My parents never even knew. It happened the first time at her house. I was 7 years old, the same age that my oldest son is now. She told me her cousin taught her how to do something that made you feel good. Then she proceeded to molest me.
This continued throughout sleepovers at my house, even playdates. We’d hide under the skirt of my dressing table or in the closet, and she’d do things to me — things that felt good but that also felt wrong, very wrong. They scared me. I worried I would get pregnant because I didn’t know how that worked, but I knew it had something to do with the things she was doing to me and making me do to her.
I felt dirty, guilty, ashamed, sad. I rushed through it at my first confession: “Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. I touched someone and let someone else touch me.” Eventually, I plucked up the courage to ghost her. I pretended I was always busy when she invited me over. Our mothers stopped running the same Girl Scout troop.
I never told anyone until college.
This is why I don’t allow my children to go on sleepovers.
Mainstream America doesn’t realize it, but yes, you can be molested by another child. One in 4 women and 1 in 6 males were sexually abused before the age of 18, the CDC reported. Those abusers come from all age groups, according to the Children’s Assessment Center of Houston, which defines sexual abuse, in fact, “as sexual activity between adults and minors or between two minors when one forces [I’d add “coerces” as well] it on one another.”
According to Darkness to Light, a child sexual abuse prevention organization, “As many as 40% of children who are sexually abused are abused by older, or more powerful, children.” This could include that sleepover buddy, or that sleepover buddy’s older sibling.
So I worry about the kids. I also worry about the adults. Let me take some time to scare the living shit out of you. According to Darkness to Light, 90% of abused children are assaulted by someone they know, and 60% of children who are abused are abused by someone the family trusts. Kids are most vulnerable between ages 7 and 13; the median age is 9 — prime sleepover age.
When it comes to my kid, I don’t like these odds.
I don’t just worry about sexual abuse. I also worry about sexual exposure. I worry that my young kids will be exposed to pornography, and in this digital age, my fear is far from unfounded. The New York Times reported that 42% of children using the internet, ages 10 to 17, had viewed pornography. Forbes notes that most people cite the statistic that the average child views porn for the first time at age 11; however, it’s impossible to track down the source of that number, and the real age could be a bit higher — like 14. Regardless, I know that I can set my internet controls to Disneyland, but my kids’ friend might have the access — and the desire — to access porn on his mom’s unsecured iPad.
This porn isn’t the blurred Skinemax of yore, according to Huffington Post. This is hi-res and explicit, and increasingly graphic and violent. And this is how some kids learn about sex. And experts note as one consumes more porn, they need more and more graphic porn to get off. As Virginia Commonwealth University professor Jennifer Johnson says, “Men who watched more pornography deliberately conjured up pornographic images to maintain arousal during sex and preferred pornography over real-life sexual encounters.” Moreover, she says, “Now, the most popular and easily accessible forms of pornography contain significant amounts of violence, degradation and humiliation of women, are short, and focused almost exclusively on genitalia.” It used to be kids at sleepovers watched It or Aliens. That’s what I want my kids to see at their buddy’s house, not graphic, violent sexual encounters.
And unfortunately, I don’t know which kids, or parents, to trust. So for now, we’ve banned sleepovers. When the question comes up, we demur — our kids sleep in the same house with us. As they get older, I don’t know that we’ll be able to keep our ban going.
When the time comes, we’ll definitely make sure there’s adequate supervision. And we’ll discuss our concerns with the parents, the way you talk about guns when your kids go to someone else’s house for a playdate. I’d rather be upfront about my fears than have something happen to my kids. I don’t want my kids molested. I don’t want my kids exposed to porn. So I’m sorry, but they won’t be staying overnight at your place — because you just never know. My parents didn’t.