DES MOINES, Iowa — The Girl Scouts of America have a warning to parents and children about holiday hugs with family members.
The Girl Scouts say that not forcing children to show physical affection to relatives instills the idea of consent at an early age, and sexual assault advocates say it’s a good lesson to learn as early as possible.
“Conversations around consent are gathering a lot of attention and seem like a very adult topic, but there’s really a lot of great lessons we can teach girls about the physical boundaries that they can set with their own bodies and expecting other people to respect them,” said Beth Shelton, CEO of the Girl Scouts of Greater Iowa.
Shelton echoes the statement issued by the national organization.
“It’s really important to teach girls at a young age that they have the right to own their choices about how they give or receive physical affection, and for many kids, hugs are a very natural and loving choice. But for those who feel a little reticent about it, the idea of forcing them to give physical affection or that they owe it in exchange for a gift is a lesson we’d like to steer clear from,” she said.
Sexual assault advocates say learning these lessons early will help stop children from becoming victims or even perpetrators of sexual assault.
“When we talk about preventing sexual assault long-term in our community, a lot of early prevention work with, especially, younger kids has to do with bodily autonomy, that their body is their own, that no one has the right to touch it without consent, and they don’t have the right to touch anybody else’s without consent,” said Kerri True-Funk, Associate Director of the Iowa Coalition Against Sexual Assault.
Iowa CASA says that with over 90% of child sexual abuse being perpetrated by someone known to the child, these lessons can help prevent it not just in the future, but this year, as well.
“It’s not strangers jumping out of vans, it’s very much people that the kids know, they have some sort of level of trust with. And so when we’re talking about not having kids be forced to have physical contact with people that they’re uncomfortable with, it also tells them that they have the right to say no and that if somebody is going to push that boundary, that it’s not right,” said True-Funk.
The Girl Scouts suggest if a child doesn’t want to engage in physical affection, they can do things like smile or give a high-five to show their appreciation.