“Don’t go off with strangers!”

I heard a mother say that to her little daughter and it made me think. We all have been told not to go off with strangers when we were children. It was a warning because you never know what a stranger might do to you. And there are a lot of creepy people out there who do evil things to innocent children.

But at the end of the day that’s actually a very nice way of not talking about a huge problem, namely: About 95% of people who abuse children are not strangers to them (give or take a few per cent, depending on what statistics you trust). Obviously it’s important to tell children not to go home with somebody whom they’ve never met before but it can also give a completely wrong impression: When I was a child I thought that abuse means that a middle-aged man on the playground gives you sweets, then tells you he has kittens at home that he wants to show you, takes you with him and buries you in his garden after raping you. Therefore I felt I was safe as long as I didn’t talk to strangers, or even better, as long as there were no kittens or sweets involved. Bullshit. I don’t say the scenario mentioned above doesn’t happen but we all have to see that the vast majority of abused children have known their abuser long before anything happened.

That’s something nobody wants to think about. We want to pretend that only strangers can be dangerous. Nobody wants a child to know that persons who should be trustworthy can do a lot of harm. But for thousands of children, reality is exactly that: “Family” or “friends” who do things to them nobody wants to speak of. And I think everyone owes those children a little honesty:

Don’t go off with strangers – of course you shouldn’t do that. But the far more important lesson is: Dare to say NO if somebody touches you and you don’t like it (with exceptions for dentists, obviously^^). Talk to someone if you are frightened. Know that your body belongs to yourself, and yourself only. And don’t be afraid of disappointing somebody. If you don’t like being kissed by your old auntie, that’s okay. If your daddy hugs you too tightly, tell him, he’s hurting you. None of us is here to please others and we have to stop pretending that dangerous strangers are the worst problem we have regarding abuse: It’s what happens behind pretty curtains in oh so pretty families.

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