Tuesday, February 24, 2009

No return to innocence

The other day I was coming back home at about seven in the evening when I saw this little girl of about seven or eight talking to one of the security guards in the garden downstairs. My instinctive feeling was that both of them were standing TOO close to each other – the girl very innocently, the man I am not so sure. My initial reaction was validated as soon as the security guard saw me – he unconsciously took a couple of steps backwards. I glared at him VERY pointedly and VERY balefully and went on ahead to my building after ensuring there were enough people in and around that area.

This whole incident left me with this vague sense of unease. No. I don’t have a nasty, suspicious mind. I am usually quite clueless about most things. But what I do have, is a fairly strong gut instinct – which I think is genetically hardwired into most females, that prickly sense of disquiet about when things are not-ok. And I have learnt to trust this sixth sense.

I kept on wondering in retrospect whether I should have dragged the girl away (I don’t know the child at all). Unfortunately, this thought didn’t strike me till much later. Or maybe I could have just engaged her in some conversation as S suggested when I told him about this episode.

I have no idea whether the tableau I saw was completely harmless or not. I hope to GOD that it was that. But what I do remember is having a very strong wish that parents wouldn’t dress girls of that age, (when there is a hint of burgeoning curves) with completely inappropriate halter tops and skin- clinging pants.

No. Before I get pelted with abuse, no, I don’t believe that girls who get molested are ones who call it upon themselves by dressing or behaving in a particular manner. God knows I’m not against the any kind of clothes (or lack of them) in adults or teens. They can choose to wear or not wear any clothes they bloody well please. But when it comes to children that young – seven, eight or nine - far too innocent to understand any improper advances that some types of adult-like clothes MIGHT elicit. I think THAT can qualify as stupidity.

(Also, for the record, I don’t think provocative clothes make the child look cute or precocious)

I know I keep on seeing these one or two children in the basement as well – that always sends this frisson of anxiety – of a relatively ill-lit space, lots of dark nooks and corners and very little traffic. (*)

I have heard incidents from friends. The fact that it is so very common it’s horrifying – the father of a friend, the father’s friend, the building watchman – so many. Nothing which can be taken to cops for, but nonetheless leaves a lasting scar on the child in question.

And I guess the question is WHAT is inappropriate in a situation like this. I tend to go with the view a friend which was “even if a person touches the top of the head, if it makes the child uncomfortable – that is inappropriate”

The point is what does one tell children? And what are the cues that are just friendly overtures and when does it become not-so-friendly. A casual pat of the back can be just a demonstration of affection and can also be a caress depending on the intent of the person. And isn’t asking kids to discern one type from another a fairly difficult proposition? Hell, it’s difficult enough for adults. I am sure; many females have agonized over whether any such incident was inadvertent or conscious, whether one is blowing something completely out of proportion? The colleague who sits a little too closely in an auto, seemingly casual conversations which might or might not have sexual undercurrents, the pat on the back that ‘slips’ and lands somewhere else.... How much more difficult will it be for a child to evaluate something like this, especially when it comes from a familiar person.

How does one tell a kid to be careful without inhibiting him/her? How does one encourage freedom to grow and explore and be courageous and yet inculcate a boundary line beyond which it is dangerous?

Also the reality is that many such instances are completely innocuous and genuinely affectionate - nothing more or less than that. Does one want to be the passer-by who unknowingly blows the whistle on a favourite “Security uncle” who is just being a fond playmate, without knowing the actual facts?

It’s such a fine, thorny line between being careful and being neurotic.

*There was a paragraph here, which I deleted - I felt slightly uncomfortable after putting it up. Some of you might have read it, others not. Apologies for that


Epiphany said...

This is something I felt while in US...they keep hammering you with stories of child abusers lurking around that every time you see an adult with a kid it makes you uncomfortable...with what you have been through it isn't really a surprise what your reaction was...hope you were wrong though!

AmitL said...

Hi,Cyn-honestly,I was aghast,reading this post..security guards,lifemen,...how many people can one not trust?I hope the incident was just a coincidence which you noticed!!I think S's idea was good-to engage the lil girl in conversation,to take here away from the situation.
Same aghastness at your experience,little though you call it..hope the memory remains blanked out in years to come...and,hope this post serves as a warning to people-a bit of care is always better.

Rada said...

One of the things we can definitely do is to create an atmosphere at home, where the child feels he/she can confide and speak openly to his/her parents. This suggestion may seem rather obvious and facile, but believe me, open communication is a problem in many households.

Children can also instinctively know whether a "touch" is good or bad, but most times are terrified or ashamed to talk to the parents, fearing a reprimand.

Silvara said...

Agree with Rada's comment above - it's hard enough to raise a child without getting all over-protective on them and yet wanting them to be free...

Btw - I totally agree with the "kids dressing sexy thing" - it's off-putting and inappropiate. You're almsot inadvertantly making them grow up too soon...It's like seeing little kids dance provocatively to item songs on Boogie Woogie - it's really sad.

gauri said...

Yes, it is indeed a fine line, isn't it? Like Epiphany above said, they do psyche kids (and parents even more so) with the constant hammering of lurkers in the US. What Rada says is right. A friend here - single dad - had told his 4 & 1/2 year old daughter when it' okay for someone to touch her and when it's not, what part is okay for anyone to touch and what isn't, what to do if an "uncle" other than x,y,z,q get too close etc.

At times, just the very fact that we've become so paranoid scares me. Whatever happened to trust? At least within the known circle? Better safe than sorry though, I guess.

Very well written.


Meena said...

Very pertinent and relevant to our times.I have often agonized over the same - how much to tell my daughter without inhibiting her,what to tell her,how to make her feel safe and yet be adventurous? As you said,even an adult finds it difficult to discern "good" touch from"bad". Quite a confusing state of affairs.

Mahesh said...

I place the responsibility to the parents. If you have kids who are under 15 [or whatever], then *you* make sure that they don't get into awkward situations. And I agree with Rada, they should be comfortable at home to talk about these kind of situations.

Having said that, some parents are so protective that they don't allow kids to venture out on their own. Independence does a lot of good to the kids, giving them confidence etc.

There just needs to be a fine balance.

Cynic in Wonderland said...

epiphany i hope i was wrong too. hopefully its a lesser menace in India. I would like to think so. But i dont completely believe that myself. Hopefully with some busy body auties, the opportunities maybe fewer?

Amit - much more than you would believe. Ask your female friends, sisters. Men probabaly dont realize how bad it is until they have daughters of their own or perhaps younger sisters. and no i havent blanked it out. But i just get so effing angry about those incidents now. Such impotent anger - if i ever met that man, i think i would stab him with something.

rada - to quote from my personal example, ihad all lines open to my parents. there couldnt have been greater communication. and i grew up much loved. i STILL wasnt able to tell them anything. But yes, having said that, communication is critical. and maybe a few kids might be better for that. point is i have this suspicion that a lot of parents will not be able to deal with information like that properly also. not that i know what the proper reaction is - but knowing indians, i would assume people might want to shush it up and sweep it under the carpet.

Cynic in Wonderland said...

silvara - exactly. clothes like that cue in a maturity which the kids dont have - and thus might be misconstrued.

gauri - point is its the people one is supposed to trust that can be the (@*#(*(. There was this girl i know who was felt up by her fathers friend - when the father was in the next room. ugh.

meena - yus. i keep the couple of friends i have with kids to make sure they enrol their kids in some martial arts - self defense course. when and if i have kids i will do so too. i know it might be naive, but sometimes i feel that might help. or i hope that might help. because i dont know what else will.

Mahesh, how do u determine what is a fine balance. if your kid wants to go on a school trip, do u let go or do you protect. it is a fine line. and as meena said, a very difficult one to resolve.

IdeaSmith said...

It is certainly a very difficult decision, a fine line between protectiveness and restrictiveness/ suspiciousness. I am also not a proponent of erring on the side of being too auctious. Kids who are over-cosetted have their share of risks to face, if anything worse since they haven't had the proverbial knocks and bumps at the right time to toughen them up.

Coming back to this, I think one thing parents can do is communicate very clearly to children that there are some forms of touching that are not right. I think the biggest shock for a child who realises that he/she is suffering abuse is that such a thing is even possible. It is trickier trying to get them to judge but really I guess we need to have them develop a sense of their own rather than just 'checking off' on a list of infractions.

I think parents should also be open about sex and loving touching. The usual mindset of changing the TV channel, besides protoming excess curiosity and misinformation also shuts out a source of information for kids. It is important that they understand all the different kinds of touching before they are able to develop a sense for what is appropriate and what is not.

And finally I think a parent can also actively create a relationship of open communication with their children. Ever so often kids suspect they've been 'touched' but are not sure and worse still, don't know who to ask. So much evil can be stemmed if they only know they can turn to their parents without fear of being punished or disbelieved or have their own movements curtailed.

I'd love to read your draft with the last para if you are comfortable sharing it.

Satish Bhat said...

Cyn,I'm glad you did the right thing to make this guy back off. It's surprising how nobody else in the area noticed/acted before u did.

Ditto Rada and mahesh's thoughts. Communication is the key,not some do's and don'ts. Kids are meant to be carefree and mischievous. If a kid is made to think like an adult is he/she a kid anymore?

chandni said...

well...the whole concept of good touch and bad touch is imporant, and one must instill the same in children....if thye are told about it right from th begining, thye learnt to instinctively react as well.

Like this little neice of mine, shes very instinctive now about whom she wants physical affection from. There are some "uncles" she doesn't like touching her and she makes her displeasure known clearly. She's 6 years old.

Curry Pan said...

is it really that common these days? i have several very young cousins, and i'm sure they're not informed. is there some place where we can find statistics? but of course, this is a sensitive issue and creating statistics would probably be rather difficult

roop said...

I wish i could say what the answers are to your questions. I hope to know them by the time I have to raise a kid. but I must say that I totally agree withy ou when u say:

"But when it comes to children that young – seven, eight or nine - far too innocent to understand any improper advances that some types of adult-like clothes MIGHT elicit."

rads said...

Came here via nandini, and this post made me want to comment.

It is indeed a difficult world we live in, and having endured a few of those uncomfortable touches myself as a child I know it takes a great amount of nerve to actually speak about it, to anyone, at any age. In a way, am glad they have something called the FLE (family life education) series here in US for elementary school children from 4th grade through 6th grade on.

It's optional, but most of us sign the kids up. It does feel that perhaps the age seems too young, and too innocent to open them up to the different preys that they are vulnerable to, but in retrospect, it's better to be safe than sorry. I know my 13 year old is safe and will know what and how she should handle an encroachment. I wish I'd known that when I was her age.

Being aware is half the battle won.
Nice place btw :-)

Cynic in Wonderland said...

Ideasmith - yes i guess it boils down to communication. and then you hope the kid has some intutive sense of what is an okay touch and what is not. But as i mentioned earlier, i think a lot of parents require training as well - in case their kid has been abused or touched or something. because if a child comes to a parent with a problem and the parent reaction is inadequate, chances are the kid is never going to come back.

satish - i dont know actually. in matters like this i tend to go completely by gut feel rather than overt cues. its like you instinctively know which guys are safe and which are not. cant explain it i guess.

chandni - i guess kids are sensitized to it somehow as well? wonder how come to think of it. the eyes, body language. hmmm.

curry pan - i really dont know whether its a new phenomena - but i guess, earlier there werent so many opportunities to meet potential molestors?

roop i wish i and you know the answers by the time we have kids yes. otherwise its one heck of a scary world.

rads - perhaps one needs to introduce something like this in schools and all. but yes, being aware is much better. and i think the fundamental advantage of such programmes is the kids realize that they are not the ONLY ones facing it and more importantly they havent BROUGHT it upon themsleves.

Paradox said...

Very valid points. What I also wonder about is why do these adults behave the way they do. There was a time when the sight of a child only evoked feelings of paternal instinct. What has changed so much in our modern day society?

Trauma Queen said...

Im glad you wrote this - u dont need to justify yourself, im quite sure most people think this way.

I remeber reading an article about how british moms wanted shops that 'sexualised' kids wear to shut shop...

so no its not an 'indian' mentality only..its very global...

Cynic in Wonderland said...

paradox - im not sure thats true. i think the instances didnt come to light that often earlier on. i dont think there has been a fundamental CHANGE in human nature.

trauma queen - im sure its across the board, ultimately no parent will want their kids to be abused right.

rgc said...

Dont analyze your reaction so much. I would have done the same thing. And I wish someone would have warned the girl in my building that the bus driver she thought was her 'soulmate' was actually just a desperate fool.
You may have saved her life. Be thankful.