.  I hated the way the instructor protected the church and perpetuated the myths with her rhetoric: "Sexual abuse didn't exist when I was a kid."  "This is a new problem."  "Sexting is a new thing."  "Abuse is not holy or Christian [thus implying that someone who is holy or Christian would/should be someone you can trust not to abuse]." "There are sick people out there [but surely none in here]."and one of my favorites "These kids bring their xboxes, cell phones, and iPods to school in their pockets and you don't even know." (still don't know how that last one has anything to do with abuse)

So here's my PSA.  One of the handouts was a list of Myths/Facts about Child Sexual Abuse (a handout that was not discussed, nor were any of the points made at any time during the training).  It sites the source to be Myths and Facts about Sexual Offenders, Center for Sex Offender Management (2).  Here are the points from the sheet:

  • Child Sexual Abuse is NOT a rare occurrence.
  • It is important for children to have information about sexual assault.
  • It is NOT damaging NOR dangerous to give children information about sexual assault.
  • A discussion about sexual assault will NOT scare children.
  • A discussion about sexual assault will NOT scare children from all touch.
  • Most children who are assaulted are attacked by someone they know.
  • Sex offenders are NOT dirty old men.
  • The majority of sexual offenders are not caught, convicted, nor imprisoned.
  • Sex offenders do NOT commit sexual crimes because they are under the influence of alcohol.
  • Incest does NOT occur only in poor, undedicated families.
  • Children do NOT do anything to cause the sexual abuse to occur.
  • Sexual abuse, including incest, is damaging to the child.
While I wholly appreciate what the church is trying to do, this instructor was not educated enough on the issue and did counter service to the cause.

We need to be talking about abuse, ways to prevent it, how it happens, where it happens, who it happens to, who's doing it, what to do if it does happen...  We need to be having open conversations about the topic.  We need kids to know that it's not okay and just because they know the person or s/he is their teacher/friend/pastor/priest/care giver does not give them the right to abuse them. Rates of abuse are going down (1) because people are standing up and talking about it.  If we keep the conversation going, the rates can continue to go down.

Just in case you're wondering... telling a room full of parents, educators, and child care givers that you were surprised to learn that children have rights is probably not the best way to win over the crowd.  Oh, and the reason you shouldn't use corporal punishment is NOT because you'll have to wonder if your kids will call the cops on you.  Just sayin'.


1 comment:

Luschka (Diary of a First Child) said...

Great post! I've written two on the subject recently (although not my own story) and think it's really important that people understand that abuse isn't just from strangers - and is most often not.

I agree - I know very very few women who haven't been abused one way or another.