Sunday, 19 January 2014

the right touch

There are some seriously scary people in our world. A couple of months ago in Ireland, two drunk guys lured a couple of very young girls at a neighbour’s birthday party into their own house and raped them. The news sent shockwaves throughout Ireland; but for every story like this that hits headlines, I’m sure there are countless more that remain buried in the victims' hearts.

Last week my six-year-old daughter, Amber, was sick for a few days. One night she was so miserable that I promised her an extra story, so she pulled one of her favourites off the shelf.

‘The Right Touch’ is a gentle, non-explicit book that helps protect kids from sexual abuse. I bought it a few years ago because, as an adult survivor, I’m determined to make sure the same thing doesn’t happen to my kids!

Can you say, "Stop it, I don't like that!"?

The book opens with a bedtime conversation between a little boy and his mum. As kids follow along, they learn that some parts of our bodies are private; that some touch is okay and some touch isn’t; how to identify warning signs, and three simple ways to protect themselves from harm. The book also stresses that if bad touch happens, it’s never the kid’s fault.

We usually talk for a few minutes after reading the story, but this time Amber's question was different.

“Mummy, is that story true?”

I paused for a minute, let out a breath and gave an answer I hadn’t planned on giving until she was much older.

“No Amber, but it does happen to real people, and it happened to me when I was little,” I said. “That’s why I bought this book, because when I was little, I didn’t know what to do. Bad touching doesn’t happen to everyone, but at least if someone tries to hurt you, you’ll know what to do. And it probably won’t happen, because the world isn’t a bad place and God is looking after you.”

I didn’t want to explain any further. But I did want her to see how important the lesson was, so IF the time ever came, she’d remember. (And I pray she never does need to remember, because I think I’d explode with rage and grief!)

My memories of abuse start in a fog somewhere before the age of five, and come back into sharp focus at around 13 years old, when my dad - at home while my mum worked full-time - began stripping off and walking around the house completely naked in front of us kids. Pretty soon we weren’t safe in the house, but because of his threats we were afraid to tell anyone. As a 16-yr-old I took sleeping tablets some mornings to numb the emotional pain, then cut my hands with broken glass to let the pain out.

Finally I started seeing the school counselor and - thank God - she intervened. Long story short, my mum moved us to a safe house, my parents separated and eventually divorced. The fallout from the abuse and all the other craziness in our childhood still haunts my siblings and I in different ways. The pain goes so deep that it’s hard to break free.

Being an adult survivor of sexual abuse definitely adds another layer to parenting. You’re always that bit more aware of what’s going on around your kids, a little more careful about who they play with and whether they get to do sleepovers. I’m slowly learning to let go and trust that they’ll be okay e.g. I'm okay with posting a few of their photos online - I think if we can't even share innocent photos, the abusers have won. But I also think there’s nothing wrong with giving our kids some age-appropriate tips to stay safe!

staying safe ... better to be forewarned and forearmed!!

Being a survivor messes with other relationships too. For years I was determined not to get married - and certainly never thought I’d trust anyone enough to have kids. So the fact that I’m now married with three kids is a miracle - but I still struggle a bit with any kind of physical closeness. In fact that’s a huge part of my resolve this year, trying to break off those last claw-holds of abuse.

A few years ago I googled for help online and found a website for Adult Survivors of Child Abuse*. I read a few posts in the forum and bookmarked the page but didn’t go back. I guess it just felt way too heavy at the time. But last week after talking to Amber I clicked through and downloaded a new, free resource - the workbook used by ASCA in their support groups. ASCA deals with all forms of abuse (domestic violence, alcoholism, you name it!) and the workbook looks fabulous, so - if you’re also in recovery - it’s worth checking out. Perhaps not quite as good as a trained counselor, but if that option isn’t available this is a great second-best!

Another great resource is “Strong at the Broken Places: Overcoming the Trauma of Childhood Abuse’* by Linda Sanford, a psychologist who's worked for years with abuse victims. This isn’t a how-to book; it simply lets people who’ve lived through some of the worst abuse imaginable tell how their pain has - over time - turned to strength. Their message is clear - if we can do it, you can too!  Read this and then give it to your partner, if you have one - it’ll help them make sense of your hangups as well. Even if you haven’t personally suffered from abuse, this book is a great resource to pass on to friends and family who have - because it proves that the fallout doesn't have to last for a lifetime.

Phew - how was that for soul-baring? Next post not so heavy!

xx Laurel.

(* More tools available soon on the resource tab.)


  1. Laurel, I loved this post. I didn't think it was heavy. It was very real and redeeming. You are a brave mom. And your daughters are so blessed to have you as a mom. And your husband is a lucky guy. :)

  2. Thanks for the encouragement Damaris! I think you and Jason could teach me a thing or two about courage after all you've been through! Let's try and skype this week? xxx

  3. thanks too for the first comment on this blog, not feeling quite so lonely now :-)