Thursday, September 20, 2007

Call it doctors and nurses, call it sand in bottoms...

Just don't call it sexual abuse.

This makes me furious.

Here's some bits:

Boy, 6, Accused of Sex Abuse

THE Education Department has investigated claims a six-year-old student ran a "sex club" at an eastern suburban primary school, involving up to up to half a dozen grade 1 students.

One mother said her son, also six, was asked to perform a sex act, and that the alleged perpetrator also exposed his genitals to students.


The mother has been unable to make a police report because the law states sexual assault by a child under 10 cannot be prosecuted.

"Victims of a perpetrator who is under the age of 10 should still have the same rights as any other victim of a sexual crime," she said.


But consulting psychologist John Cheetham said six-year-olds did not have a developed sense of right and wrong. "They are too young to put themselves into someone else's shoes," he said. "We've got to be very careful about putting an adult take on it, it's all about context."

Oh. My. God.

There are so many layers of wrong in this story that it makes my skin crawl.

1. Six. He's six. Six years old. He is not a PERPETRATOR for crying out loud. He's a six year old boy who thinks his penis is cool. He wants to show it to people. These people do not want to see it. Someone needs to go up to this boy and say sternly, 'Please leave your penis in your pants, Johnny (or whatever his name is). It's no big whoop. Half the human race have one.'

2. The mother who wants to prosecute this boy borders on insane.
Edited to admit this is a bit harsh, and I've tweaked some of the following lines - of course I am interpreting this mother's actions through some pretty sensationalist reporting and I don't know what's really going on for her. I am sure she's mostly confused and upset, but even so, I do stand by my comment that it is both misguided and ethically wrong to pursue or frame this kind of play as sexually criminal, implying the same motives and intentions as an adult abusing a child.
This kind of behaviour, while not as sweet as blowing dandelion fluff is pretty freaking normal in young children. I know I saw a little wormy penis or two before I turned 7, vaginas too. Bottoms are interesting. Then they stop being interesting. Then they start being interesting again later. Read Freud. To me this says more about our perception that a mother should be able to control every aspect of her child's experience, including sexual, than it does about the six year old boy accused of (vomit) holding a sex club. Come on. If anyone needs counselling it's anyone who believes children under ten should be able to be prosecuted as sex offenders.

3. Framing this behaviour as sexual abuse is tantamount to SEXUAL ABUSE. It is turning normal child behaviour (admittedly on the precocious, possibly slightly icky end of the spectrum) into something unhealthy. If anything a child that shows extreme sexual behaviour does need to be talked to and examined carefully by a doctor for evidence of sexual abuse. They don't need to be called a perpetrator.

4. Reporting stories like this as serious news is silly. Tomorrow's headlines 'Who Stole The Cookie from the Cookie Jar?' and 'Sister punches sister, other sister dobs.' All it does is contribute to the completely alarmist view that all of society can be separated into victim and perpetrator, that the whole world is crawling with paedophiles and that every kind of touching is suspect touching.

5. As Martin said tonight, the expectation that parents will control all their children's behaviours is huge these days. To add to this burden (and to further insulate children to an unhealthy degree), articles like this suggest parents (or even worse "authorities") should also be able to control their children's emerging sexuality.

It's not about knowing the difference between right and wrong. It's NOT wrong. I'm not saying that the other kids should have to look at his penis if they don't want to. I'm just saying there's perfectly normal avenues for dealing with this and that by blowing it out of proportion, they are risking real damage to this child's developing identity.

Every now and then I meet someone who has no idea what it's like to be a child. It's like their own childhood never happened. They also seem to entirely lack the imagination or ability to put themselves in a child's shoes. They have children of their own, they meet other children, they even attend playgroups, but yet they seem isolated from a culture of children, distrustful of children's exuberance, noise and emotions and alarmed by their undeveloped social skills. Although they take a great deal of joy in their own children, and love them dearly, they admit, often freely, to not particularly liking other people's children. That's what this story made me think of. Kids can seem kind of creepy to adults, and to each other, but that's called projecting, and it's adults doing it, seeing adult motives in child behaviour. When Fred tells me she's going to be me one day she doesn't mean she's going to grow up, kill me, make a wig from my hair and turn up at my book signings. She's learning about the boundaries of herself. Theyn all are. And they have these wildly fascinating bodies and they can't learn everything they need to know about them out of a book.

It also reminded me of J & B who I used to look after nearly 15 years ago (cripes) at a creche in Hobart. They invented a game called Sand in Bottoms, played in secret in a quiet spot behind the fort in the sandpit. We did the right things - we told their parents about it and said they might want to keep an eye on it and we put an end to it, upping our supervision in that part of the playground. But it was a fundamentally healthy game. J & B wanted to see what each other's bottoms looked like, and then put sand in them. Neither of them were disturbed by it, or showed any other worrying or extreme behaviours. Normal. Normal. Normal.


  1. Anonymous11:15 PM

    I'm sure it feels uncomfortable for parents to find out their child was participating in some kind of sex play with another kid if they don't know that kid and the exact context of the play, but either you believe the sex play is totally normal exploration or if you really believe the description of the sex play has some strange elements to it you'd surely be thinking that the kid instigating the sex play has been sexually abused. Either way, very disturbing that we'd start labelling little tiny kids perpetrators.

  2. Anonymous12:56 AM

    It's got more to do with this parent's views on sex than on the content of the game, I think. I feel sorry for the poor kid. As Penn said, it's NORMAL to explore your body and regardless of how sexually 'significant' the area you're exploring is to adults, it's NOT sexual, at least not in the adult way. And it's horrible for the child because, at the end of the day, you still don't know what you did wrong.

    Isn't if funny how the parents who seem to think it is their absolute right to control their children and everything they come into contact with - and shriek loudest at any sign that this kind of control is being threatened - are often the ones with the least actual control in their relationship with their children/relationships in general?

  3. I've read some of the specifics of this case and I'm afraid that there is more to it than 'you show me yours and I'll show you mine' .. honestly, it really is disturbing.
    Scary that a six year old understands so much about adult type sexuality, and yes, as blue milk says, it's WHERE he learned about tha acts he was wanting performed that terrifies me and requires investigation.

  4. Anonymous9:13 AM

    yeah well, my daughter was telling her teacher about me feeding the baby and now the teacher is alarmed that i might be "forcing my 4.5yr old to suck milk from my breast."
    W came home 2 days later making licking and sucking noises and i asked what she was doing and she told me its was "wet kissing noises that you do with a man." on further questioning the teacher had discussed it with her. I feed my baby and I'm a dirty rockspider, my daughter is taught wet slurpy kissing noises to do with a man and thats normal?

    i don't like the terms "sex play" really. Its more body exploration. Z has been doing this recently, and as far as I respond is usually (with girl and boy kids) "Well, when you do that, you have to wash your hands after, because thats were wee and poo comes from, and its not good to get them in your mouth.

    G also feels uncomfortable bathing the kids because he is worried someone will "report" him, and yet recently an online person stated that he thought it was "fine for children to be shown pornography." on the basis that they would know what was good or bad.

    I'm getting way over the crass sexualisation of everything. It is not liberating for anyone, its not funny, its not cool. At our primary school open day the dancing group did a slightly risque dancing routine to some R 'n'B song with the lyric "Shes a dirty mf-er...".

    These kids were 8 and 9.

    Can we just give kids their childhoods back?

  5. Anonymous9:31 AM

    I haven't read the particulars. No doubt it was more than that, since it reached national news. But I still think it's irresponsible reporting. No matter what the 'act' was that using language like 'perpetrator' and 'sexual abuse' and 'sex club' is utterly inappropriate and sensationalist. Compassion is in order here, and a moderate approach to the behaviour. To label it in such an extremist way is dangerous to all the children involved. Some kids are more precocious than others, it doesn't always indicate sexual abuse, but of course I acknowledge that this must be investigated.

    While I think an investigation and counselling is appropriate in these instances, it needs to be (and I am sure it has been) conducted with compassion and an understanding, not as a witch hunt. This article had 'flaming torches' written all over it.

  6. Anonymous9:37 AM

    Zose, I agree. I think there's far more endemic issues here than one little boy's penis, the way we think about children and sexuality has changed. Children aren't as ignorant as they used to be, but they are still largely innocent. The information they get from advertising is incongruous with the behaviour we expect from children. How are they supposed to process and interpret all these over sexual codes.

    Jo, I wasn't being as arch with you as I sounded in that last comment, I agree with you, but I am still cross with the way the 'story' was reported and even that it's a story in the news at all.

  7. No that's fine, I understand what you're saying about the reportage - that's a criticism of the media, not the children/parents/school.
    I don't think the mother is insane, or bordering on it, perhaps desperate and shocked .. I know I would be, and also perhaps misinformed and given bad advice. I read that as saying that she wanted to make a police report, not necessarily prosecute the child, but bring the incident to the police's attention (I believe it may be to bring the child's parents to the police's attention?) - I don't assume to know her motivation. Perhaps she felt let down by the school .. helpless?
    I don't know, but I do know that if I were her I would be pretty bloody angry if I were told that there was nothing that could be done.

  8. I have always thought that the ability to deal with children is directly proportional to the capacity to remember one's own experience of childhood.

    I wish there was some kind of test you could take. Where those who can't remember are banned from making Important Decisions Of Any Kind to do with kids.

  9. Fair call Jo, I've edited the post.

    But i'm not sure what else should be 'done'? Apart from obvious measures like counselling and support being made available and supervision being upped to prevent it happening again, I don't really see what other action would be appropriate? To involve police and media doesn't protect her or any other child, it simply further contributes to a climate of moral panic. There's a difference between seeking to protect and educate everyone involved about what's happening and looking for vengeance.
    It does without saying I'd be angry and confused if my children felt they were being bullied or violated. But he's still only a six year old boy. I just don't think it's right to criminalise his behaviour.

  10. By the way, usual disclaimer this is just my opinion, this is a personal blog, I'm not an expert in anything except me, and even then I can't say I'm rigorous in my factkeeping.

  11. Hey it was just my personal view on it too! And I'm pregnant, and Piscean .. tad emotional! I don't think you should have to edit anything, was just putting in my 2c. NZ 2c which is really not worth much.

  12. Nah, you were right, I wouldn't have edited it if I didn't feel a bit uncomfortable about the strong wording.

    I know you love me. You know I love you. It's a big loving thing.

  13. I haven't read about this story but that won't stop me !

    When I was about seven or eight, kiss chasey was the thing to do at big lunch. It involved packs of boys chasing girls - some willing, some not - and kissing them. I still remember being pushed up against the shelter sheds - it was terrifying and in the end I used to spend the lunch times sitting outside the principal's office, to feel safe.

    The thing is, I can't remember it being sexual in that there probably wasn't a lot of desire. It was about exploration of sexual practices (no doubt seen on telly) and power, and it was definitely bullying behaviour.

    I don't know if six year olds are even able to articulate motivations but maybe responses have to acknowledge how the other kids feel, whether the behaviour is dangerous or inappropriate and if it signals something more worrying. But these are not issues of 'sex clubs' or even predatory behaviour. And of course, dealt with with care and compassion, as Penni says.

  14. I read this yesteday Penni and found myself thinking about all the weird play we did as kids. I think it's natural and normal to be pushing the boundaries and testing out sexual ideas. Most of which we picked up in little bits and pieces from the culture around us. How else do we evolve into sexual beings?

    But back then, what is condsidered mainstream advertising now, I'm thinking billboards for sexchat and the bendon underwear ads etc, would have been considered pornographic. Or at least unsuitable for general consumption. So children now are learning these things against a back ground of sleaze and commercialised sexuality... is it any wonder that the boy used the words "sex club"?

    The whole thing makes me angry and a bit sad. I agree with you that to see this boy as a perpetrator and his playmates as victims is ridiculous. aargh.

  15. I agree with you on the adult spin on it - and plus calling a 6 year old a sexual predator is absolutely ridiculous!

    Having said that - I know that there is a difference between sexual curiosity and horsing around and a child knowing the particulars and instigating play with other children - more often than not you have to wonder about the home life and welfare of the child doing the instigating. He's not a predator by any means but if he knows how to instigate sexual play then there might very well be something wrong going on at home with this child. Teachers MUST, MUST, MUST report anything even remotely dodgy these days. It's mandatory because of the political and social climate we live in. It's also a compulsory part of the job. If they didn't then you could imagine what would happen if there WAS something dodgy going on.

    The media however, are obviously trying to muckrake the situation into something it's not. If they had to report it surely they could have picked an angle that was a little more sensitive for all involved. Of course sensitive doesn't sell newspapers.

  16. I agree that labelling is unhelpful when dealing with issues such as this. I think it should be noted however, that normal sexual exploration involves voluntary participants and I'm not sure that the children involved with the boy were volunteers.

    I think there needs to be more community education about normal exploration/play/behaviour and whats not normal, and the reasons that may underlie sexualised behaviour in children. Perhaps then we would take a more empathic view of such incidents and are less inclined to point fingers and label children with adult tags.

    I guess one good thing that comes from such sensationalist reporting is that it gets us talking about it. Often topics such as this are too confronting and delicate for discussion.