Marina DeLuca-Howard

Knowledge is power--its an adage I firmly believe. It occurs to me that
parents worry about appropriateness they often want to protect their child's
"innocence" about sexual humour or "real life". I remember as a child
reading and watching "inappropriate things". I would watch inappropriately
sexual movies or violent movies on television late at night as my parents
slept. I watched Love American Style when I was young. So, as an eleven
year old girl I knew how to avoid child molesters, knew that the creepy men
offering car rides or conversation were not always safe.

I also knew how to recognize safe situations and safe adults, too. I
developed through tv and books deemed too old a safe way to experience the
world. Everything contradicted everything else; so I learned to make
decisions and choices that seemed logical to me.

Most fears protecting children from sexual "knowledge" are misplaced.
Judgement and knowledge are important skills we should all foster. I think
after finding myself targeted by creepy men and one woman as a child under
the age of thirteen I was able to understand what was happening, but
unfortunately couldn't tell the appropriate adults in a manner that would
not have them gasping in horror at my precocious and inappropriate
knowledge. How to explain why and how I understood this person's interest
and keep myself safe were not possible in the world adults constructed for
cute innocent little girls.

I remember at a camping trip organized by the Catholic School I went to one
of the employees was very interested in me. He sat next to me and as he
flattered me my guard was up. The moment his hand touched my thigh and
creeped higher toward my groin, I knew to avoid him and without missing a
beat looked him in the eye and intercepted his hand as it reached my groin
and moved it. He felt safe enough doing this as other children and teachers
at the school sat having dinner. Ah, the long tablecloths. I changed seats
and gave him a long glare. He started chatting with another girl on the
other side of him. I had to play a very scary cat and mouse game.

Needless to say I did not enjoy the trip. I couldn't tell my friends or the
guardians responsible for my well-being about creepyman's creepy behaviour.
I did feel very smug when I reached home that I had outsmarted the man who
had wanted to "touch" me. I wasn't sure whether he would have raped me: it
scared me and angered me. But I had a lot of bravado and indignation.
Looking back I can't believe the situations I managed to get myself out of
and back then my secret weapon was that they (the sexual predators) did not
expect me to "recognize" or contextualize their behaviour. I could also not
tell my parents about the creepy situations because then I would have had to
explain the years of sneaking inappropriate books and watching inappropriate

I remember one man at a family reunion asking one of the younger kids to get
me to go into a dark bedroom where he was waiting on a water bed. Years
later the younger cousin as a teen, who still remembered the incident after
the man who hadn't been a blood relative was divorced from his "ticket" into
the family, said he was really horrified by what could have happened to me.
He realized with horror what the man's talk about how pretty I was meant
and he could get over his part in trying to trick me into going upstairs to
be alone with this guy. He said he couldn't believe what happened when he
thought about it and I said it was fine, because I had known as soon as I
swung the door open not go in the room and what to say. We marveled at the
things that had gone on under the noses of our parents.

But they knew more I discovered years later when my cousin's mother and I
talked. I said one of the things that hurt me the most as a girl was when
she took a picture I had given her down. She said she took the picture down
after a couple of grown men had made inappropriate comments about me as a
thirteen year old, and she was worried about me starting to draw
inappropriate attention. I remember her face when I told her some of the
stories had happened before I'd even turned thirteen.

I even had memorized Statutory Rape Law, and could spout it. I'd have to
say the line between scaring a child straight with discipline for her own
good and a child understanding humour or danger is blurred by most parents.
Having someone safe to talk to and having a safe space to encounter
situations is a good thing. Knowing "sexual humour" or understanding how to
judge adult intentions was a positive factor for me. Being able to tell
adults around me about other adults being dangerous and the reasons why they
were would have probably saved other children from danger and possibly harm.

As I meet more and more adults who weren't lucky enough to recognize
predators--good little girls who had their innocence and obedience create
havoc in their lives I wonder at the idea of sheltering children we have
created. In older days on farms children saw life, death and sex through
the life of animals. We don't see the rooster and the hen mating, nor eat
the pig slaughtered in the yard--but life hasn't changed much. Sheltering
children from work or exploitation in factories is different from hiding
life from them.

Perhaps this was the reason I got into so many arguments with other parents
about how I respected my children's personal boundaries and sovereignty.
Protecting children with vague streetproofing drills is silly--though
possibly better than nothing. Scaring them is horrible. Protecting them
from the Family Guy, which spoofs the elderly pedophile in a safe space
seems much better to introduce a topic.

Life is out there in all its elements--laugh at it in a safe space, and ask
and answer questions. But I don't think its wise to go out of our way to
shield children. Its better to build relationships based on love and trust
and see the world as partners.


"Insomnia is almost an oasis in which those who have to think or suffer
darkly take refuge." --Colette--
Rent our cottage:

[Non-text portions of this message have been removed]