As an adult, there is a good chance you have experienced some sort of sexual harassment in your life already.
If you’re shaking your head ‘no’ in response to this, then there is also a good chance that you might not even be aware of the sexual harassment happening while it was taking place.
Despite or perhaps because of the recent high-profile celebrity cases of sexual harassment which have grabbed international headlines with the #Metoo Movement, adults around the globe are realizing how unaware and unconscious our communities have become towards sexual harassment and sexual violence currently taking place in modern society, in the home, at school and within the workplace.
Dr Ayelet Giladi is a research doctor who founded and directs the Voice of the Child Association; a non-governmental organization which delivers world-class support and early childhood development education for children, adolescents, parents and educational system.
Prevention Starts with Young Children
Following her research doctorate which reveals sexual harassment behaviours which start on the playground among children as young as 5 years; Dr Giladi today dedicates her life to training education and sports practitioners with the knowledge of how to end sexual abuse before it can become as a lifelong behavioural pattern in a child’s life all the way into adulthood.
With over a decade of working with young children, educators, parents, principals towards the education of young children with the tools to prevent sexual harassment, Dr Ayelet Giladi says: “While we may be astounded at the burgeoning numbers of abused adults joining the #Metoo Movement and horrified by some of the personal stories which have been shared daily across the global news headlines about the abuses which take place; we must also be asking ‘but what about the children?
“Empirical data reveals that 1 in 5 children are experiencing sexually harassing behaviours at the hands of another child.
“In very young children – and we start educating with the tools to prevent sexual harassment with children as young as 5 years – many are unable to explain what is happening to them, understand the emotions they are experiencing or are not being believed and supported when they do tell someone about it,” explains Dr Giladi.
“Instead, we see its effects, such as social withdrawal, eating disorders, angry outbursts, anxiety and depression, bed-wetting and not wanting to go to school.
“Sexual harassment may sound like an over-exaggeration when applied to a child but these behaviours form the foundation to children’s misunderstanding of the concept of ‘my body’ is my own and not anyone else’s. It leads to degradation, insult and ongoing hurt of children.”
The Damage Wreaked
The core to understanding the work of Voice of the Child Association programs is best understood by just one example of a sexual harassment case Dr Giladi attended to which occurred between two curious 5-year boys in kindergarten.
As part of a game where the children were examining each other’s bodies, one of the boys inserted a pencil into the other boy’s penis. Apart from the physical effects on the boy, the emotional shock was such that the child stopped speaking altogether. It took a number of years and much therapy both medical and emotional and at great cost to boy’s education and parents personal funds to get the young boy to start communicating normally again.
“If the boys had had Taking a Stand program at their school, they would have self-protected themselves armed with the knowledge that they have the voice and personal qualities of saying no, of understanding themselves that this was no longer play but a form of sexual harassment – although we use age-appropriate languaging in all of our programs.
“When we take a deeper look at the phenomena of sexual harassment we can see it for what it is. It is an abuse of power, it is everyday sexism, misogyny and social behaviours that through their silence leads to rape, shame and broken lives, and years of psychological therapy and medical costs to return the victim to living a normal life.
“As parents and educators we must empower children in early developmental stages with the tool to prevent sexual harassment. Using my three age-specific programs for preschoolers, primary and high school students, we bring light to socialized behaviors of gender inequality, abuses we not only support next generation but start to empower ourselves in staking a stand and finding our own voice in leading a life of respect, dignity and integrity.
Making Children Safe at School
“Workplace sexual harassment is illegal and treated with the utmost severity; schools and kindergartens must therefore enforce the same strict approach. Students should not be concerned for their safety – they should feel secure at school rather than fear bullying and harassment.
Kindergarten children are naturally curious but also at a development stage where they are jostling for social power. It is taking place right now in our young children’s lives and we alone have the power to provide our children with the tools to grow-up with a better reality.
“Relationships between the sexes are seeing considerable amounts of violence against women and children as part of engendered social norms which they see, listen and learn; not just at home and school but on social media and other platforms.
“We need a culture where we are not afraid to speak out. We need to take sexual harassment seriously otherwise we are perpetrating the cycle and passing on to our children.
“As mothers and fathers, we must look to our own ability and reach for and develop tools to empower our children.”
Voice of the Child Association offers workshops and programs for parents and teachers which teach young children and adolescents the tools in identifying sexual harassment behaviours in children and delivers educational programs for children, parents and educators in understanding, coping and preventing it in early childhood development.