I haven’t written a blog in almost a year.
I’ve taken a giant step back from public life in general, written or otherwise, waiting until I felt drawn to converse here.
Listening to discussions on child sexual abuse has led me back, in part because of a very public video that has been shared involving a filmed and in person interaction between the Dalai Lama and a child. It is not my intention to directly speak to my feelings about this one moment that is not my lived experience, but it is my desire to share the reactions it brings up for me personally about children’s relationships with their own memories, their own observed and private experiences, the authority figures in their lives, and their bodies, none of which are one thing to them, or anyone who is a messenger in their life.
Maybe one of the most intimidating aspects of childhood is how freely adults feel to correct your sense of meaning, and compel you to talk. How complicated it is to restrict meaning in childhood to one isolated factor, much less to share that with adults ready to validate you.
We are witnessing the very nature of privacy arguments being stripped by larger and larger demographics of people as state violence, and a co-opting of the very definition of safety. We are disallowing any marginalized experience to carry nuance, unquestioned dignity, and resources. We are projecting versions of protest to privacy using children’s safety as rationale.
And we are having those conversations without personalizing our identities in relationship to clashing values and boundaries — and even more simply, unacknowledged assumptions.
So let me name a few of mine when it comes to child sexual abuse:
- Every framework of abuse has to be considerate of the power dynamics that influence a child’s priorities and perceptions not as single sources but as multiple sources
- Informed consent, age of consent, and consent are three different things
- Removing the ability to disclose an experience is impactful, no matter your age
- Belonging, acceptance, peer and adult approval, protected and explicit rights and interdependence are aspects of children’s material needs, not just their identity development or articulation
I offer a checklist of questions I ask myself whenever child sexual abuse is being discussed that help me place myself in my reactions. When I consider what would have made me safer in childhood, adult accountability for their beliefs, and not just their actions or reactions to me always surfaces to the top.
Self Check List Questions
- What voice am I speaking with? Parent, Adult survivor, Ethical Observer, Advocate, Therapist, Lawyer, etc.
- What assumptions am I making? What assumptions am I unwilling to make?
- Where am I getting my information?
- How am I relating to my own children, or my own caregiving, or my own caregivers?
- How am I relating to a child’s privacy? Fluid or private or nonverbal? Unstated experiences? Presumed experiences?
- Am I triggered? Do I know by what?
- Am I conflating multiple people’s needs and desired responses as shared/consistent?
- Am I personally impacted? Relationally tied to one or multiple people involved?
- What do I want to happen? What am I afraid will happen, or not happen?
- What am I learning from this conversation? How am I participating, or avoiding participating?
- What has the child asked for? Has that been received or validated?
- What might change with more time?
- What can only the child know and feel?
Even in making this list I can’t answer completely, because my reactions are not static. I am humbled by how true that is, and protective of whatever allows children to have thought partners they trust with their confusion, changed minds, changed feelings, disappointment in us, disconnection or hesitance or fairly assessed observations of what adults make possible or harder.
I am protective of children getting to be the loudest voice in their own heads, hopefully amidst support systems who have modeled their right to boundaries and self knowledge.
This may be a strange take, and a contentious one, but it is the only one I can offer and mean.
It is the only one that shows my younger selves enough respect and differentiation.
It is the one I would offer to children I love.