Sunday, April 03, 2011

CSA-AM - Protecting Boys from CSA

I read in some alarm how many people on Twitter feel that the contents of the CSA-AM blog are child pornography, because if such shocking tales of abuse turn them on, then I am extremely nervous about the children around them. I find more understandable people who say we should not discuss these matters in public: it is this attitude that I grew up with and it is this attitude that I find allows perverts to get away with abuse.

As a mother both attitudes bother me, albeit the first more than the other. To make matters a little more complex, I have a little boy. I knew all about protecting girls from my own childhood -- stay in groups; avoid strangers, especially strange men; be careful about the clothes you wear; be careful of the vibes you send out; be alert and aware of your surroundings, especially of where the grown ups are at all times etc etc.

Much of this does not apply to little boys though because, well, take clothes. All Rahul wears are shorts/trousers and tees or shirts. There is nothing for him to mind. Also, he has been born a boy in a world where he is expected to let go of my protection much sooner than a sister of his would, where he is expected to deal with his problems and not come running to me with them, where telling me of what goes in school will be discouraged.

I first heard stories of what I would consider borderline abuse from my friends from boys schools. I call it borderline abuse because it was mostly between boys of almost the same age and I accept that some degree of 'experimentation' is to be expected -- curiosity about each others' private parts, some touching. But it verged on abuse when the age gap widened, when the curiosity was one-sided and force was exerted if only by peer pressure.

I can remember instances of what I would today call abuse from my own junior schooldays, when a little boy had stones ('letters') 'posted' through his fly every single day. We thought it was funny then, but the little boy was my age while his tormentors were 4-6 years older, certainly old enough to protect and not torment him. He used to go home in tears everyday, although I remember he tried to smile bravely initially and why is this memory is so strong when all the others of that time have faded?

Yes, children will be children, but how do I protect my son from such 'friends'? Luckily for my peace of mind, Rahul was born with a strong sense of privacy. He has never liked having his clothes or diapers changed by all and sundry and he does not much like being naked even in this humid summer heat. On the other hand, he stays in other households a lot, and is used to maids taking him to the bathroom. Therefore, it has been impossible to delineate a circle of trust for him, teach him who may touch him and who may not. I have tried to explain good/safe touch and bad/unsafe touch to him but at 4.5 he looks blankly at me and thinks the latter means smacking -- which he gets the most from me, his mother!

At his age his safeguards therefore are:
1. A strong feeling that he must keep his clothes on. I engendered this by telling him if his clothes were not on him and were getting dirty on the floor or by falling off him, I would be extremely annoyed at the extra laundry. He thinks it's about the laundry but he keeps them on.

2. Being encouraged to tell his parents and his grandparents about all his activities: what he did in school and who he did it with, what he did on his visit to households other than his own, who was mean to him, who was nice and how. We do not encourage his complaints or whining but we do listen when he talks and we try to keep track of his relationships with the people who make up his world.

3. Never being left on his own. I have never left him alone with a maid in all these years and I hope I never have to. Ma and M'pishi are on the same page as I on this one and they are quite as protective if not more. If he is playing alone in a room, we are never more than a quiet call away and even then we keep walking in on him in his play so nobody can ever think they will get him on his own for sure at any given time. If we aren't walking in on him, then we are having loud conversations across rooms. The only time I lost him as a baby for ten minutes at a wedding I died a thousand deaths while we searched in vain, so I'm always careful about his whereabouts.

4. Not being forced to communicate with people except on his own terms. I am frequently disappointed when he doesn't greet or thank our guests but I have always believed that it is his right to be physically affectionate with them -- or not. So I'm not the mother who insists that he must kiss an aunt or shake an uncle's hand. I'd rather he was a little rude at this age and safe with it.

Beyond this, he is naturally a little shy and wary of strangers so he is not given to running far away. If he does walk away in a store he starts looking for us in minutes, yelling for us so that we know he is lost. We encourage all this.

Sometimes circumstances are beyond our control -- I had to leave him alone in the waiting room at New Jalpaiguri railway station for a few minutes while I went to the loo. I asked the group of young men who had been sitting next to us to keep an eye on him and our luggage and went. When I saw the line in the loo, I went back to the door and stood there watching him until my turn came. It was a risk, but that is life.

Vicky and I never forget that until he is old enough to fend for himself, to recognise danger, it is our responsibility to keep him safe, that the onus is on us entirely. As I keep reminding myself, there are no guarantees but I will certainly always do all that is in my power to keep my boy safe.


Aneela Z said...

Thanks for this know this is the thing,I know exactly what happens to little girls but am clueless about boys. And with a child who cant exactly communicate yet, it is difficult understanding the algebra of abuse.
but this list is helpful

Mamma Mia! Me a Mamma?!? said...

As the mother of two very friendly, excitable boys who are very generous with their hugs and kisses, I find myself confused about what to say to them without inhibiting their nature. It's a learning experience, I guess, and posts like yours help me along the way.

Thanks Sue!

starry eyed said...

I agree, Sue, it's so different being parents to a boy. They tend to go off at functions and parties, and it's tough to keep an eye on them. Thanks for bringing this up, I think I haven't been careful enough at weddings where he goes off with cousins. God, this is tough.

Passionate Goof said...

Very very sensible words. Even I grapple with where to draw the line. My son goes to day care, here at this age there is a common toilet for boys and girls, most of them come out with their clothes down, while the carers dress them up. Fortunately my son, can dress himself up,but yet, what do I tell him?

Hip Grandma said...

your concern is natural and although girls are subjected to sexual abuse more than boys the difference is not as great as we think. Boys don't share information out of fear that the person concerned may take it out on them later. i too would be upset when my kids would not be polite and well mannered greeting relatives and hugging uncles and aunts. They had a mind of their own and I could not force it on them. today i feel that it was good that they maintained a distance - even at the cost of being labeled unfriendly.

CSA Awareness said...

Thanks for this post Sue. You have brought out very valid points. Its absolutely assumed that only little girls can be subjected to abuse. Most of the times parents also go easy with boys.
Children are children and pedophiles come in all forms. Being alert and receptive is therefore very important.

Thanks again sue for your contribution. Hugs!

The Bride said...

Thanks for this one. I have a little boy (very little - he's only 4 months old) and I wonder how to handle this subject with him. I am under no illusions about boys being less vulnerable. Well, maybe they are, but they are still vulnerable, and probably even less likely than girls to talk about it.

Anonymous said...

My problem different. While I have always kept as alert an eye as possible on my two boys I have never given them the "Good Touch/ Bad Touch" talk. My elder son, is twelve years old is a friendly child and loves babies. He plays with all children of all ages and they love him too.
After reading all this I am now afraid that some mother may see things differently from me. How do I tell him to mind that no one reads anything wrong in his playing with his friends(cousins, society kids) or do I need to do it at all? Would it put ideas into his head which are not there? :-( .
He love football with same age friends too and its not as if he only plays with kids. He really plays with anyone available.

Have I made any sense?

Anonymous said...

Sorry, I meant "My problem is different".

writerzblock said...

Thank you, thank you so much for this.

Mariposa said...

Really nice of you to talk about it. It is highly important for people to share experiences. I am still single but worry often for my niece & nephews.

sukanya said...

very helpful post!

B o o. said...

Wonderful write up, as always, Sue! The question that the anon commenter has asked is very valid. Thats how I feel when Im educating a person who has no clue about CSA. Am I educating them or am I corrupting them? One mom even asked me why am I telling her all this and making her more paranoid and she has to worry about so many things and I ve added more worry for her! sigh!

How do we know said...

Thanks Sue.. i worry about my son a lot too.. i have slowly started explaining to him a few things.. and he is a very private boy too.. so i let him be even if he is rude to strangers.. but your post had me thinking.. WHY is he rude to strangers.. this is not how it was earlier. we talk a lot.. but with kids, one can never tell if they are telling all...? i m scared now.

Sue said...

Aneela -- This is my third attempt at replying to you and I do hope blogger lets me post it... Yes, it is difficult with kids Arhaan's age but your watchfulness is his best safegaurd.

M4 -- I find I don't like to introduce sexuality too much into Rahul's life since he is not even into differences between boys and girls yet. So I come up with other reasons like laundry for keeping his clothes on, me missing him (LOL) to keep him near by etc.

Starry -- See, part of the fun of having cousins is having the freedom to disappear with them. Perhaps if you project your best Dragon Mum avatar it will keep the kids safe(r) since predators look for kids nobody is watching out for and your relatives will be a bit more careful if they know you are capable of kicking up really nasty messes if you think your children have been neglected/ill treated. I maintain a pretty decent Dragon Mum avatar myself and I know it works.

Goof -- I'd tell him that if he doesn't like the way his caregivers dress him or handle him, he should come straight to you so you can teach them the right way to do things. This approach has meant Rahul comes to me with a lot of complaints (today the ayah buckled me up wrong, yesterday she forgot to leave my shirt untucked blah di blah) but at least I know he is otherwise comfortable with their handling.

Hip Grandma -- It means so much to me when people of your generation say such things. You are at that stage in when you can tell what went right and what didn't in your parenting and I really value your affirmation.

CSA -- Thanks, team.

Bride -- Your son will take his cue on privacy and body image from you, how you treat his body and privacy. It sounded rather OTT when my aunt taught me to bathe, change and dress Rahul (as a baby) in private as much as possible but it did make sense to me. He has run around naked a lot when younger, still does, but never when I or his father are not around. If I need to answer the door he is covered up. Basically, I treat him no differently in this respect than I would a girl his age.

Anonymous -- You have made a great deal of sense. What I would do is teach my elder son that he must not handle the younger ones too much because he is much stronger and can hurt them without realising it, especially little girls. Also, little children prefer to run around on their own and he should understand that. Put it in terms of him protecting them and looking out for them rather than him needing to step away from them. He will be a loving, hands on father one day and god knows the world needs more of them.

Writerzblock, Sukanya -- We adults must stick together for our children.

Mariposa -- Aunts are very important. My Mejopishi has always been next to only my mother in my life and she helped me form my own code in these matters. When my son was born she took a great deal of time and trouble explaining to me how important it was that I respected the privacy of a little baby. Aunts are often the people children turn to when turning to their parents is too difficult.

Boo -- Better a mother with one more worry than one wracked with guilt and regret the rest of her life. Better a kid with more visible restraints than one bound by invisible trauma for the rest of his or her life. You tell your friends that.

How Do We Know -- Rahul can be rude because he is in a bad mood, he doesn't feel sociable, because that is how he gauges how friendly a person may really be... there are so many reasons. I remind him of his manners and let him decide. If he doesn't like a person I don't leave him alone with them. Not because they may be abusers but because I wouldn't want to be left alone with people I don't particularly like either! Take a deep breath and don't let the paranoia get to you. The accounts will get a lot worse before they get better, sadly.

R's Mom said...

Thanks for this Sue..I have a little girl but what you wrote about teaching the kiddo holds true for a girl as well...R goes to a daycare and I tell her everyday that apart from two of her daycare didis and me and RD, no one is allowed to touch her in her private parts..she is almost 3 and doesnt really understand, but I just want to keep reinforcing the fact in her...Read ITW's post on bad touch and good touch..and Kiran's post as well..makes sense to follow that :)

Urmi said...

My goodness Sunayna, I cannot express my sentiments well enough through words for this post of yours. I also have a 4 and a half year old boy, and I could totally understand each and every word!! - each of it is what we try to follow with our son. I took a break from working full-time ever since he was born, and now after 5 years I am back to work but only because it's a job in his school and with his timings. I was and never will be in favour of keeping him in a day care or with a nanny - because I'm soo paranoid.

I understand how you 'died a thousand deaths' - on our recent vacation to Turkey, my son vanished and we couldn't find him for 10 whole minutes and it seemed like 10 years to me. I was almost going to faint cos i was crying so hard. Hubby and I acknowledged that it was totally our fault coz he is like a bullet and we gotta keep an eye on him like ALWAYS.

have lots and lots more to say on this - maybe later :) nice reading your post lady and sorry for such a long comment!!

Neera said...

Hats off to u and the CSA team Sue for this initiative.
Its a very helpful post on what to tell our children to make them aware and how!

Urmi said...

Here's my post Sue, and I've linked to yours too at the end of it. Thanks for raising the awareness!!

Sue said...

R's Mom -- You're doing a fine job, I'm sure. Here's hoping she has a safe and healthy childhood.

Urmi -- Thank you. :) That was scary, reading about your son going missing. I'm convinced mine was born just to shorten my life!

Neera -- Thanks, it's good to have you following us. :)