Sexual Harassment or Child’s Play?

by *clairity*

In the 6th grade there was this boy who took it upon himself to test my boundaries. Nearly every afternoon, as the bell rung, I would find myself running for the divider doors in a sprint for home. Not being that fastest of runners, I would never fail to miss the ass slap and catcalling from him and many of my classmates. What could be argued as something as simple as boy-likes-girl or boy-teases-girl was nothing of the sort to me. In contrast, the daily barrage of bullying made me feel disempowered and embarrassed.

Eventually, I told my mother who in turn spoke with the school principal. His reply was simply “boys will be boys” with little else but a reminder of adolescent patterns.  Nothing was said or done. Luckily for me my mother was never one to keep her mouth shut.  She decided to speak directly with the boy’s mother and have a few words about what she deemed appropriate. I can’t tell you what his mother said or didn’t say to him, only that when I got to school on Monday everyone called me a snitch and I became the current target for ridicule. The girls were especially harsh, annoyed at the ‘attention’ I was receiving from the boys.

I’ve spoken with people over the years that argue that we, as advocates, take the issue of sexual harassment and bullying too far. They cite that such zero tolerance rules and behavioral guidelines will encourage children to act out more outside of the classroom.  Or that it creates little room for experimentation with the opposite sex.  But how often do we, as a community, communicate with our children and young adults to discuss issues of gender and personal boundaries?

I think that by setting rules and examples for respect, we allow these same youth to live more freely without fear of harm from their peers. I believe that a girl should be able to go to school without worrying about whether or not she will have to defend her body against unsolicited contact or that boys can walk down a hall without being thrown up against a locker simply because they don’t fit into some ridiculous social standard. If a behavior is unwanted or unwelcome, it is unacceptable in my book.

Admittedly, children have a natural curiosity toward the opposite sex. Hugging, fondling and kissing are examples of exploratory contact that, when paired with an unwanted recipient, can create problems. Simply because such acts of exploration are deemed “normal” doesn’t constitue a right to cross personal boundaries. Acts once seen as innocent rights of passage can very easily grow into more aggressive acts of violence if they are not resolved in early stages of development. For those of you who still view acts by children as child’s play I have 6 words for you: Kids grow up and become adults.

But don’t just take it from me: A survey conducted by the AAUW (2002) on 2064 students in 8th through 11th grade indicated that 83% of girls and 79% of boys have been sexually harassed. Not surprisingly, in the same survey 42% of school employees admitted to being harassed by each other.

In education, many seasoned professionals have met the issue of sexual harassment with a resistance to change.  My elementary school principal being a perfect example. Talk to your kids. Talk to your school administrators. Learn more about the policies and follow-through for sexual harassment and bullying in your communities.  You can be the impetus to get your school system to wake up and begin to take harrassment and bullying seriously.  In the process, maybe boys will be boys and girls will be girls by showing respect for the humanity in each other.

For more information on sexual harassment in schools, check out this link: http://tinyurl.com/mqr7sd

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Talking To Children About Their Bodies And Abuse

When it comes to talking to children about abuse, it’s safe to say that most parents have a hard time starting the conversation. I’ve received emails from people who aren’t sure how to introduce the topic of private parts in general, let alone the topic of abuse and what that looks like. Admittedly, talking to your child about their body is a delicate task. However, without open and honest dialogue and clear definitions, we can’t expect children to protect themselves if these conversations have never taken place.

When talking to children about their bodies, I think it’s really important for parents to outline what they want to cover and terms that they will use to talk about body parts. Personally, I feel that body parts should be termed, as they would be at the doctor’s office. Cutesy terms, or “comfortable names” can sometimes cause confusion in children, as well as embarrassment about their bodies. Children needs to know the technical terms for their parts and that there is nothing dirty or shameful about them. In creating a safe and honest starting point, communication can become easier and gives children the respect they deserve regarding their bodies.

I was taught that private parts are considered that which is covered by a bathing suit or undergarments. Picturing this and explaining it will allow a clear picture for children. Any area that is not visible is private and is “off limits” to anyone else. Children should have a clear understanding that they have the right to voice their opinions and ask questions when it comes to their body. People such as healthcare providers who may need to assist during medical visits and exams, but children should still be able to voice any concerns they may have, just as you or I would.

Role-play and other games can be a good way to create scenarios with children that allow them to ask questions and think about things they may say in circumstances where they are uncomfortable. Additionally, the use of dolls with removable clothing can be a good tool for parents and caregivers to talk about body parts and inappropriate touching.

You don’t have to go it alone. Feel free to use literature and sites already in place as aids for discussion. You know your children better than anyone. Some children respond better to dialogue and others are more visual learners. Figure out what works best for the both of you.

Remember to relax. Children are like sponges and will often react to your reactions. If you are nervous or uncomfortable, they will see that and find it more difficult to ask questions. Take your time and leave the topic open for discussion down the line. Casual check-ins can also be helpful as they allow for further discussion and more practice for you. You never know what additional topics may come up, simply because you created a safe place for them.

Lastly, talk to other parents and see if they are talking to their kids. You may find that you are not alone in your fears and anxiety surrounding the topic. By talking with others, you may learn other fun ways to talk to your kids or help others to do the same.

Remember, we are all responsible for creating a safe community. Thanks for doing your part.

Not just another day on the bus….

buswindowWe hear about situations all the time, where disturbed people get on to buses and passengers must decide what actions to take to remedy dangerous or uncomfortable situations. Yesterday was one such day.

After a long day of work, I got on my bus to head home. As I stepped off the first bus to transfer to another, a young man in his twenties followed close behind me, lighting a cigarette. As I waited for the light to change to green, I looked over to see him staring at me. He was taller than I, wearing a dress suit and black dress shoes. He held his black jacket in his left hand, loosely away from his body. His white with red pinstripe shirt, hanging out of his pants. He looked like a normal guy coming home from work. However, there was something not quite right about him, though I couldn’t say exactly what it was.

As we crossed the street he followed close beside me. As he continued to smoke his cigarette, he proceeded to pull a faceless balaclava over his neck as he sat next to me on the bus bench. It was then that I knew for certain that something was off. There were several other people at the bus stop and my false sense of security convinced me to stay seated beside him. I was tired and I resented having to move from the only available space at the stop, in an effort to avoid this guy.

A minute later, my bus pulled up and I got on. As usual, there was only a few seats available so I took the first available seat before others got on. As I sat down, creepy guy sat down beside me. I opened my book in an effort to avoid any communication from him. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed his hand fall to the side of the seat that was shared between us. He slowly inched his way towards my thigh. He then took his other hand and went to pull something our of his pocket. I swiftly moved my hand to a ready position in anticipation of having to fight. When nothing happened, I left doubt to convince me that “I” may just be exaggerating the situation, I walked to the front of the bus to ask the bus driver which direction this bus took. This being my bus, I knew the answer but wanted a polite excuse to leave my seat. As I walked back to another seat directly across from this man, I noticed his hand was not in his pocket as I had first thought. He not pulling out a weapon, but he did indeed pull out something, covering himself with his jacket. I couldn’t believe what was happening on the bus, right in front of me, in front of everyone in broad daylight. I became enraged.

A man who was sitting beside this guy saw what was happening, became embarrassed and walked to the back of the bus. I looked over to a woman across from him and made eye contact with her. It was like I was looking for confirmation of what was happening. She looked back at me and we both knew what the other was thinking. Silence.

Something inside of me snapped and looked over at this man and said “Seriously! Are you fucking kidding me with this?” No response. No one else said a word. I realized in a moment, from the way that he looked at me that he was psychotic. His direct stare and smirk sent a chill up my spine. My instinct told me that no verbal boundary setting would make a difference and that it was best to avoid him completely. As we came to the next stop, a little girl got on the bus with her mother busily attending the another child. As the little girl went to sit beside him, I heard the words come out of my mouth “No!” her mother looking at me, I repeated , “No. Not this bus.” Without question, she and her little girl got off. I walked to the front of the bus, told the bus driver what was happening and got off.

I pulled out my phone, dialed 911 and called the police. I gave them a complete description of this guy, including the bus number on the back of the bus. What happened next, I can’t know for sure.

Some people may experience a situation like this and shake it off as a creepy one. I however, chose to look back at the events and see what I could have done differently, what I did and what I won’t do again.

As people, as women, we tend to make excuses for our first reactions. We need to let our instincts guide us and not allow logic to blind us from potential danger. When I got off my first bus, I saw someone and instinctively knew something was wrong. I was uncomfortable that he sat beside me, but instead of moving I stayed seated. I allowed this man to sit beside me on the bus. I didn’t want to create a scene. Instead of telling him to move his hand, letting him know that he was in my space, I ignored my discomfort and made excuses to move. I looked to others for acknowledgment of something I knew myself.

All of the training in the world is not useful unless it’s practiced, acted upon in the real world. We have to be comfortable using our voices, trusting our instincts and putting them into action. One could argue that I made the right choices, as I really didn’t know this man’s full intent. He could have indeed become physically dangerous. Personally, as a self-defense instructor, the physical defense aspect is less scary to me than the verbal boundary setting. I think that this is common to many women. It was a situation that was in many ways passive aggressive and a grey area of what should have been said or done. At the end of the day, despite questioning my actions, I made choices that kept me safe. I was able to stay calm and act in ways that didn’t escalate the situation. This allowed me to deal with potential danger and notify those around me of a threat. I got the woman and girl off the bus, I told the bus driver what was happening and I then got myself to safety and called the police. Perhaps, that’s exactly what I was supposed to do; to be here to tell you about it.

(OdS)