Research Doctor turned consulting Sociology Educationist, Dr Ayelet Giladi’s ground-breaking research work – now developed into global presentations and educational programmes – reveals sexual harassment begins in the kindergarten playground.
We can identify sexual harassment taking place in the games children play. Sexual harassment is not culturally specific, it is a global child phenomenon. If we as adults, teachers, and parents don’t prevent these forms of play, it will become abusive.
The #metoo campaign is the knock-on effect we are seeing in developed adults. My work focuses on #metoochildren by bringing preventative methods to the children of today who are the leaders of our future.
Right now, one in every fifth child is either being sexually harassed or is the perpetrator and we don’t know about it. Even at age 5 children have feelings, and when another child crosses the boundary from play to sexual harassment, someone needs to hear them, otherwise, we will continue to produce both future victims and perpetrators in sexual violence.
As it stands the statistics for both attackers and victims of sexual harassment under age 12 is very high, with reports of rape rising exponentially. Statistics are from reported instances, but one has to ask, how many more occurrences are taking place that we are not noticing or don’t know about? How many presidents have raped in their own country?
Instead of spending money on righting wrongs, we need to instead go to the source where sexual harassment behaviours start to develop and empower the children themselves. The media has brought the phenomena to the world’s attention; we now need to share our knowledge with children at an early developmental stage.
Sexual harassment harms the dignity and right to privacy of its victims. Severe harassment which includes physical contact is an assault on the victim’s rights of their body. For children under the age of 12 (still legally considered minors by the law), we need to recognise and empower them with the tools to defend themselves while at school or play. The adult predator was not born that way; his behaviour was learned from a young age.
Teaching Childhood Values So Future Leaders Don’t Rape
Dr. Giladi’s programs do not just teach to prevent sexual harassment; they offer children from as young as 5-years of age a set of values to live by, namely #respect, #dignity, and #equality for self and others.
We give small children the appropriate language to use so they may express themselves and we prepare them so they are ready to talk about anything. We are giving the children a voice in their self-protection but also to the parents and the communities involved too.
For the past 10 years, I have been involved in rolling out my education programs in schools across Israel and now in other countries, and we have had phenomenal success. Our programs have the immediate effect of lowering the level of violence in the classroom.
Forms of ‘Play’ which Abuse
A heartbreaking example of how important it is to align values is when it comes to the type of games children play. An 11-year old girl was invited to play at a boy’s house, once there, she was raped by the boy and four of his friends. For the boys, it was ‘just a game’, but for the girl, it had never occurred to her that she was being invited to participate in that type of game.
Sexual harassment is the enactment of an indecent act performed either for sexual arousal, satisfaction, or degradation. The highest scores are usually seen in boys to girls, then boys to boys, then girls to girls, and then girls to boys.
Common expressions of sexual harassment seen with younger children include forcefully pulling down another’s pants, unwanted kissing, touching and grabbing another’s genitals, making verbal threats of rape, and harassment in a premeditated way.
Sodomy, a legal term for anal or oral sex, includes the insertion of an object into the anus, genitals or another’s mouth; while forced anal sex is considered rape.
“I had a heartbreaking experience of helping a family to cope in a case where another 5 years old inserted a pencil into their child’s penis. The child went into such trauma that he stopped talking and it took many years of therapy to support both the child and the family until finally the child slowly started to communicate again.”
Why start prevention tools at 5-years of age?
Every child has a natural developmental growth phase which is healthy and normal. Between birth and two years of age, children experience sexual arousal to touch, ie. perhaps you are changing a boy’s nappy and he will get a spontaneous erection.
Between 2 and 3 years of age, children have a natural curiosity and will make attempts to touch themselves or others; this is when parents can use books to teach children about their bodies and, if they want to touch their genitals or masturbate, let them know this is normal but they must do so in private.
Between 3 and 4 years of age, there is a tendency to examine each other and this is where parental supervision can steer them clear of harmful behaviours.
At the age of between 4 and 5 years of age, children have an awareness regarding #genitals and privacy #boundaries and this is when the time is right to offer them the values by which to both act and protect themselves.
Providing a child with the tools and values at the early childhood development stage is crucial in defining behavioural norms and promotes social and emotional learning as a requisite for a child’s optimal development, self-esteem, empathy, and self-realisation for the rest of their life.
Dr Ayelet Giladi is a consulting educational sociologist, sexual harassment prevention advisor, and pioneer in preventing sexual harassment among children. Discover more about the Voice of the Child, Dr Giladi’s prevention programs or download her book ‘Sexual Harassment: No Children’s Game – Preventing Sexual Harassment in the Educational System and the Community here.