A Tough Call

The first time that I was sexually molested – that I can recall, that is – I was maybe 8 years old. Our girls are now 5. Sadly, 5 is not too young to be worrying about this.

Amit thinks I’m paranoid about men. Maybe, to some extent, I am. But it’s only because the varied unpleasant experiences of my early years have made me this way. The impact of that very first incident, when I didn’t even know what exactly was going on, only that it made me feel dirty – that incident had an impact that lasted years.

Decades, actually.

It’s still working away at me, making me doubt every unknown man who comes within a foot of my children. For instance, at their daycare there used to be a security guard. I saw him everyday and I had no reason to think ill of him. All the same, during the summer holidays when we reached daycare early, I wouldn’t leave them at daycare until one of the women staff arrived. It’s not that I don’t trust the security chap; it’s just that he’s male.

One of the reasons I never really considered getting a driver to drive the kids around is because you don’t get any women drivers. And the only reason I’m not too worried about sending them in the school van is because they are never the last kids in the van. I did worry a bit about how much other five-year-olds could be relied upon to help, but then decided they would at least have a deterrent effect on anybody with those ideas. Hopefully.

School and daycare are full of women, so apart from the van, there weren’t any other opportunities for strange men to get their hands on my daughters. I don’t worry about the tennis court at all, not only because there are always plenty of people around of all ages, but also because the tennis coach is a friend and above suspicion.

Then they started gymnastics.

The gymnastics class is at a gym that I have no prior association with. We’ve met the head honcho, and there are at least three competent young women around who seem to know what’s what. I’ve sat through four classes. There is, of course, a lot of physical contact between the instructor and the kids. The instructor is male. There is a female assistant whom I’ve seen at every class. But, the male instructor still does handle all the girls in the class. His hands are on their legs and butts. If there were anything inappropriate? “That assistant wouldn’t say anything,” said Amit. “She wants to keep her job.”

Ok, so I will sit in on every class, I thought. I’ll know if there’s anything shady going on. It’s fine – it’s only an hour twice a week. Besides, it’s hugely entertaining to watch all their antics.

But at the last class, I was told, firmly and absolutely, by one of the women who runs things over there, that parents are not allowed to sit in on classes beyond the first one or two. Why? Because the children then always think of their parents first and aren’t completely “in” the class. They need to focus on the instructor.

It’s a fair comment. It’s true – even when I sit around at the tennis court during their tennis sessions, I’ve seen it. Their eyes always go to us. It makes the instructor’s job more difficult – pulling the kid’s attention away from the parents. It’s true that the kids need to be in their environment without thinking of their parents watching them from the sidelines. And yet…

I discussed it with Amit and we decided to leave them to it. I think I quite like their gymnastics instructor – he brings a lot of energy and enthusiasm to class. I’ve not seen anything in the way he interacts with the kids there that makes me at all uncomfortable. And if the only option is to pull them out of gymnastics class… I can’t lock my girls up in an ivory tower. I can’t deny them all sorts of fun just because of my fears, which may or may not be warranted.

And so – I’ve decided to rely upon my initial, instinctive liking of this particular man. They can stay in the class. I will not sit in. Everything will be ok.

And yet – what if I am wrong?

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9 Responses to A Tough Call

  1. Prakash says:

    It is very difficult to judge these, I do wish we were living in a just and fair world…

  2. Andy says:

    Worrying thoughts indeed Mika. Just pray for the best. I don’t want to add to your worries you but three years ago, there was an incident in the paper where a woman employee was molesting a male child in her care in a kindergarten, here in Bangalore. I didn’t quite know how to react after that

  3. Neeti says:

    Oh God, I agonize about this stuff ALL the time. And it’s funny you should write this now – I just heard an hour ago that in school, during circle time for the fourth standard kids, they will have a topic on ‘Good touch – bad touch’. I thought that was so timely and so enlightened of them. It’s never too early to educate children about this stuff, but then again, you don’t want to take their childhood away from them. Your girls are still too young, but as soon as they are of a reasonable age, it’s best to educate them about what they must be careful about. And well, these days, it’s not just girls that you have to worry about – enough and more instances of little boys being molested as well.

  4. Amit Mukherjee says:

    I worry too, but I don’t want it to rule our lives. I still like to believe that the majority of children are never molested. Maybe I am just am optimist. We have told the girls today they should always tell us if other people touched them inappropriately, but do they really know what that means.
    And yes, I know a boy who was molested. Boys get molested more often than we think they do.

  5. mrwhatsit says:

    Hi Mika,
    I passed this along to a very close friend who was also abused as a child. She later went on to attain a Masters Degree in Social Work. Following is her response: “While it is necessary to be vigilant , and often hyper-vigilant having been a victim, the biggest asset is our ‘gut’ feelings. Listen to it and be aware.
    Educating our children on good touch & bad touch is essential starting at a young age. There are many children’s videos that effectively address this issue and teach the child what to do in such a case. A repeated showing of the video as the child enters more social interaction is a plus, also. Watch with your girls and be available to answer questions that they ask. Note: answer what they ask in short, truthful responses. ie: Where do babies come from? May be satisfied with, “A Mommy and Daddy make babies” and the whole reproduction explaination may not be necessary yet.
    Use appropriate words for different parts of the body so , if a situation arises, any adult will know exactly what the child is trying to say.
    Although it is hard to remain calm in a circumstance of disclosure, remain calm & loving and gently explore the idea your child is trying to express. Your first reaction is very important. Also, our children learn from the ‘outside’ world, also.
    ie: One three year old told me every night she gets sex from her Daddy. Exploring her statement further, she had misused the word “sex” and it was really “a kiss”. Her Daddy gave her a kiss before bed every night. Where she got mixed up is unknown, but exploration of her initial statement avoided a potentially explosive situation for the child and parents.
    Education & communication is the key in most growing up experiences. If you had known, at your young age, what “bad touching” was about, you would not have been left so confused. I am sure you did not feel “dirty” ,but, depending on your age, probably more like confused & was made to feel it was a secret o be kept from everyone. Kids know when a secret is “bad”. Remember, the fault is with the perpetrator, not the victim.”

  6. poupee97 says:

    Doug: Thanks! That response made a lot of sense on a lot of levels. There’s one thing your friend got wrong though – I most certainly did feel dirty. It was a feeling that persisted for a very long time, even though I had no understanding of what happened until years later.

    Amit, Neeti, Andy: True, boys are molested as well. And it’s not only men who molest. But men with girls is much more common, I believe. And since I have girls, and since I was a girl when it happened to me, that tends to be my perspective. I don’t mean to ignore boys, though.

    Amit, Neeti, Doug: I don’t know how much “good touch” “bad touch” makes sense to kids of this age. I don’t want to scare or confuse them. But from my own experience and from what I’ve read, the one thing above all else is that this kind of thing makes the child feel upset, scared, confused, unhappy. So what I want to tell our kids is that, if anything makes them upset or scared or unhappy, they should tell us. That, in any case, is a good rule of thumb, I think.

    But more than that, I don’t want this thing to even happen to them.

  7. Supriya says:

    It is truly a tough call. I have undergone the same experience myself, though my girl is not even 4 yet. I mentioned her doctor in this context, remember? A good guy and has been her doctor since she was a baby. But he does a lot of rough housing with her, will give her a hug and a kiss, sometimes a cuddle. I am not comfortable with it at all. And in some cases it is just not easy to trust your gut. I don’t know what to think. It doesn’t look at all like he is using bad touch. But I just don’t like it. And without risking the doctor patient relationship I can’t really say anything. Anyway, I have done the next best thing. For her, I go to a different doctor, now. The fact that she is a lady is convenient, though I didn’t choose her because of that reason.

    I fully agree that you can feel dirty when you’ve been a victim – specially when it happens at a young age. It has happened to me much later and I have just felt very very angry – angry with such men who think it is their god-given right to molest young girls, angry with police, who ask me stupid questions like, “Why would he do this to you only?”, angry that our colony had no common lights so that one can at least see the molester approaching, angry that I should be scared to venture out alone after dark, angry that I felt the need to carry a small weapon and so on. I am still very angry about all that two decades later.

    I like your approach though. If something makes kids sad, unhappy or scared, they should be able to tell us without the fear of a reprimand or adverse reaction. That is a good yardstick.

  8. It is better to discuss such things with children from a very young age. I think a 5 year old kid understands a lot better than what we think. More important, when we discuss such things at home, kids know that if they did not feel right about or someone or someone touching them, they can always come back home and discuss them.

    Actually with my first son, I used to think it is too early to discuss such issues. But when I did tell him, my younger son, who was playing around got all attentive and had a lot of questions about it.

    It is simply not possible for us to watch over the kids every day. At some point we need to let them go on their own. The only protection that we as parents can give our kids is the awareness about such kind of exploitation and the confidence in them that they can discuss anything with their parents.

  9. poupee97 says:

    Sahana: I agree – it is better to start these discussions at a young age, even though you don’t want to scare the kid. You do want them to be aware. It’s true too, that it is not possible to watch over kids every day – at least, not without locking them up at home and denying them a lot of the fun of life. (And maybe not even then, if you believe everything you hear/read these days.)

    But still – while I do want to give them advice and help, so much more than that what I want is to not have them go through something like this. At least not until they are much older and it is simply unavoidable. I’d like to say “not ever” but from whatever I know of our society, that would just be unrealistic. So what I’m aiming for is, “not yet”. And even that might be too much to ask.

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