Step 4: When Touch Happens What Happens?
I have spent most of my adult life drinking way too much Coke. Imagine me at 24, I am going to seminary and taking an 8am class, and for breakfast I am drinking a coke and eating a Twix bar. This bad habit has deep roots, in my house growing up, we would play basketball for hours and when we needed a drink we would have a Coke (actually Pepsi, but that was a mid-western thing, I think). I can picture my mom popping open a Pepsi first thing is the morning as she cooked scrambled eggs. I must say for most of my life I have kept this habit. But as I get older, I am turning 40 this year; I have tried to cut back on my soda intake. I thought it might be what is causing some of my physical problems. Guess what I found, (drum roll please!) I am actually really thirsty! I mean really thirsty. Every day after I gave up soda, I would drink tons of water. And then it occurred to me, I am sure you were already aware of this, that soda doesn’t quench thirst it actually makes a person thirstier. But, because it had that sweet taste, plus my body didn’t know any different, I thought I was just getting a cold drink to quench my thirst. Interesting isn’t it, that soda is cold, wet, and tastes good but it damaged my insides. (two tablespoons of sugar helps!) Water is what I really needed and it is cold, wet, and tastes good but it truly quenches my thirst. My intake of soda never showed on the outside of my body. I work out and maintain a healthy weight. But on the inside, my stomach slowly started to really hurt. The damage was happening but I just couldn’t see it on the outside. We can hold this little example as a way to see what happens when the child is sexually touched by the abuser.
Sexual abuse does a very similar thing as Coke did for me except the consequences are much worse. As I wrote previously, all children are thirsty for touch. The abuser uses non-sexual touch to quench the child’s thirst. Using our metaphor, the child is given a sweet soda instead of water. (the non-sexual touch) Then, he tests the child to see if the child will let him go further. He might brush his inner thigh or “accidently” brush a breast. This test is to see if the pulls back in some way. And when the child doesn’t the abuser takes the touch to sexual touch. The child didn’t know that this sweet drink of “good” touch was going to be turned into sexual touch. A touch the child didn’t know was coming, a touch the child doesn’t even have categories for, a touch that awakens some sexual feelings (though the child is too young to have an awakened sexuality). The damage of that sexual touch, whether one time, several times or over years is devastating. Tragically, most of the damage is on the inside where nobody can see. It is in the child’s heart and mind. The memory is held in the child’s body and memory. The child grows up into an adult with a shattered heart. She may not have told a soul and she may not even know how much her life was damaged by this one violent act.
That’s why we, at Shielding Innocence, want to do this work. We want to prevent sexual abuse and harm as much as possible. I think there are many things we can do as parents to shield our children. Sexual abuse is not something we can ever be guaranteed won’t happen. But we can begin to implement strategies that help our child be less vulnerable to it.
Next week….How the abuser guarantees silence.
Credit for photo: FreeDigitalPhotos.net by Pigdevilphoto