The Naming of Parts…

Many moons ago I was on a training course for professionals to prepare us for working with victims of sexual abuse, in this case children. It was a pretty heavy and emotive subject as you can imagine, but like all professionals who work day in day out with emotionally draining and affecting cases, we managed to find some humour in the situation.

We began in the usual manner, introductions, ice breaker etc and then came our first exercise. I’m going to share it with you now as it ended up being both riotously funny and poignantly informative. It certainly increased my communication skills and understanding and not only with children. And it helped us develop a strong feeling of trust in the group which sustained us through the more difficult parts of the course.

Anatomically Correct

We were presented with a huge basket of anatomically correct dolls, all ages, all ethnicities, all types of clothing but all, under their clothes, were anatomically correct. The purpose of the exercise was to help us behave with great sensitivity when working with child victims and not allow any lingering embarrassments of our own to transfer to the children. And to learn as many names and variations for sexual organs and other parts of the body as we could.

That is where the hilarity came in…

I was paired, to my initial horror, with a very eminent child psychiatrist. We each took one doll and then looked solemnly at each other. I suspect I cracked first and began to share all the terms I had ever heard for parts of the body. He joined in. As we relaxed we became more honest and collapsed into laughter at some of the ridiculous things we had heard or used ourselves as children. I still actually know adults who refer to ‘front bottom’ for the vagina which is truly sending some mixed messages about female sexuality!

Humour aside, it was a salutary exercise in the messages we often unwittingly give out to children and how we still carry those messages into adult life. They can still be enormously powerful. And embarrassing …  My poor children had no hiding place. I resolutely used the correct terms and can well remember my daughter startling everyone into stunned silence by casually referring to her vagina when she was 4 years old. My Mum nearly fainted! What’s in a name, eh?

Photo Credit: Lynne Lancaster

My apologies if this post has churned up some memories. Three-quarters (72%) of sexually abused children did not tell anyone about the abuse at the time. 27% told someone later.  Around a third (31%) still had not told anyone about their experience(s) by early adulthood. From: Cawson et al. (2000) Child maltreatment in the UK: a study of the prevalence of child abuse and neglectLondon: NSPCC. p.83. If you are one of that 31% the NSPCC in the UK, offers support to adults as well as children

Posted on June 3rd, 2011 by

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