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Is groping and dirty talk in front of children okay?

Question: 

Dear Stop It Now!,

I have a friend that came up to me and asked this question and I can't give her an answer because I'm not sure. She asked me if it is child abuse when her boyfriend talks about his ding ding getting hard and things he wants to do to her when her kids are around? I don't know if the kids are there all the time when it happens but he also grabs on her boobs and plays like he wants to put his hand in her pants. Is this okay? What do I tell her?

Response: 
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Dear Concerned Friend,

Thank you for contacting Stop It Now! for help. You’re asking a very good question, and many people are often unclear about what constitutes child abuse.

What is Sexual Abuse?
It is often helpful to understand the Definition of Child Sexual Abuse, as there are many misconceptions of what child abuse is, and what it is not. Many people are often surprised to learn that sexual abuse can occur through both touching and non-touching behaviors.

It is not uncommon for a child to accidentally overhear, or even walk in on, their parents, or a parent and a significant other, during a sexual encounter. Sometimes, when a child is an infant, parents may even have sex in the same room as their child. However, purposely exposing a child to sexual acts is sexually abusive.

It sounds like perhaps your friend was asking you because she had a gut feeling that what her boyfriend was doing in front of her children wasn’t right, and she was looking to you for guidance. It is not appropriate or okay for your friend’s boyfriend to be talking about, or to be exposing her kids to explicit sexual acts.

Recognizing Warning Signs
I’m wondering if you or your friend have ever noticed any of these Signs An Adult Is At-Risk To Harm A Child in her boyfriend. Becoming aware of warning signs is a good step in prevention. Although her boyfriend may not necessarily be at-risk, it sounds as though he is struggling to understand how to model appropriate boundaries with children. It’s likely that he wouldn’t grab your friend’s breast when meeting his parents, or talk about his erect penis around his co-workers if they were at a work party, and so he should also respect these same boundaries with her children.

Modeling Respect and Appropriate Boundaries
Children need to be treated with the same respect that is given to adults, and then some: keep explicit adult matters out of earshot or eyesight of children, as they are still children. The adults in a child’s life need to take extra care when working to model good boundaries when it comes to privacy, touch, and other limits with a child. A child watches the important adults in their life, and if they see that it is okay when someone they love crosses the line with them, or in front of them, they will be more likely to think it’s okay in other instances, which makes them more vulnerable to potential abuse.

Further, with the exception of medical reasons, a child’s “no” should be respected when it comes to touch; if they don’t wish to be kissed by their aunt for example, a parent should stand up for them and honor their wish. It is important that the adults stand up for and respect the children in their life, even if that means making another adult feel uncomfortable.

Protecting Children from Sexual Overstimulation is important too, as even young children are sexually excitable. Understanding when to increase privacy and encourage autonomy in children is not always easy. This article outlines some good guidelines for parents and caregivers, and may be helpful to your situation. Being mindful of the interactions your friend and her boyfriend have in front of the children is necessary to their healthy development.

Age Appropriate Healthy Sexuality Talks Are Important
Love and affection are necessary emotions to express to your children, and it is also no doubt necessary for adults to express their feelings for other adults in front of children as well. However, love and affection are quite different than sexually explicit acts or words. Teaching children about healthy sexuality is vital – but it is also necessary that it is done with care, and in an Age-Appropriate manner.

Prevention Thru Safety Planning
Now would be a great time for your friend to start having open conversations with her children about healthy sexuality and development, as well as her values and rules regarding touch, privacy, and other guidelines. These are the two key components of a family Safety Plan.

Safety planning helps keep children safe so they know what to expect and what is not okay when it comes to physical interaction, limits, and other important safety issues whether they are at your house, at school, in the park, or with a family member. When a rule is broken by a child, there will be consequences similar to those given when a rule like lying or stealing is broken. This will also further help keep the lines of communication open between your friend and her children, and they will know to talk to a trusted adult if someone ever “breaks a rule” with them.

Some families make rules like “all adults and children always have their clothes on during play” or “all adults and children must play with the doors open unless in a common area” or even “all adults and children keep their hands to themselves.” Also, it is always a good idea to have a parent around to monitor play, as this makes sure that an adult will always able to redirect children if there are any concerns. You and your friend may also find the following resources helpful when developing your safety plan:

Speaking Up
Having a conversation with your friend will be the next step, and then she can talk with her boyfriend. Although it may seem harmless, keeping the mature sexual language, as well as any mature sexual touch to himself when he is around these kids is necessary. Further, it is sexually abusive, and can be reported to Child Protective Services (CPS). It may be helpful for her to get him in on the safety planning rules as well, and explain to him why it is not okay to cross these boundaries.

Displays of affection are a good thing to express in front of the kids. What is not appropriate: mature sexual language, groping or putting his hands down her pants, and having sex or wanting to have sex or intimate relations with her children around. Setting aside time for themselves and their sexual relationship is important – like when the children are asleep, with the babysitter, or at a relative’s house – and perhaps having more “hands off” time will even make intimacy that much better.

Children should learn to respect, and be respected at home, so they can then lead by example and know what proper behavior is out in the world as well. Your friend’s boyfriend’s ability to honor your friend’s wishes is important too, and I’m hopeful that he will not only be receptive, but understanding and willing to make these changes. You really have asked a fantastic question, and I hope this information will be useful for your friend.

Take care,

Stop It Now!

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Last edited on: June 1st, 2016