Is Danish comedian Torben Chris wrong to bathe with his daughter? No, he is not.
Was he wrong to take a photograph of himself bathing with his daughter? No, he was not.
Was he wrong to post that photograph on Facebook in order to publicise his one-man show on the topic of nudity? Perhaps, although on balance if anything is going to scar his daughter for life it is more likely to be that chunky gold chain on a hairy chest combo. The monster.
Chris posted the photo this week to highlight what he considers to be a new prudishness around nakedness in his homeland. He was inspired to share the snap after being contacted by fathers who had been branded as paedophiles for sharing similar photos - one had been shamed for posting a photo of his daughter’s French plait against her bare back.
If the intention was to demonstrate that the world has gone batty with paedo-hysteria, the experiment appears to have fallen a little flat. Chris received thousands of responses and it seems the vast majority were supportive. Even the critical ones were relatively measured in tone. However, the fact that such a mundane family snapshot has migrated from social media to local, then national and now global news would suggest that something here has touched a nerve. I suspect the truth is that all of us – and fathers in particular – are now very uncertain and perhaps deeply worried about what is or is not appropriate with respect to children and nudity.
It is important to untangle a couple of the issues here. We need to differentiate between the rights and wrongs of being undressed around our children from the issues around publishing family photos. Children have rights to privacy, integrity and dignity and one shouldn’t need to ponder nightmarish extremes of what could happen to intimate photos of infants in the wrong hands in order to recognise the issues at hand.
For that reason, I would not post a photo of myself in the bath with one of my kids, but I certainly did bathe with them when they were infants and I would side with those who say it is not just acceptable, it is probably very healthy.
Last month the Children’s Commissioner published a research report which estimated that there may be somewhere in the region of 425,000 children in England who have been sexually abused within the past two years. That is something like one in every 20 children. Most incidents occur within the family environment. The adults (and indeed children) who commit these crimes are not encouraged, motivated or enabled to perpetrate these acts by a casual, liberal attitude to nudity, they are not suddenly overtaken with lust when seeing a child playing happily in the bath.
On the contrary, child abusers thrive on a culture of secrecy, of shame, of ignorance. Many acts of child sexual abuse go unreported because the victim has scant understanding of what is happening, far less the language to explain it to another adult.
If we are genuinely worried about paedophilia and child abuse, our first steps should not be to shield children from the human body, but to provide better, age-appropriate education on anatomy, on sex, on bodily integrity and on the importance of consent, both at home and at school.
There is definitely a sense abroad that men, especially fathers, are perpetually and disproportionately under suspicion as paedophiles. Most dads have some sort of story to tell about the time we were accused of being a child abuser for the most banal of reasons. We can probably slide bathing with our kids alongside taking our own child for a walk or sitting on a plane in the file of suspicious activities for fathers. We surely need to find ways of identifying and addressing real and critical dangers to children without getting distracted and diverted by this kind of paranoid stereotyping.
Between and even within families, there are wide variations in how comfortable people are with their own and other people’s bodies. There is no right and wrong. Most children are barely out of their infancy when they start to ask to ask for privacy to dress or bathe, and that is usually quickly followed by embarrassed pleas to their dad not to stumble around the house half-naked.
When that time comes, it is right and proper that the bedroom door is closed, the bath-times diverge. Before then, there is a tiny flicker of time in which we can bathe with our children, to splash, laugh and bond. The Danish word for this is “hygge,” it means “cosy and warm,” or if you prefer “huggy.” Enjoy it while it lasts, it never does.
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