February 8, 1990

Child Abuse

"The case has poisoned everyone who had contact with it."

Judge William Pounders discussing the McMartin Preschool trial

In order for a child to grow into a relatively normal adult, he/she should be held, hugged, touched and fondled. I kissed my infant daughters (I had no infant sons); kissed their feet and bellys and played with their fingers and toes. Yes, I loved playing with my babies. Few things feel or smell as wonderful as a baby's skin. As they grew older, I would pat their heads and tousle their hair as they went by. When they approached puberty, I felt somewhat ill at ease about touching them, so there wasn't as much physical contact. I think that it probably bothered them a lot, that I stopped touching them. The remedy for their problem was that they discovered love and touching with someone other than their parents. Maybe that's the way it's supposed to be.

One day, several years ago, my 7 year old grandson asked me "Grandpa, why are you always touching me?"

"Because it feels good to touch you," I answered.

He looked up at me and smiled: "It feels good to me too," he said.

I knew where he was coming from. He had been taught in school to be wary of people who were always touching him.

I get angry at people who frighten children. Children have to be aware of danger, but not continually afraid of it. Most kids grow up in a warm, caring and touching environment. Their security should not be disturbed as it now is in many schools.

I suspect that some of those people who prattle about child abuse are less interested in protecting children than in gratifying their own prurient voyeurism. There was a book on child abuse, published some 20 years ago, which gave graphic descriptions of the sex acts that were engaged in between children and adults. The author was ostensibly interested in doing away with child abuse. Her book sold well --as child pornography!

A male teacher who loves little children and wants to teach preschool these days, is taking his life and reputation in his hands. If he touches and hugs his charges, he opens himself up to a possible charge of sexually abusing them. If he doesn't touch them, he's not much of a preschool teacher. That kind of nurturance is viewed with suspicion in males, except where their own children are concerned. It's sad, because children need touching from both sexes of adults, at all ages.

What keeps most adults from sexually molesting children is that it, like murder, is taboo in almost all cultures and for good reason. Like having erotic feelings about ones parents, having erotic feelings about children is normal. Some of the basis of it is the memory of sex in our own childhood and some of it may be innate. People who act on these feeling are criminals.

Most of us have had the urge to kill someone, yet we haven't done so. There is a great difference between "sinning in your heart" and actually engaging in the act. In one case it is between yourself and your conscience; in the other, someone else can be badly hurt.

Sexual abuse of children has occurred since the beginning of time. It can cause severe problems in a child. I know of no study which is broad enough to really address the problem of how traumatic it really is. The cases that come to our attention are the ones which are very traumatic to the child; those where fear and intimidation is involved.

It was a common custom among European nursemaids to stroke the genitals of babies to quiet them. Is this child abuse? What is its effect on the child? Is it harmful? I have no answers to these questions.

The child abuse hysteria which accompanied the McMartin Preschool trial, has done a good deal of harm. So far as I can see, it hasn't decreased the amount of child abuse. But it has made a lot of parents, children and teachers very anxious.

It is important to assure a child who has been abused that it is not his/her fault. Still, is a child who has been sexually abused better off if the abuser(often a parent or close relative) is publicly disgraced and put in jail? Is the fact of sexual abuse less traumatic or more traumatic to a child if it is made public? Before publically prosecuting a child abuser, it might be a good idea to come up with answers to those questions.

Until we have the answers, maybe those cases should stay in judge's chambers and out of the media --for the child's sake.

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