Blogging A-Z: H is for hiding. Students (and adults) can be quite adept at hiding serious personal issues which truly need to be exposed. Sexual abuse is a big one. How can teachers and parents tell when a child is hiding sexual abuse? There’s no pure litmus test, but a cluster of behaviors can suggest further investigation. I’ll give a couple of examples of kids I’ve taught who were being sexually abused.
Robbie (all names are pseudonyms) was identified as having behavior and emotional disabilities when he was in preschool. (It’s worth noting that many sexual predators seek out kids with disabilities, figuring that they are less likely to report and /or be considered credible.) Although Robbie had a history of tantrums and defiance, his behavior worsened significantly when he began kindergarten. It was possible that he was reacting to the demands of school, so no red flags were raised. He did begin to report nightmares and regressed to wetting the bed at night. Robbie also started acting differently at school. He became overly affectionate with strangers, exposed himself in the bathroom, and had daily toileting accidents. Robbie was hiding right out in the open but it took a year before the sexual abuse by a teenage boy was confirmed.
Katie’s father carried her into school on her first day of kindergarten. He was holding her in a manner which was quite unusual for a child her age. Katie was very uncommunicative and withdrawn. When not engaged in school work, she masturbated. She only wore dresses, which she continually hitched up, revealing her underwear, or pulled down, exposing her chest. All the kids in her class were used to her continual exposure of private parts. In parent conferences, her mother was also uncommunicative and her father was angry. He accused the school of making up accounts of her sexualized behavior. Eventually, the family ended up in court and lost custody of their daughter. Katie was hiding to protect herself from repercussions, which included domestic violence.
Finally, I had contact with but did not teach either of two young girls (kindergarten and second grade) about whom sexual abuse was suspected. These girls had arrived partway through a school year and already had a history of attending multiple schools. They dressed in provocative clothing, which they both made even more revealing by shortening skirts, pulling sleeves down their shoulders, and sitting to expose their underwear. They engaged in sexual talk with boys. They also referred to their mother’s boyfriend in ways more characteristic of adolescent and adult attraction. I reported their behavior to the guidance counselor, who interviewed them and also involved social services. The girls denied any sexual abuse but we all suspected they were hiding. Within a month, the family had moved again.
If you think a child is hiding, be sure to check out sites like Stop It Now! and RAINN (Rape, Abuse, Incest National Network). It’s important that we help kids when they are hiding sexual abuse AND when they report it.