Body Sovereignty

One of the instructional pieces I go through with the girls in my circles is about Body Sovereignty. I begin by asking them if they know what a sovereign is or what sovereign means. Once we have the meaning distilled down, especially the part about being a Queen, I go into how they are the Queens of their own bodies.

Body Sovereignty is a bit of a touchy subject and yet I think it is absolutely critical that we talk about it and empower girls, even though some families spank, even though some of the girls have been or will be the victims of sexual abuse. It is my job to let them know that they are not bad, that their instincts are true and right, that they can and should speak out, shout out, *scream* out whatever words at whatever volume level is necessary to be certain that their bodily sovereignty is never breached.

I use examples provided by my own life, by my daughters (with permission), and some from friends. I talk about how they might feel if their friend were playing too roughly or hitting. I talk about how they might not want to kiss Aunt Georgia who has terrible denture breath. I talk about how an adult in charge might touch them inappropriately and give examples of what I consider appropriate touch to be.

For me, appropriate touch constitutes never touching the girls below their shoulders except in rare situations where they are sitting and I might touch a knee, though generally I won’t do that. I want them to feel absolutely certain that I am not going to do anything to harm them. This doesn’t mean I don’t make them angry, trigger them or accidentally hurt feelings now and then. I am human, after all.

We talk about instances in which they have been touched and would have preferred not to, like hugging Aunt Georgia or when a younger sibling is clingy or pestering. In other words, we discuss *safe* examples of how they have been touched without permission and at times when they would have preferred not to be touched but we absolutely do NOT press them to talk about potential (or actual) abuse. If they have been abused, they need to speak to that in their own time and normally this type of thing comes up during talking circle which always comes after the lesson.

Then I explain different ways of coping with unwanted touch and different types of unwanted touch. Aunt Georgia smells weird but she’s sweet and harmless and gives great birthday presents. A child might want to say something like, “I love you Aunt Georgia but I would prefer to shake hands. I really don’t feel like hugging.” If someone insists that the child hug her Aunt, the child might become more voluble and less malleable, she may even state, “This is my body and a I get to say what happens to it. You may not touch me without my permission.” In most cases this will cause the adults who send their girls to me to back up and think for a moment. If the child is then forced to hug the Aunt it will likely come back into the circle and my co-facilitator and I would then speak to the parents about the issue.

It can be very touchy! Still, girls need to know that the can, and that they should, say no when what they feel and want and mean is no.

We also talk about the power of volume in case someone touches them inappropriately, how being quite loud in a place where there are other people, will generally cause a person to back off. I then explain to them that they should always tell a safe adult if someone has been inappropriate with them or caused them to feel uncomfortable. This is not always about touch.

A safe adult could be a parent, a pastor, a teacher or a facilitator in the circle.

In my dream world no child is ever abused in any way but here we are, in reality where 1 out of every 3 girls will likely be sexually abused. By sharing this information with the girls I am doing my best to help them avoid abuse and to empower them to protect themselves.

Sexual abuse is too often silent. It is time to learn to shout it down. By teaching these girls and young women that they are in control, that they are the sovereign rulers of their own bodies, I believe that I am leading them in the direction of safety and control.

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