I recently spent some time with a good friend of mine who happens to be a foster parent. This friend is currently fostering a teenage girl who was sexually abused when she was younger. During our visit we went on a walk. Her foster child walked next to me and casually brushed her hand and arm with mine. Sometimes this behavior happens when walking along side of others. However, this happened multiple times within two minutes and I felt that her actions were intentional.
I recognized her actions as a form of sexual behavior called frottage. I felt very uncomfortable so I confronted her. She laughed as I shared with her both my feelings of discomfort and the inappropriateness of her actions. I established a firm boundary that under no circumstance should she do this to me again. She remained in denial and would not be accountable for her behaviors.
This type of situation is uncomfortable for all parties involved. But they should be addressed in order to establish and maintain appropriate boundaries. If I had not addressed this inappropriate behavior in the moment there were many possible consequences.
In a recent staff meeting we brought up the issue of frottage behaviors. We discussed how discretely our staff is sometimes groomed by students, and for multiple reasons. We talked about the importance of following your instincts or gut feelings on these types of interactions in order to increase the safety in relationships.
While at work, it is fairly simple to maintain appropriate boundaries with students because of the level of heightened awareness that is necessary in order to do this job. In our personal lives it can be a different story. Our awareness may not be as great because we are not anticipating this will happen to us. I know that my awareness is sometimes not as great as it could be and maybe needs to be.
Each situation can be an opportunity to educate others, regardless of the setting. People can always be pulled to the side and corrected. We live in a sexualized society. Sexual behaviors are much more common among children and teenagers. This does not mean that these behaviors are healthy and acceptable.
Part of the adult role, and one that I encourage my clients to take upon themselves, is that of educating others. I encourage the parents with whom I work to educate themselves and their children- to heighten their awareness and thus their safety and the safety of their family members. This is one way that we can increase the awareness and safety in our society. Just like the analogy of the starfish, where throwing one back into the ocean after it has been stranded on shore made a difference, we too can influence society, beginning in our own homes. – Rachelle Gallup, CSW