Almost everyone assumes that the only form of sexual abuse from parents, friends or family occurs when an adult physically touches a child in a physical manner. The best way to avoid this is to carefully monitor children 24/7. This is a horrific act that can't be ignored, however careful monitoring isn't always the best solution. In fact most child sexual abuse actually occurs by close friends and begins long before any touching. This process is called grooming, and sometimes parents accidently encourage grooming in the name of teaching children manners.
Daughter: Thank you for the gift Uncle Tom. (begins to open it)
Uncle: I know you will love it. (1)
Niece: (looking at new clothing) This isn't really my style. I do appreciate the gift, but do you have the receipt so that I can exchange it for something that is more my style? (2)
Mother: This was a gift, you need to appreciate it and say thank you. (3)
Niece: I am grateful, but I don't think I'll wear it because it isn't what I like. (2)
Uncle: Run upstairs and try it on, I think you will love it once you see it on. (4)
Niece: I don't want to. (2)
Uncle: Come on, this is how you should dress and I just want to see you dressed nice for a few minutes. (4)
Mother: Go ahead, your uncle wants to see you in the new outfit. (3,4,5,6)
Niece: Reluctantly obeys although she is uncomfortable.
Mother: (after uncle leaves) You were disrespectful to your uncle, when an adult tells you to do something you do it. (3,6)
Niece: I was just saying I didn't like the style. (2)
Mother: When family gives you gifts, it is rude to not wear what they give you. (5,6)
Niece: I really hate it mom.
Mother: just wear it when your uncle is around or something. (2,3,6)
There are a few kinds of abuse going on in this exchange:
MIRRORING (1): the uncle insists that she love the gift before it is opened, identifying his expectation of her.
NEGLECT (2): the daughter expresses her perspective and is ignored.
ADULTS ALWAYS RIGHT (3): Mother doesn't allow daughter to disagree with the actions of another adult.
ON DISPLAY (4): Despite her objections, daughter is asked to be put on display for the uncles pleasure.
BULLYING (5): Mother clearly agrees with uncles request, ignoring daughters objections.
PRESSING (6): Mother asks daughter to ignore her own discomfort.
What happens in exchanges like this, is the child begins to learn that they do not have the right to say "no" to another adult. This young girl is being told to ignore her own needs to avoid the discomfort of the adults. While the mother probably did this to protect the uncles feelings and avoid future discomfort, she asked the daughter to ignore her own feelings. The mother unintentionally gave the message that the child should do what adults ask even when they are uncomfortable with it.
The intention in this kind of exchange is often innocent, but it is actually a type of grooming that many sexual predators use to identify victims that they can keep under control. They look for environments where parents encourage children not to disagree with adults. Children who can be trusted not to object when things get uncomfortable for them are the children that predators will choose to satisfy their own needs.
Not all situations like this one will lead to any form of ongoing sexual abuse, but respecting a childs ability to say NO to another adult is one important tool for parents to consider carefully. It is uncomfortable to have a child openly admit they don't like something another adult is doing, but before asking children not to question adults in the name of being 'polite' we need to consider the unintended messages this suggestion is sending children.