Aunt Vadge: what constitutes inappropriate touching?

Hi Aunt Vadge,

My grand-daughter is 10 years old and it has come to my attention that her foster carers have been trying to wash her genitalia! Is this wrong, is this molestation? The girl is quite capable of washing herself without assistance.

I am very fearful that my granddaughter is being subjected to unnecessary fondling and inappropriate touching of her private parts. Please help, as I really feel this is wrong, really wrong, and don’t know what I should do about it. Please help.

Worried Grandmother

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Dear Worried Grandmother,

You are right to be concerned about this touching, since a 10-year-old girl is quite capable of washing her own body without assistance. There would be some circumstances where this might be necessary (like if she was ill or had an accident of some kind and couldn’t do it herself), but apart from that I would be raising some serious questions about this with the people caring for her, and the official department in charge of such matters. Inappropriate touching is not on.

I would also be giving your grand-daughter some solid advice about what is ok and what is not when it comes to her body. Nobody is allowed to touch her without her permission, especially her private areas.

Foster homes are not famous for being safe havens, despite the desperate need for them to be so. Abuse is absolutely rife by other kids and adults alike, so keep a close eye on your granddaughter where you can, and try to make sure bad things are not happening to her there. You may need to tread carefully to maintain access to your granddaughter, but there are ways of going about this that can be effective, without shaming the foster parents or creating animosity. This isn’t good for your granddaughter either, especially if the foster care situation is to be ongoing.

One of the best things you can teach your granddaughter are skills to protect herself – giving her strategies to keep herself safe is important. That could mean teaching her to stake a claim to her privacy in the shower, to lock the door, to be empowered to get changed alone and shower alone. To call someone in charge and insist that the foster carers are told not to go into the bathroom while she is showering, or speak to them yourself and mention that it is making your granddaughter very uncomfortable, not to mention you.

Give her tools to fight with, and don’t be shy about it. Get her to speak up, and ask for help, and make sure she knows you are on her side and will fight for her. Unfortunately speaking up can have disappointing or unpleasant consequences, but the squeaky door gets the oil. Not all foster kids have someone who loves them and is capable of putting up a fuss on their side, so do what you can.

It would be beneficial to speak to as many people in your local area who can help you as possible, and the people in charge of the foster system in your district. It might turn out to be some kind of error on your part, but it’s better to be safe than sorry when it comes to sexual abuse by carers. If your granddaughter is lucky, she just has a foster carer who is not a sexual predator, but instead just a poorly-informed substitute parent who has no idea how to care for a 10-year-old, and bringing their mistake to their attention will solve the problem.

If you need advice on how to deal with the foster care system in your country and city, try to call a helpline for sexual abuse, or call your local sexual health clinic or hospital, and they should be able to point you in the right direction.

Good job showing up for your granddaughter. She really needs you right now.

Warmest regards,
Aunt Vadge