Wednesday, August 22, 2007

On the Nature of Abuse

I stand accused of playing with my son’s penis, and for encouraging him to play with mine.

Forget the truth value of the accusation. Is that behavior abuse?

If I was to have named our respective penises and played some puppet game (as was alleged), would that constitute child abuse? Two grown men travel putting on a show called Puppetry of the Penis. It amuses adults. I'm not sure it is very sexual.

Is it child abuse because the child’s sexuality is being exploited when the child is incapable of understanding it? By that argument, making a child kiss you would be child abuse because there are not many children that understand love – in fact, there’s a good number of adults that don’t understand it!

Is it abuse because I’m playing with him, or he with me? If I’m playing with him and he’s laughing and giggling but not getting excited (does a child experience excitement when he experiences an erection?), is that abuse. Is tickling abuse? Is pleasure verboten? If he’s playing with me and I get excited, is that abuse? If I don’t get excited, is it not abuse?

I guess the notion of sexual abuse of a child typically refers to the adult engaging in sexual practices with the child. Kissing is in, hugging is in, but touching sexual parts is out. OK. No problem there.

But what about schooling on toileting. Am I the only parent that has a boy that won’t actually hold his penis when he goes for a pee? Instead, he insists on grabbing the skin at the base of the penis (and the top of the scrotum) and wiggling it side to side. This is his idea of shaking it!

However, he also has a foreskin. So, to be clean (because everyone knows that the foreskin harbours “germs”), he really needs to pull it back. So, he won’t do it. Do I show him? Once? Twice? Three times? Never again? I’m not engaging in sexual practices here. I’m helping in toileting.

Or should I leave it to his mother? Is it abuse if the man touches a boy's penis, but not if the mother touches it? Is it better that a woman show a boy how to behave like a man?

Some people engage in golden showers. My boy sometimes thinks it is fun for him and I to pee together – and when he gets excited and starts flicking it about, I get a golden shower. It is no kind of turn on for me. I put it down to his high spirits. I presume that this is not child abuse.

And what about other games. As he learns about the man’s penis, he’s probably going to grab for it. My son already has. I’ve explained it is a no-go zone. But he’s a child, what if he goes for it again. And again? And again? Sure, there’s some point where something has to be done – but how far do we go to stop an undesired behavior? How far should we go? Electro-therapy probably seems a little harsh. And isn’t that child abuse anyway! Going back from there, where's the line?

The hangup is ours. The dirty thoughts are in the head of the adult, not in the head of the child.

I think the key is that an adult who uses a child to get sexual excitement should be the measure of child abuse (as we typically use the word). Of course, it is perhaps hard to measure sexual excitement, let alone the adult's intentions. However, just because it is tough to measure does not mean we should simply measure something else which is not valid but easier to measure.

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