October 24, 2011

When a Warped Fear of Pedophiles Turns to a Shaming of Girls

The potential presence of pedophiles has been the recurring argument against my plea that we do not shame young girls into thinking they need to cover up but boys don't. But consider this: 90% of the time the child knows her/his abuser. Do the men (and women) who argue that little girls need to cover up--"because pedophiles don't go around wearing a sign"--worry about how they themselves might react to topless little girls? And if so, how do we respond to the argument that what kids wear (or don't wear) in their own families' backyards is one thing, as opposed to what they "ought" to wear at a public pool?
Despite the stereotypes of a stranger in a trench coat hanging around the playground, the sex offender is most likely someone the child knows and trusts. Sexual abusers are fathers, mothers, stepparents, grandparents, uncles, cousins, neighbors, babysitters, coaches, and spiritual leaders.
PCAR
I quote the above from a brochure I picked up at the local fire station on "Child Sexual Abuse" (published by The Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape (PCAR). The brochure also states that the best way to protect a child is by education:
Education is the best defense against child sexual assault. An educated child has the ability to recognize dangerous/uncomfortable situations and will be more likely to tell you if abuse has occurred.

In order to protect children, teach them:
  • to feel good about themselves [and not ashamed!]
  • the difference between safe and unsafe touches [meaning we also have to teach children about pleasure and that they have the right to say yes to that which feels safe and good to them, but not to that which does not feel safe and good]
  • that their bodies belong to them and no one has a right to hurt them
  • that safety rules apply to all adults, not just strangers
  • that the can say "no" to requests that make them feel uncomfortable
  • to report to you if any adult asks them to keep a secret
  • that they can rely on you to believe and protect them
  • that they are not to blame for sexual abuse [i.e. don't place the burden and blame on the child]
1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys will be sexually abused before age 18, states the brochure. If so, this can change. If we as parents and educators ensure positive and comprehensive sex education, we can make a difference.

3 comments:

  1. Fine article. However, the 1 in 4 and 1 in 6 figures are nonsense and often dredged up by fear mongerers. There is no research basis for them. One of the promulgators of "1 in 4" is a devious, arrogant fake who cannot point to any reputable source for that --- no wonder, because he wilfully, even maliciously misuses statistics and language in everything he does.

    That aside, children swimming topfree or nude do not cause or increase pedophile crime, which itself has been on the decline for a couple of decades. Narrow people may fabricate such a connection because they are ashamed of bodies, are projecting adult phobias and obsessions onto children, or don't know how to promote healthy body image, social and psychological development, etc.

    Or they may just be afraid of what others will say. That needs addressing in a big way, with evidence from other sources --- or a mulltifaceted challenge to these people to produce evidence for their claims. Public policy must not be based on ignorance, or allow regressive and harmful ideology to trump science and sense.

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  2. Thank you for your powerful comment, Paul! I agree with you that a fear-based lack of knowledge fuels these warped ideas about the "risks" of exposing nudity. I believe a lot of it has to do with how our Anglo-Saxon culture prevents women and men to feel comfortable and unashamed about their own bodies and sexuality.

    Indeed, "Public policy must not be based on ignorance, or allow regressive and harmful ideology to trump science and sense." And it is sad when adults project "Adult phobias and obsessions onto children, or don't know how to promote healthy body image, social and psychological development, etc."

    It's also really sad that so many adults are opposed to introducing positive comprehensive sex education in the schools, instead allowing abstinence-only-curriculum to perpetuate those same phobias and obsessions.

    As I wrote over at Quizzical mama (when all men are pedophiles: the park and rec board weighs in on "proper swimwear"):

    In the end, my talking to the Board was pointless; there is no getting passed their fear-based hatred. Their fear is deep-seated in a lack of healthy attitudes to sex as a whole in our culture. Which we will never attain unless we get positive comprehensive sex education in the schools; information that can foster mutual understanding and respect between boys and girls. The problem is that fear-ridden men can't trust. They don't trust their own sex, they don't trust women, and they certainly don't trust youth. They lack knowledge, and at the same time they deny knowledge.

    Knowledge is power. And today a sad amount of girls and boys grow up lacking the knowledge with which to navigate safely; the tools that can help them define their sexual boundaries in an informed and healthy way, knowing how to say no and to what. And also how to say yes and to what. And when they are ready and want it. And not because "boys just can't help themselves."

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  3. Certain cultures blame women and what they wear, for being raped by men. But the men are entirely to blame, as is the culture that perpetuates the myth using sexual bullying to control women. It is no different with young women and girls.

    Men rape women regardless of what they wear. Their attire is not the cause. In parts of Europe, family members run around stark naked on the beach. They take saunas together. They take family photos of each other. Naked (gasp!). And everyone grows up to be healthy sex-positive individuals, without pretending that prepubescent children are sex objects that need covering up.

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