Friday, 23 February 2018

Talking About Sexual Abuse

A little while back I received an email about a 'safe environment policy' from one of the organisations that I belong to. I opened it, expecting to read something along the lines of occupational health and safety hazards. To my surprise, it was actually good, common sense guidelines on interacting with youth to prevent sexual abuse or any possible perception of inappropriate behaviour.

All well and good, but the covering email introduced the document thus: I will start off by saying this is a very delicate topic… 
and concluded: Thank you for your understanding of this very delicate subject…

In my opinion, treating this as a 'delicate' or 'sensitive' matter is, I think, precisely one of the things that has enabled abusers to get away with inappropriate behaviour for so many decades, perhaps centuries. It makes it the elephant in the room that everybody feels 'uncomfortable' talking about and leaves victims with feelings of guilt or shame and having to take the responsibility for protecting the others around them from feelings of embarrassment or discomfort. I know, because I was a victim from age 10 to 14 years old. It was only after being able to talk about it 15 years ago, or so, that healing began.

Don't get me wrong. I am not suggesting our conversation should get into the gory and sordid details of who, what, how, etc. But I have come to understand that the last vestiges of a Victorian approach to talking about sex still hang on the topic of sexual abuse of children. Telling people that this is a delicate or sensitive matter, to my mind, sends a signal that they should take note but, please, let's not talk about it lest somebody becomes uncomfortable or even offended.

The only people we should worry about hurting or offending are the victims or potential victims.

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