I was molested and raped as a child. I did not want my kids to be all screwed up by the fact that I was all screwed up. My attitude was “The buck stops here.” Whatever was in my past, I wanted my kids to be okay. Period. No excuses.
I had my first child the day after I turned twenty-two. I had done some therapy in my teens but there was still a long way to go for me to really heal. In my twenties, it was clear to me that if anyone molested and raped my young sons I would almost certainly hunt them down and murder them in cold blood. It would have been a form of revenge but it also would have been to say to my child “They will never touch you again. You are safe from them.” I also most likely would have told any judge or jury they were on the side of evil and I had done the right thing.
Which is to say that if my children had been sexually assaulted, I very likely would have gone to jail for a very long time and I would not have been available to raise them. And I knew that ahead of time. So I felt that it would be tantamount to child abandonment to not do everything humanly possible to prevent that scenario. Thus I spent a lot of time searching my soul and thinking through the best way to protect my kids.
I know a fairly standard tactic is to teach kids “Here is a short list of trusted people. If anyone not on that list tries to touch your genitals, scream.” I have a lot of criticisms of that approach.
First, I think it doesn’t work. Child molesters are very often the kinds of people who make it onto the short list. They molest relatives or they pursue careers that would make them the sort of person you would entrust your child to. So I think such a list is simply stupid.
Second, it doesn’t teach the child how to make effective judgements for themselves. I consider that to be a major failing which leaves them vulnerable to predation. The legal definition of rape hinges on the detail of consent. I felt a good means to protect them had to focus on that aspect of it.
Third, I feel it takes away their innocence. I didn’t want to tell my young sons “There are evil people in the world who will do unspeakable things to your body and I can’t tell you what those terrible things are.” I felt that would scare the crap out of them, worse than giving them the dirty details. It would be a kind of horrifying boogieman. And giving them the dirty details seemed really counterproductive, the exact opposite of my goal. I felt that was a form of psychic violence, kind of like trying to preserve someone’s virginity by having sex with them. I felt it would amount to emotionally violating my sons in hopes of making sure no one else did. I didn’t like that idea at all.
Fourth, I felt it would foster psychological glitches. I felt it would make my kids have neurotic associations, like touching their genitals was an inherently bad thing that should scare them. I felt that would cause problems when they reached sexual maturity. I wanted them to be clear that a mutually consenting situation was fine. What was not fine was someone forcing unwanted attentions on another.
So I thought a lot about all of it and decided I needed to empower my young sons to protect themselves from predators without ever saying one word about the existence of such predators. It needed to be a method even a two year old could employ effectively. It needed to protect them from the insidious process of escalation used by most child molesters. It needed to protect them without sending any neurotic messages about their sexuality.
The answer I came up with was this: In my family, all affection had to be mutual. No exceptions. No meant no. They were told that if they told someone “no” and that person disrespected their wishes, come get mom. I would back their decision, no questions asked, no explanation necessary.
This was important to me because child molesters do not typically start with rape. They culminate in rape. Instead, they start with a thousand small ways of disrespecting the child, using the child to meet their needs and so on. By the time the child is clear something bad is happening, things have gone pretty far. The child feels complicit in the bad acts and the sexual predator does everything in their power to make the child feel both guilty and at fault so the child will keep their secret.
My policy of mutual affection meant goodnight kisses or hugs had to have agreement from both parties. They could say “no” one night and change their mind and ask for hugs the next night. I was not going to act like they hurt my feelings or something. There was no hidden message which subtly undermined the overt statement that they were free to choose.
There was only one incident where some relative insisted they had a right to get “sugar” from one of my young sons. I sided with my son, much to the shock of my in-law. He later was able to extrapolate that if mom was not around, like when he attended public school, he had the right to defend himself, with force if necessary.
I also would not leave them with a babysitter they were not comfortable with, even when they were infants. If they cried and protested, I took them elsewhere. I didn’t care if I was comfortable with the person. I cared if they were comfortable.
My sons are both ASD, so not very socially savvy. But they are remarkably safe. They have had a lifetime of practice with trusting their own gut feeling of discomfort without having to justify it or even know why they were not comfortable.
All emphasis was on the detail of consent. They know if someone is disrespecting them, that is a huge red flag and the person should not be trusted because they are likely some form of social predator, whether sexual or otherwise. They do not go along to get along. They do not get led merrily down some slippery slope.
No one ever molested my sons. That doesn’t mean this is a foolproof system. No system is completely foolproof. My goal was to make sure that the only plausible way they would be molested would be if they were basically kidnapped off the street and violently assaulted, which is relatively rare. The vast majority of the time, child molesters are someone the child knows and trusts, someone who has made an effort to get close and push the boundaries of what the child would accept. My sons have basically a zero tolerance policy for boundary violation, thus they were virtually immune to that type of predation.
I have meant to write this up for many years. I never knew quite how to tell it properly. Then, yesterday, I read a story about kids being raped by people met via an app. I felt it was not just a security hole in the app. This is a security hole in society. Please pass this article along and help me close it.