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Today begins National Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month. I was reading around on the National Sexual Violence Resource Center site thinking about the work that I try to do as a parent to keep my son safe and to keep him aware of his responsibility for ensuring the safety of others. Perhaps one of the most mundane things is in reminding him to keep his hands to himself. As I was helping him dress the other day, Miles said, “No one touches my bottom, right Mommy?”

“That’s right, Miles,” I told him. “And you don’t touch anyone else’s. NO TOUCHING BOTTOMS.”

“That’s right,” he confirmed.

That exchange reminded me of his four-year-old wellness visit when his pediatrician was examining him and told him that he’s not to let anyone touch him, examine him, in that way; and then she qualified herself, “except Mommy and Daddy.” And to that I said, “and if you said ‘no’ to any of us, we would have to respect that.” We all agreed.

When I was a young girl, I broke a total of three fingers under three different sports related circumstances. On one occasion, my basketball coach didn’t know that my finger was broken and assumed it was jammed. She kept trying to persuade me to allow her to pull my finger so that the joint would become properly aligned. I refused her every attempt. Finally, she asked my father who said to her, “that’s her finger! I can’t give you permission to pull her finger.” I was very grateful to him for that. It was an early lesson in the authority that I possessed in constructing my own bodily boundaries. It was very powerful for my father, who was partly responsible for giving me life, to declare in a very public way that when I set limits regarding my body, other people, including him, had to respect that; otherwise, a violation occurred.

I think it is quite wonderful when a parent or a pediatrician can give a child a message regarding bodily integrity, but I am also quite comfortable with it coming from a teacher. I don’t expect to receive a note in my son’s book bag about the lessons his Play School has prepared for National Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month or a permission slip for me to authorize his participation in related educational programming, but I would definitely be cool with it; would you?

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