Petra de Koning,
translated from: NRC 24 October 1998
protocols, rules about taking a child on your lap.
Teachers try to protect themselves against suspicions. They are afraid.
It is difficult for them to recognize child sexual abuse.
A four-year old little boy must make water. But his female teacher has no time, she is freeing another child who is stuck in the climbing frame. The male director of the school walks along the classroom, he sees the teacher and the child who begins to cry. The man takes the child to the toilet. Trousers down, making water, drying the peewee, trousers up. The little boy is happy.
But his parents are not. At the end of the afternoon they come to school. Their son had told that he was on the toilet with a man. The teacher explains what happened. She had no time and the director was by accident present. In the evening, the director calls the parents to explain the incident again. In the next team meeting, he says: "We cannot be carefully enough."
Teachers follow courses named 'preventing sexual abuse' or 'professional tenderness'. They develop behavior codes, protocols and rules; in the teachers' room lays the brochure 'This does not happen at our school'.
Teachers look after themselves and each other. They must do this, they say, because again and again there is a new abuse case. This is the situation at the scouts, at the sporting club, in the swimming pool, and especially at schools and day care centers. Last month, the Minister of Justice proposed to register condemned pedophiles - and everyone referred to the schools, sporting clubs and so on. Those people should never more find a job in the neighborhood of children.
The teachers were already scared for false accusations. Even worse would be: incorrectly being placed on the blacklist - as the registration is named in the education magazines. [...]
[...] The goodnight kiss in group 8 has been abolished at the Groenvlietschool in IJsselstein [The Netherlands]. Shrieking girls who crept down in their sleeping bags to avoid the kissing teacher - that was a normal scene at the school camp. Until, suddenly, the team became conscious that this was no longer possible.
The school developed behavior rules, as many schools nowadays do. Examples or draft codes can be asked at advice services for schools, teachers' labors or institutions for mental health.
The teachers of the Groenvlietschool are not allowed to touch the children too much. The must have the door open if they are one-to-one with a child in a classroom. Children who have forgotten their gym clothes are no longer forces to gym in their underwear, as was usual before. Female teachers are not allowed to enter the changing rooms of boys, male teachers not those of girls.
Lieke Gijzel, teacher of group three:
"If they make a mess of it, I must enter. In that case, I try to look as neutrally as possible."
"Yes, like: boys, I do not look to anything, but I had to enter here."
Last year, she had a little boy in her group who again and again crept on her lap and wanted to kiss her. "You're so nice, I love you!" he said.
"I have kept off this more or less. I said: 'I have already had a kiss today, and that's enough.' But as soon as he was in my neighborhood, he appeared to fall in love." [...]
The Gooilandschool in Bussum [The Netherlands] has now a Protocol to Prevent Sexual Intimidation. Two pages with rules for behavior and manners. [...]
The first rule is about physically touching children:
"We are very withholding in kissing the children. Until group three, a birthday kiss may not be a problem. For older children, a kiss is only allowed if the initiative lays explicitly with the child. Teachers of the groups seven and eight may not kiss any child."
"Teachers of group seven and eight may not have children on their lap.
"Our opinion is that romping with the children, as such, is not bad. However, if the motive is a sexual one, to touch the children's private parts, we strongly reject this."
There are also rules about verbal communication: no double remarks and no dirty jokes. And rules about the daily contact with the children. Except in emergency cases, teachers are not allowed to enter the shower rooms. They also have to be withholding in the case children would want to visit them at home.
This protocol seems me cramped, says Huib Jochems, teacher of group eight.
"But is works. I am conscious of what I am doing. I still romp with the boys, but not in a one-to-one situation. I have ever kept off romping with the girls. In my opinion, they have less need to it."
At the schools inspectorate, last year 51 complaints about sexual abuse have come in, 28 of which were from elementary schools. Less than half of them lead to a conviction. Twenty-eight complains from 8000 elementary schools in The Netherlands. That is not much, say the staff members of the advise services and labors.
But nevertheless, they keep warning the teachers in courses or brochures. They say: what we know might be the top of the iceberg. They base that warning on the research of clinical psychologist Nel Draijer in 1985, who said that one out of every six or seven women might be abused before the age of sixteen by people from their neighborhood.
Two years after that report, psychologists and journalists suddenly have seen much more then that top of the large iceberg, as it was named. [...]
Teachers do not only pay more attention to their own behavior - what is within or without the limits - they also better look after their students. If they may believe the research reports, they know that in every group there might at least be two or three children who are abused by their father, neighbor, uncle or stepfather.
Huib Jochems, from the Gooilandschool:
"Last years, I became very conscious that I haven't seen any. Am I blind? I don't see any signals."
He can only remember two children whom he suspected to be incest victims. This was twelve and eight years ago. One girl reacted cramped to touching. She sometimes had bad marks, especially after a weekend at her father's. Jochem reported the girl to the mental health services and the medical confidant. But the girl did not say anything. "Then, my possibilities were at their end."
Jochem did not trust another girl's father. "Such a sly dog! He soft-sawdered me, but he could suddenly flare up. That girl was nervous. A full year, I have doubted what to do. Then, she was no longer in my group."
Jochem says he fears to miss signals, but he also fears to make mistakes. "I have three children. Imagine that someone of their school had had such a course, comes to me and says: sir, you badly touch your children!"
Nanko Wieringa, an assistant school director, wrote a thesis about incest and about teachers who refuse to see the signals because sexual abuse is a difficult topic. Wieringa studied the signals and the resistance in education to recognize them. Child sexual abuse is immensely frequent, he says. However, after twenty years of work in education, he can remember only one suspicion of incest.
"At the end, it appeared to be not true, or at least never proved. My doubts remain, especially concerning the stepfather."
The girl refused to take a shower if he was in the neighborhood and didn't want to give him a goodnight kiss. Her mother thought there was something wrong, but Wieringa had seen no signals of it.
"It's a pitfall," he says, "these children are often very adapted, they behave as socially is wanted."
At courses and in literature, teachers learn about more than hundred signals. On the lists are inevitable signs like sperm in a vagina, wounds within the buttocks and thighs, and also 'smelling of sperm'. But how can a teacher know this?
There are also signs which can refer to everything, thus to nothing: nightmares, telling lies, stealing, arson, talking much about sex, sore throat, headache, bellyache.
Teachers are at a loss with many of those signs:
Abused children demand extremely much attention or retire themselves,
They dare not to make water or they do this very often,
they have problems to sleep or they sleep a lot.
They are compliant or very troublesome.
The become cramped if touched or they continually seek bodily contact.
They are afraid to adults or they search contact with one special adult.
It remains Fingerspitzengefühl, says Wierenga. be very attentive.
"Recently, I heard a father who said 'darling' to his daughter in a way I didn't like. It was sexually colored."
After all, teachers have no idea to which signs the should be attentive. They are attentive to children who often have their hands on their crotch. Also to children who on the age of four speak about fucking. "Cock sucker!" said a boy of group one last week, says a teacher. In a day care center, the workers suspect a father because of the way he says good-bye to he three-year old son. He sits on his knees, draws the child between his legs and kisses him on the month for a long time. This made the care workers sick.
Also workers in mental health centers, crisis homes, and medical day care centers do not know what are signs of sexual abuse and what are not. They know that these signs may be bizarre. A child that only wanted to go to school in dungarees, so that the teacher could not touch his buttocks with his hand. A child that did not like custard - "too dirty to think about", said a child care worker in a children's crisis home. Or a child that said: "Daddy spits". If the nurse asked "When does he spit?", the child said: "If he pisses".
Professionals say that the most important thing is not to be panicked about sexual abuse. Children could be more troubled by that; they think they would have betrayed their parents.
"Often the signals are first recognized at school," says Marga Bakker, childcare worker in a children's crisis home in Amsterdam. "The police will come as well as the child protection agencies. Sometimes I think: 'My God! what have they started! As the children begin to talk, they do not know that there is no way back."
These children are often placed in foster families or in a crisis home, not always together with their siblings, even if their father, uncle or a family's friend has been arrested.
The medical day care center 't Kabouterhuis (Dwarfs' Home) in Amsterdam has a special protocol in cases of child sexual abuse, as have many day care centers nowadays. Every suspicion has to go through carefully described phases: signaling, information, diagnosis and treatment. This is to prevent mistakes. The number of suspicions is growing.
"I see around me that people are quite busy with abuse," says Ans van Wijk, treatment coordinator of the day care center. "Parents are worried if the driver of the school bus brings their child a bit later home. In earlier days, the would have thought their had been an accident. They worry also if the child has sit on his lap. But every child likes it to sit at the wheel."
Childcare workers of The Dwarfs' Home do not become scared if children often have their hands within their trousers, they might have worms. Also not if children say "Suck my dick!" of if they play "Dutroux" [a child abuse case in Belgium]. Orthopegagogue Pim van de Pol says:
"They see and hear a lot at home or on television they cannot understand or cope with. They react by imitating it."