Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Full Disclosure

Saturday night while I was getting dressed to go to my son's last college dance performance of the semester, my phone rang. I let it go to voicemail only to find out later that it was one of my adult students who wanted to talk to me about something. The performance ended late and we went out to eat after, so by the time I got her message, it was well past midnight and too late to call back. Sunday was a family function that bled right into hours of grading papers for my college students. I didn't end up contacting my student until Monday morning.

As it turns out, she wanted to chat about was her 10-year-old daughter who is also one of my students. On Saturday after karate, she'd told her mom that she had been sexually assaulted by a young male relative about a week before.

Reading her message literally made me freeze. I thought maybe I had misread her text (we were both at work and unable to physically chat) but I hadn't. The tiny silver lining to this very dark cloud is that my student actually told her mother about what had happened to her. I know that I didn't tell mine.

My abuser was also a relative. It started when I was six. About 10 years back, I wrote a story about it that I have since lost (that was two computers ago). I don't think I even told my mom until I was in my late teens or early 20s. Since she passed away 21 years ago, there were only four folks still on the planet who know about what happened to me - including my attacker and myself (the others are my beloved and my best friend, who was also sexually abused by a family memeber when she was a child). Unfortunately, me, my best friend and my student are not alone.

According to RAINN (Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network), one in six American women will be victims of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime - about 17.7 million folks (about 2.78 milion men have also been victms). Fifteen percent of those almost 18 million women are under the age of 12 when they were assaulted. In the US, a woman is sexually assaulted every two minutes and this year, the total tally will reach somewhere around 207,754 - most of whom will be assaulted by someone that they know. To me, those stats are absolutely insane.

Emotionally, things have run the gamut for me since I heard about my student. At first I was horrified, then very sad for my young student when I thought about what she'd experienced. Next I got very angry, thinking selfishly that some of the tools I helped her sharpen on the mat could possibly have saved her somehow (of course that ain't necessarily the case). After that, I became six-year-old me again - the same confused and scared person who thought that what happened was somehow my fault, which was the biggest reason I think I didn't tell anyone until I was an adult. Telling her mom about the abuse I suffered felt like the right thing to do when we talked. I also told training partner, Ed later in the day. Now I'm telling you.

The legal end of this is now in full swing as the police and Child Protective Services are involved and a connection has been made to SATU - the county's Sexual Abuse Treatment Unit - to help all concerned deal with the trauma via counseling and other things. Add physical exams and interviews with police and it has been very stressful week for the family. It will probably be stressful for a while.  

My adult student and I spoke a little while ago. She says she's just doing what needs to be done to protect her child - a sort of "auto-pilot" if you will. My concern is that once the immediate "Just. Get. It. Done." thinking has worn off, she will feel some sort of guilt for not being able to keep her child safe. Although it wasn't her fault at all, I can understand that thinking - because being an instructor she sees for four hours a week as well as a sexual abuse survivor, I'd be lying if I said I didn't feel some guilt as well. Misguided, perhaps, but it is what it is.

So my question is this: while there are lots of MA programs that touch on bullying, I haven't heard much about things like "good touch/bad touch"-type programs after pre-school or kindergarten, much less that are designed to be used in a martial arts setting. Do such programs exist? Can anyone point me to a curriculum? I'd really like to find out more.


  1. I dont know that such a program exists yet but I can't see why one cannot be developed - especially as an offshoot from some of the more established WSD organizations.

    The story you're relating here (both yours, and the little girl's) saddens and infuriates me as well. I've never been the victim of such an attack, but some of the very dear woman in my life have. I can understand your feelings as the bystander as well - I, too, feel so helpless when I think about what has happened with them.

    I hope that brave little girl gets the help she needs and finds closure soon.

    1. I think it is different from WSD - at least the "whack the guy in the padded suit" that don't address de-escalation ones, anyway. Again, most children who are sexualy assaulted are attacked by people that they know, and "grooming" before hand usually takes place. There are sometimes also threats of violence to someone/thing the victim loves (mom, little brother, dog, etc) or hints that the victim's story won't be believed or that it was the victim's fault - and the attack is often NOT a one-time thing, like date/acquaintance rape or other violent confrontations when the victim does not know the attacker. I think it really is more closely related to bullying than straight self-defense. If we do Bully Awareness programs with our young people (in school and in the dojo/dojang), why can't we do an equivilant program past pre-school that discusses things like "good touch/bad touch" AND teaches what to do about it before having to open the MA toolbox?

    2. I agree completely. And could have done a better job of explaining what I meant before.

      "Whack the guy in the padded suit" wouldn't work for children in this context. But I figured that, as a subset of the different teachings given by WSD, a program designed to help children evade or escape (at best) or report what happened (at worst) isn't too far removed from what many WSDs currently do.

      You make a very good point about it being very similar to bullying, though. The trust, fear, and shame are all tools used by assailants targeting children. So a modified and specialized bullying program would work too.

  2. In a lot of molestation cases, MA skills would be little to no help at all. In my case, I was not only groomed ahead of time, but I was subtly isolated from my fellow students. I think both to make me more vulnerable, and to ensure that no one would have my back or believe what I said. I don't know if they would have - I do know that I was firmly convinced that they wouldn't, and it was almost ten years after the fact before I told anyone. I don't think MA skills would have helped. If I could have brought myself to physically fight at all, which I doubt, all anybody would have seen was a young, healthy girl attacking a middling frail older teacher - I'm pretty sure it would have made me less likely to be believed.

    I don't have any real suggestions on programs or things to teach - at a certain level, too much of that can suggest to a child that if they just know enough, they ought to be able to avoid the situations, and suggesting that they tell a trusted adult only works if they have an available adult that they trust (good for your student that she was that adult for her child, seriously). I'm so sorry that she and her daughter are having to deal with this, and that you had to deal with it in your own life. There are far too many of us. Much love.