Fake apologies imply our kids’ safety is for sale

Here’s a pet peeve of mine: fake apologies.

You know what I’m talking about. The ones that sound like this:

“I’m sorry you feel that way.” This implies the person is not really sorry; they just don’t like how you feel.

“I’m sorry, but hey, you do that all the time.” This person isn’t really sorry; they are excusing their behavior because it’s something they’ve seen or experienced someone else doing, even if it’s hurtful or wrong.

“I’m sorry if you are offended by what I did.” This is really code for “I’m sorry I got caught.”

This last one sounds a lot like this recent apology by Global Road Entertainment: “We apologize to anybody who feels the original version of ‘Show Dogs’ sent an inappropriate message.” (https://www.cnn.com/2018/05/23/entertainment/show-dogs-controversy/index.html)

Global Roads Entertainment thought the idea of having a character in a kids’ movie who gets advice to go to a “zen place” while he endures unwanted genital touching was funny and would sell.

That wasn’t an apology. It was a “cover-our-rear” move by a company called out for their gross insensitivity to sexual abuse in an era during which all kinds of people are coming forward with their stories of inappropriate sexual touching by “stand-up guys” like Matt Lauer and Bill Cosby.

Meanwhile:

■ One in four girls and one in six boys are sexually abused before age 18.

■ Over a third of people who sexually abuse children are family members.

■ False reporting happens only 2 to 10 percent of the time. (https://www.nsvrc.org/sites/default/files/publications_nsvrc_factsheet_media-packet_statistics-about-sexual-violence_0.pdf)

Grooming is a behavior people who sexually abuse children use to make their victims think the behavior is somehow OK.

To groom someone literally means to train or prepare them for a particular activity. In the case of sexual abuse, it specifically refers to befriending and creating a relationship or emotional connection with a child — and sometimes with the adults in a family, too.

The purpose of this is to lower the child’s inhibitions so that the person can abuse the child sexually.

Grown-ups in a family can be tricked into thinking, “that person would never do that.” This kind of insidious behavior can make even the smartest of adults discount their own uncomfortable feelings or even a child’s disclosure.

When we take grooming lightly, either as a joke in a movie or when reported to us in real life, we start being complicit in the above statistics.

So, no, I don’t accept that fake apology. If you don’t know what you’ve done wrong, Global Roads Entertainment, I suggest you and your partners at Riverstone Pictures get together to watch some of the survivors of Larry Nassar’s abuse tell their stories.

Parents: If you’ve already seen Show Dogs, be sure to talk with your children about the inappropriateness of the rule about having the dog’s genitals touched. Let them know that it should be their choice if and how people touch them. If your child is uncomfortable in any way, tell them they can come to you for help. Let them know you’ll have their back — and then do.

If you haven’t seen the movie, you don’t have to in order to have the above conversation. Children need as much agency as possible over who touches their bodies. Think about that in terms of tickling, horseplay and hugging. Do you listen if they say stop? Do you offer a choice and respect their answer? It’s not too late to change if you want things to be different.

Together, if we are willing to truly think about our behavior — things we survived, or things we’ve “always done” that are “no big deal” — we can be part of giving the resounding message that our children’s safety is not for sale.

Amy Johnson, MSW, is a trainer and educator in the Pacific Northwest. She is co-author of three books and facilitates classes and workshops in the Puget Sound area. She specializes in sexuality education and in promoting safe and healthy sexuality culture in faith communities. All opinions are her own. She can be reached at comments@diligentjoy.com.

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