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