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let’s be honest: keeping kids safe

this one is near to me, and a little difficult to talk about.

if there was one thing i wanted when i started this blog, it was to always be honest. transparent. sometimes blogging looks like lies but we need more truth, lots of truth, in order to move forward.

lately, for whatever reason, i’ve been thinking a lot about safety. not in respect to playground equipment and child-proofing closets, cupboards and stairwells. more like stranger danger, or, in many cases, the danger posed by a family member or family friend whose intentions are less than wholesome.

it’s important that i note that i am a survivor of sexual abuse. when i was very young, my parents trusted my brother and i in the hands of the couple who rented our downstairs apartment. what my parents – and i like to believe she, though i could be deluding myself – did not know was that her husband was a pedophile. how would they have known? it’s not like there’s a box to check on your standard rental application. (or is there?)

it has taken me a very, very long time to believe and accept that his actions were not, in fact, my fault. a very wise therapist once put it in perspective – how can a six year old be blamed for the actions of a fully grown man? when you stop imposing adult thoughts and rationalization on the mind of a child, the reality is sobering and, in fact, a relief.

i didn’t come forward with this until i was 16, going on 17. it was traumatic, to say the least, for both myself and my family. by that point the man resided in a different country and, unfortunately, the statute of limitations on his crime had run out. there was nothing we could do but move on.

after years of therapy and personal work, i’ve been able to get on with it, though the specter of this assault has and i feel will probably continue to loom over me for the rest of my life. it’s hard to have healthy romantic and intimate relationships when you are constantly terrified of being taken advantage of.

mini-me-im-with-dylan

now, with a daughter of my own, my senses have become ever heightened to the fear of sexual predators. how can i protect her from the kind of harm that i cannot see?

first and foremost, i have learned to respect my gut instinct. a slight twinge in the pit of my stomach when around someone i’m not quite sure of. “get out.” it says. i don’t always listen, but i should. and i will.

second, i’m constantly reminded of the importance of maintaining an open dialogue with her. she’s only two, so what and how much she understands about things, about life in general, is wee at the moment. but if we continue to talk about things openly, hopefully she will feel free and comfortable talking with me about anything. right now, if she says stop, we stop, which we hope will teach her the power of that word. i talk about my body, and her body, especially when it comes to things like breastfeeding. if your wondering, yes, this has been a grey area for me – for the most part breastfeeding has been a dream but there have been occasions where i feel uncomfortable with what can be perceived as invasive attention. if she wants “sip a boobies” but i’m feeling touched out, i have to explain to her, especially now that she can ask, it’s my body and my decision.

third, trust. this will always be the hardest part for me. we haven’t needed to hire an unknown sitter yet. i  don’t know if i can trust a service and recent news stories have not put my worried mind at ease. i challenge anyone to tell me that in this fear i’m overreacting. seriously, can you ever really be too careful? when it comes to the emotional well being of a child, i’d have to say that’s an easy no.

i can only imagine the host of emotions my parents had to sort through after learning about what that man did, not to mention the overwhelming feeling that they had failed me. i don’t blame my parents. pedophiles are, by nature, manipulative, and damn good at it. they can be anyone, and often the person you least suspect, which can make the whole horrible thing that much more traumatizing. neighbors are always quoted as saying, “he was always such a nice guy, kept to himself…” a nice guy, indeed.

years after i opened up to my parents, my mother reached out to the wife of the man who hurt me. She wanted to tell her what he had done, to find out if she had any idea, and to let him know that there’s a chance he has or might victimize other children. we learned it’s very rare for people like him to stop at one. i imagine my mom was hoping for an apology at least, from this woman we had shared meals with, hugs, laughs, pictures and memories (good ones)… i still have a patchwork cat piggy bank she gave to me one birthday. we received nothing but silence. even an angry denial, some kind of acknowledgement… although i suppose no acknowledgement was acknowledgement enough. it’s the kind of revelation that would shake a person to their core.

to this day i can recognize patterns in my behavior that i believe stem directly from the abuse, and i do what i can to avoid going down the wrong path. i’m the kind of person who likes to keep their guilt around and recall it in the dark hours of the morning when i should be sleeping. there’s a lot to let go. i wouldn’t wish this on anyone, and i will certainly do everything in my power to make sure dylan doesn’t have to face the same.

if you want to have that talk with your kids and you don’t know where to start, check out this article by stopitnow.org. or drop me a line and let’s chat. you know my favorite saying: “it takes a village to raise a child.”

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