my coworker won’t stop caressing me — or the kids we work with

A reader writes:

I work part-time for an organization that deals with recreational programming for all ages. I’ve been there for about 7 years. I work with children in the 6-11-year-old age range.

I have a new-ish coworker, Kim, who is very touchy-feely. She’s like this with everyone. She will get inside your personal bubble when she talks to you, and she will randomly rub your back/stroke your back as she’s walking past you, caress your arm, or even hug you. I am not a person who hates to be touched by others, but she did this from the beginning when I’d just met her, and it was off-putting.

She also does this with children, and it’s really just too much. Parents and other coworkers have mentioned it to me (one coworker actually ran up to me at an event and asked me to keep Kim away from her). I have seen her stroking kids’ faces when she’s talking to them. I heard from a parent that she slapped her daughter’s behind (not in punishment; as part of an exercise). I heard from an adult support staff person that she slapped him in the rear also, as she was laughing when he told her not to touch him (??). I have seen her poke at kids in their ribs/sides. She basically can’t keep her hands to herself. It is hard to say something in the moment when these things happen, because there are other people around, she is theoretically an authority figure, and I don’t want to make a scene around the kids by reprimanding one of their authority figures in front of them.

I have brought it up with our supervisor several times, and she has apparently discussed it with Kim, but it really doesn’t change. Our supervisor is probably hesitant to do anything more than talk to her, because it would create a hardship for her (supervisor) because there is nobody to cover for Kim. When I bring it up, t the story is always the same; our supervisor will agree and sympathize with me that it’s not right, but she won’t take any action against her other than talking to her.

I even discussed it with Kim about two months ago, and she gave lip service to how shocked she was that she did this, because she apparently didn’t realize it. It may have gotten a bit better for a while, but now she’s back to the same old thing, with the difference being that she always says, “Oh, sorry!” afterwards.

I finally lost my cool at Kim once when she was snarky to me in front of the kids. I told her to not talk to me like that in front of the kids, and she was instantly apologetic. This led to discussions about how I was already on edge around her because of the touchy-feely stuff, which segued into discussions of “keep your hands off other people because it’s not appropriate.” This was two months ago.

But at an event this weekend, she was rubbing my son’s head and was stroking my arm a different time. Both things were done, and then it was ‘Oh, sorry’. And of course, everything happens in a public place, where if you say anything, you are the one who is making a scene. She seems like the victim because hey, she’s apologizing, right? She still is touchy-feely, but now just makes a big production of the apologies, which are just downright uncomfortable. And really, what is a child going to say? He’s not going to say, “That made me uncomfortable/I didn’t like it/don’t do it again.” He’s going to say, “It’s okay” or something like that, because he’s a child and he doesn’t have those confrontation social skills, and she’s the authority figure. So it seems like she’s cashing in the situational aspect to get whatever pleasure she gets out of being so touchy-feely. I’m in serious danger of losing my cool again when she comes up with one of her apologies again, because it’s to the point that if she was truly sorry about it, it wouldn’t still be happening. She would have fixed her behavior already. I don’t care how ingrained it is…if THAT many people have commented on it negatively in the span of a year, then you need to do what you can to change it. Sorry doesn’t cut it anymore.

At this point, I don’t know what to do. And it’s all very small things, if you isolate them, so I worry about sounding like I’m making a mountain out of a molehill, or like I have a vendetta against her. I don’t want someone to say, “Oh, she touches you too much? Yeah, right. Drama queen.” But it’s the frequency. It’s the fact that people have said they don’t like it or it’s not appropriate, and she still does it anyway.

Should I be more blunt with Kim? Should I resort to filing a written complaint? I honestly don’t want to make things difficult for anyone. But I want her to stop. I don’t want to have to worry about being caressed by this person randomly, and I don’t want to have to worry about if she’s making the kids uncomfortable. And I really do not want some of this to be seen by others and have her actions negatively affect our organization as a whole. I love what I do, but I am to the point where I’m seriously considering not coming back for the next school year if she is still there.


Like you, I don’t buy that someone can’t control this behavior when they’ve been asked multiple times to stop. She either doesn’t take it seriously or doesn’t want to, but either way, it’s unacceptable.

It’s even worse that kids are involved, and it’s pretty outrageous that your manager isn’t even moved by that element to put a stop to it.

You did a good job of capturing the dynamics that allow boundary-violators to continue: You feel like you’ll be the one making a scene, and that it’ll seem petty to people who only see the current incident and don’t know about the whole year-long backdrop of groping and stroking and the repeated requests that she stop.

Here’s the thing though: To get her to stop, I think you’re going to have to push through those worries, stop caring if you make a scene, and … well, make one. The next time she touches you, take a step back and say, “I’ve asked you TO STOP TOUCHING ME.”

Will you look rude to those who don’t know the back story? Maybe. But (a) it’s going to be pretty clear to most people that this didn’t come out of the blue, and (b) it sounds like the people who will be around are people who have witnessed/been subject to Kim’s aggressive unwanted touching in the past. They’ll probably be glad that someone is calling it out.

It does require being willing to be far more direct and aggressive than you’d normally be. But similar to yesterday’s post about an awful coworker, that’s on her, not you — she’s the one who’s ignored your repeated, polite requests to stop, and this is what happens to people who do that. She is the cause of the discomfort, not you. You’re just protecting your entirely reasonable boundaries, which she keeps violating — and knows she’s violating.

I’d also suggest another conversation with her about the pattern, not just addressing it incident by incident: “I’ve told you repeatedly that I don’t want you to keep touching me or the kids. It’s continuing to happen. It’s unwelcome. Touching someone after you’ve been clearly told to stop is a pretty big deal. I’m not interested in an apology; I need it to stop. What needs to happen so that this stops?”

You might be tempted to smile or otherwise soften this when you say it. Don’t. She’s allowing herself to believe that this isn’t that big of a deal, and softening the message will reinforce that.

Also, can you talk to someone other than your supervisor, someone higher up? Frankly, it’s appalling that your supervisor isn’t handling this more assertively, and I have to think that someone above her might be more inclined to put the kibosh on this if they heard about it.

Read multiple updates to this letter here.

{ 526 comments… read them below }

  1. AMG*

    Yowza. Speaking as someone with lots of practice with drama, if she starts with the cloying apologies again, walk away. Briefly acknowledge, ignore, refocus, and don’t give it any attention past that.

    If you don’t come back next year, make sure you tell the powers that be why (someone above the manager perhaps?).

    And when it’s all said and done, please send us an update!

    1. nep*

      Seems to me walking away when the apology comes isn’t going to solve a thing.
      This, unfortunately, demands attention. The woman is acting in an altogether unacceptable manner.

  2. Snarkus Aurelius*

    Make no mistake. This behavior is intentional and manipulative. Period. Kim knows what she’s doing here, and that’s why she keeps doing it.

    Apologies are a disarming distraction because hey someone is apologizing and were socialized to accept those!

    Nope, nope, and nope.

    Cause a scene. Report her. Literally push her away from your personal space. Stop worrying what bystanders will think. Doesn’t matter. This is between you two.

    An upside is that this is a great opportunity to teach young children boundaries. They have agency over their bodies just like adults. You never want them to feel like they can’t tell someone, whoever it is, to not touch them. Everyone has that right.

    1. BRR*

      In regards to the apology you could always do what one of my brother’s professors did. A student walked in 15 minutes late with starbucks and said sorry as she walked past the front of the room to a chair. The professor said, “No you’re not, don’t apologize when you don’t mean it.”

      1. CanadianDot*

        That sounds like what my mother used to say when we’d repeat-offend, and then apologize but not really.

        “Don’t ‘be sorry’ about it. Just don’t do it.”

        1. Mallory Janis Ian*

          That’s what I say to my kids: “Don’t be sorry about it; just don’t do it.” My husband is more cranky than I am, and when he’s at the end of his rope with their “not-really” apologies, he tells them to “stuff your ‘sorries’ in a sack!”

    2. SJP*

      Snarkus is spot on..
      If she keeps getting too close step away, or put your hands up (without touching her as you’re just doing what she is doing which is putting your hands on someone else without their persmission) so she can’t come any further and say “Kim i’ve told you about touching and getting into my personal space, I have to put my hands up to stop you coming any closer. This seriously has to stop”
      And do, report her to someone higher up. Snkarus is right, she is manipulating you and the children and it is totally intentional.
      The only time I will ever touch someone is when I’m walking behind them, to the side of them and they don’t realise and they step back, I put my hands up so they don’t bump into me. But to intentionally keep touching people’s face, arms, back, BEHINDS!!, is seriously seriously not on. No wonder you hate this situation, i would too

      1. maggie*

        What in God’s green earth possessed the supervisor to think that TOUCHING THEIR BEHINDS was at all even remotely appropriate? Shame on the supervisor, truly. Would she rather have a lawsuit before something changes?

        1. maggie*

          Not to say that the other boundary crossing was either…

          Does anybody else feel totally grossed out right now? (see Kim? you’re affecting total strangers with your behavior!)

          1. Mallory Janis Ian*

            I do! There came a point in the letter where I just had to start skimming, because even just reading about this woman’s repeated (and repeated . . . ) behavior was emotionally exhausting. The frustration and tedium of having to tell someone over and over again to stop being absolutely skeevy . . . ugh!

        2. INTP*

          Right? Even if you don’t care about the employees and children in you charge, or anything else besides your self interest, a light should go off at that point saying “this will create a much bigger inconvenience for me than hiring a new employee.”

          1. maggie*

            Precisely. But, as my mother in law loves to remind me: “common sense is not so common”. And I feel bad for saying this, but Boss seems a bit of a pushover. Can’t be easy for OP.

    3. Chinook*

      I am another one who wants to scream “report her.” If this is what she is doing in public, how is she when there are not other adults around?

      And when I say report her, I don’t just mean to the manager. If you are working with children, then there should be a system in place to report suspected child abuse to the authorities. Her not respecting physical boundaries is a red flag for abuse (though not necessarily illegal abuse in and of itself). If you report her to children’s services, they will investigate and, even if nothing is there, atleast will have her in the system in case she pushes those boundaries even further.

      Also, not knowing where you are or the specifics of your job, but you and/or your manager may be considered “mandatory reporters” and have no choice but to start the process absed on what you have seen.

      1. TNTT*

        This last point, yes. I’m really surprised that there was no mention of being a mandatory reporter in the letter.

        1. fposte*

          I didn’t hear anything that would rise to the level of mandatory reporting the way I learned it, though. I don’t suspect child abuse or neglect. Maybe I would if I was on the scene, of course.

          1. Arbynka*

            It depends. Molestation is a form of child abuse and if you see someone working with children touching their bottoms even when told to stop, it certainly qualifies.

            1. fposte*

              Yes, I know that molestation is a form of child abuse. But the description doesn’t indicate that she’s touched any kid’s bottom after being told to stop, or that the OP even witnessed the bottom-slapping.

              As I said, on site might be a different matter, but the description as given wouldn’t drive me to mandatorily report.

              1. maggie*

                I don’t think you don’t need to be a personal witness for reporting, not if you’re in a leadership position. As I understood it, simply being told that it has happened is enough to warrant reporting…?

                1. Arbynka*

                  And you are right. In fact if I am told someone touched a child in inappropriate way, I should report itthis way. I am not to make an investigation myself or sit and wait around to witness it personally.

                2. Chinook*

                  “As I understood it, simply being told that it has happened is enough to warrant reporting…?”

                  It is around here. I had one 5 year old day programm attendee who, whenever he got into trouble, would blurt out that his mom’s boyfriend did something appropriate to him. I noticed the pattern (which we reinforced because he would get out of trouble because the adult would then sympathize and forget about him throwing stuff/not quieting down/other types of typical 5 y.o. disruptive behaviour) but, when I brought it up to my supervisor, she said the situation around the disclosure is irreleavant and that it must be reported because he could very well be telling the truth (just only when it is most convinient for him).

                3. The Othe Katie*

                  Yes. It’s required to report when you suspect child abuse or neglect could’ve occurred, even when you didn’t actually see the episode. This whole thing just seems off to me, and for the protection of the children, this woman needs to be reported.

                4. fposte*

                  Yes, that’s absolutely right–I was underselling that in a way I shouldn’t. But I’m going back to my state’s laws where I’m asked to report if I have a reasonable belief of abuse. And I don’t think a single ass-slap in a sports program would give me a reasonable belief of abuse–unless I had more information about it or saw something that suggested a bigger problem.

                  I think even in sports, it’s stupid for adults to ass-slap. But it’s a thing.

                5. Lizzie*

                  I have to agree with fposte. I’m a mandatory reporter, and if I saw this kind of behavior, I’d be constantly reporting it to my higher-ups and documenting every single instance I witnessed, but I would not be calling child protective services to report abuse or neglect. Based on what the letter writer indicated, I view this as a case of seriously poor judgement and an appalling lack of awareness about what does and does not constitute appropriate behavior that should have been dealt with a long time ago, but I don’t see “abuse and neglect” clearly laid out here.

                  In my state, mandatory reporters can also be punished with fines and jail time for “knowingly and willfully” filing frivolous reports.

              2. Mishsmom*

                but if she’s so inappropriate to touch an adult’s bottom, imagine what she’s capable of with kids – not that i’m saying she is sexually molesting them – but molestation is molestation.

                1. fposte*

                  The problem with that logic is it makes every locker room in every sport a threat, because there’s a lot of ass-smacking in sports. Maybe people think there shouldn’t be (anybody else know the Key and Peele sketch about slap-ass?), but there is.

                  There isn’t in this program, and Kim needs to knock it the hell off like several yesterdays ago. But this isn’t somebody playing grabass in a conference room, and I think context is relevant here.

                2. Student*

                  Context is important. The context is that she is doing this to adults who have told her not to and children who cannot reasonably be expected to assert their own boundaries.

                  The locker-room analogy is incredibly out of line. If those adult, professional athletes don’t like their butt-touching culture (and I certainly don’t), then they can get a different job, start a different team, or work to change their team’s culture. Heck, they can also sue, and they even have a reasonable chance to win a fistfight over it. Here, the children being touched have no power to do anything close to any of that – they can’t even avoid this woman, since they are compelled to be in her presence by adults. The adults being touched have taken reasonable steps to change their team’s culture, and are now contemplating more serious measures to get out of this situation.

      2. Arbynka*

        When I went to the mandatory reporter training, we were specifically told that personal responsibility to make the call is solely on us. Aka, going to supervisor to complain about said behaviour ( perhaps hoping supervisor would make the call) does not relieve us of making the report to authorities. I don’t know what state OP is in, but chances are, if you work with children in any capacity, you are a mandatory reporter.

        1. Michelle*

          We just had training on mandatory reporting and had to sign a form stating we understood, etc. The man who came in to talk to us said they would rather handle a dozens complaints that were not cases of abuse than one case of actual abuse, so I would definitely report her.

          1. maggie*

            I was not aware. I’m off to google to find out how that occurred and it’s (un)successes. Thanks for the comment!

      3. Lily in NYC*

        It seems like other parents have mentioned it to LW. The next time that happens, I think LW should ask the parent to report Kim. Maybe then the supervisor will take it seriously if it comes from someone else. But jeez, it shouldn’t have to come to that.
        I am not very touchy-feely person but my family is from Spain and they all have much smaller personal space bubbles than I do. I spent my childhood dreading all of the cheek and arm pinching and close-talking and forced hugs and kisses at family events. It’s so nice to be an adult now so I can pull away when my relatives get up in my face.

        1. SerfinUSA*

          I grew up being called the ironing board because I stiffened up in anticipation of all the hugging and kissing at family reunions. On the flip side, that cadre of aunties is known as the ‘Hi Honeys’ because they come at you with open arms shrieking Hiiiii Honey!!!!
          It’s kind of a family joke now, and helped diffuse different personal space management issues.

        2. lowercase holly*

          yes, OP should ask the parents to please report it to higher ups as much as it takes so they will take this seriously. if a parent doesn’t want someone touching their kid, that person shouldn’t be touching their kid.

        3. Not So NewReader*

          OP, might even consider telling the boss that she will be sending everyone her way.

          This is not a problem that can be resolved at peer level, or it would have by now. The solutions must come from above.

      4. snuck*

        This is where I am at too.

        Even if you aren’t a mandatory reporter, your supervisor would be…

        This sort of boundary testing and pushing is abusive – constantly pushing and extending the boundaries is deliberate. What you don’t know is if she’s testing it because she just likes having a little social power over you, or if it’s testing for wider abuse later. Another term is ‘grooming’ especially where it relates to children and deliberately blurring the boundaries of acceptable and unacceptable touch.

        I would blow up at her. In front of the kids – they need to learn to say NO loud and clear too, that that’s is ok. The whole “Don’t show negative behaviour in front of the kids to other adults” thing is crazy if it means you let things like this slide. Where on earth are the kids going to learn the skills to handle this exact situation unless YOU as an adult give them a classic case of how to do it? You don’t have to go raging bull… think about how you would like a 12yr old to respond “maturely”… body language? Hands up in a defensive pose, eye contact direct in face, back straight, physically step back from the person. Tone? Strong, assertive, slightly loud. Words? “Stop touching me, I don’t like being touched”

        And then I’d stalk into the Supervisor’s office and say “We can’t keep her on, she doesn’t listen, she keeps touching everyone up (deliberate choice of words here!) and one day someone is going to report her for child abuse – she crosses the line constantly and doesn’t care!” and then walk out. The supervisor has now been told this is a child safety issue… in no uncertain terms.

        Yes. It will create drama. But she’s creating low grade drama and resentment in you, coworkers, kids… and she’s smothering you all in it. Better a short burst of drama (and either she pulls her head in utterly or is replaced) and the kids learn that abusers can be confronted and change can happen, than it simmers for years.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          I would be tempted to tell a child that was shying away from Kim, that it is okay to tell people not to touch her. Use it as a teaching moment. I am saying I would be tempted- I’d have to be in the situation and know the background, before making a final decision.

    4. kozinskey*

      I agree that this is a good opportunity to demonstrate for the kids that it’s OK to tell someone else to stop touching you. If it’s done politely, I don’t see why it should be a problem.

      1. sunny-dee*

        This is what I was thinking. Obviously, so kids have the guts to speak up about actual abuse, but also just as part of learning and respecting their own space and those of others. I have the right to tell a boyfriend no or a friend no or a coworker no. It’s okay. And when someone else says no, they need to respect it.

      2. Elizabeth the Ginger*

        Unfortunately, the way it stands, it’s demonstrating to the kids that telling someone you don’t want them to touch you doesn’t have any lasting effect, at least if that person is an adult. Which is exactly the WRONG lesson to send kids: “Don’t bother speaking up for yourself. It won’t do anything.”

        1. Jessa*

          This, thank you. This is why especially with girls/women there are issues later where someone says “why didn’t you tell x to stop doing that thing that bothers you,” well if you’re trained from when you’re a little that you can’t tell anyone to stop, that even if you get brave and DO tell them, they don’t listen…why would you? (Yes this happens with boys too, but boys are more culturally socialised to believe it’s okay to stand up and yell at people or say no.)

          I don’t care if it’s one touch or a hundred, it’s bad enough this is happening to adults, those adults OWE those children protection now. Whether or not they think it rises to the “reportable offence” level is irrelevant. Those kids need to be taught they can say “no,” and you will back them every single time.

          And there’s a difference between hugging/touching a kid that’s crying/upset, or comes over to you and asks for hugs, and doing what this woman is doing. That needs to be said, because problems like this lead to “nobody can put a hand on any child for any reason ever,” and that’s just as bad.

      3. Ethyl*

        Yes exactly — OP is worried about what message she is sending to the kids, but it’s the RIGHT message — not only is it ok to stand up TO someone but if that person doesn’t listen then you have their back and will help them reinforce their boundaries.

    5. Snarkus Aurelius*

      I should have clarified. When I said report her, I meant report her to whatever regulating agency that oversees daycares. Feel free to tell your boss too in a nonthreatening way. If there boss won’t do anything, you must.

      1. SJP*

        Also I just had a thought – OP I’m not sure if the kids you look after are too old for this but absolutely DO NOT let her in the bathroom with any child. At all.
        The touching and caressing is a huge red flag and usually this type of behaviour is a gate way to worse so by not allowing her to be in the situation where she can be alone with a child is extremely important

        1. snuck*

          Yeah, I wouldn’t want to jump directly to overt abuse, but it’s reallllly weird behaviour, and anyone with boundaries that odd shouldn’t be left alone with kids in a day care setting. (What you do with Weird Uncle Herbert at Christmas is your choice, personally Weird Uncle Herbert never plays Santa in our lives.)

          And patting a 12yr old on the backside is really … odd. Even as part of a game. It’s a sexualised behaviour and grossly inappropriate from almost anyone, especially a day care worker… a toddler is different – there’s social norms there and it’s far removed from socially understood sexual behaviour. A 12yr old is learning what is and isn’t ok with regards to their body and other people… I’m not saying this staff member is abusing the kids, but her touches are blurring the lines between ok and not ok. The fact that she does it to adults as well as kids could be a cover, could be because she has a more generalised abuse profile. She might not be being abusive, she might be completely clueless – but she shouldn’t be in childcare with children who are urgently in need of good boundary setting if she’s this clueless.

        2. Rana*

          Agreed. Anyone who works with children – or, indeed, anyone subordinate, like students – knows that hands off is the normal order of things. When I was a professor, it was just taken as assumed that you’d never be alone in a room with one of your students with a closed door lest people get the wrong idea – and we’re talking adults here, not minors!

          That this woman can’t control herself enough to even given the impression of self-restraint is creepy as hell. Even if she’s not actually grooming them for abuse, she’s laying the groundwork for someone else to take advantage of her boundary-crossing. Gross!

        3. aebhel*

          Yeah…and honestly, if you’re at the point where you can’t let this woman take kids to the bathroom because she’s so untrustworthy, she shouldn’t be working with kids at all. So, you know. Food for thought.

    6. A Reader*

      “Literally push her away from your personal space.”

      No. Touching her is the worst thing you could do in this situation because when you draw the attention by saying something, people will see it happen and the offender could easily play it off as you hurting them/harassing them/any other possibility. The bystanders that didn’t see the previous interaction from the offender will only see what you are doing now, or possibly the pushing and immediately have the opinion that you are the one in the wrong.

      Holding your hands up after stepping back as SJP said is acceptable, but do not initiate contact.

      1. Nerd Girl*

        Agreed! My husband works in a facility that cares for people with special needs and mental health issues. One client exhibits these behaviors. The way my husband explains it “any touch that is not welcomed by the recipient is considered inappropriate and should be stopped immediately. It doesn’t matter where you are being touched. If you are made to feel uncomfortable in any way it’s inappropriate touching.”
        My husband also states that holding up your hands and stepping back is the appropriate response. Along with saying “you need to stop touching me now. You have been inappropriate with my body and that is not okay.”

      2. Rubinka*

        Even holding your hands up after you step away can be a problem – my husband once held his hands up in front of him in defence when an elderly neighbour was prodding his chest angrily (long story) and she called the police and said that he had “raised his hands” to her. The police didn’t believe her but it was all very unpleasant. I think that stepping back, raising your voice slightly and saying I HAVE ASKED YOU NOT TO TOUCH ME (as Alison suggested) would be best. And all the better if there are others around to hear you.

    7. Relosa*

      Agreed 150%. I have a family member exactly like this. She is a borderline personality. Not saying Kim is, but “little” things like these are manipulative, gaslighting attempts to make YOU seem like the crazy one, when she is the one with intimacy/boundary issues. She is literally attempting to adjust reality as everyone else sees it, to fit her own.

      1. CQ*

        Relosa, I feel compelled to point out to you that I also have a borderline personality disorder, and do not disrespect others’ boundaries in this way. In fact, many people I know with mental illnesses are extremely sensitive to respecting others’ boundaries because they know how awful it is when others cross the line with them.

        If Kim is being manipulative, it could just be because she sucks.

        1. asteramella*

          Yes. Being abusive and having BPD are two different things and people with BPD are not necessarily abusive or malicious, despite many people’s misinformed opinions to the contrary.

    8. Museum Educator*

      “An upside is that this is a great opportunity to teach young children boundaries. They have agency over their bodies just like adults. You never want them to feel like they can’t tell someone, whoever it is, to not touch them. Everyone has that right.”

      This is a great point. It’s an excellent opportunity to show the children involved that they are free to tell this woman no touching. I’m already teaching my daughter this at 2 1/2 years old. She has bodily autonomy and children are not taught that enough in my opinion.

    9. Randy*

      I think this is one of, if not the most important point. Nobody has a right to touch another person without the other person’s consent. This is a VERY important thing for everyone to learn, but especially children. Not addressing this, immediately, and in the most direct way is how/why pedophiles (I know this is an extreme comparison, but it is intended to be one) and the like get away with it. It is one of the reasons that consent is becoming a talking point for sexual education programs in school. Teaching people that they have a right to say they are not comfortable with something and the other person does not have their consent to make them feel that way are very empowering.

      I have two kids myself, one of whom attends an after school program with young adults for staff. They both know that if anyone ever touches them in a manner that they don’t like, they can (read: need to) tell me. They have been told since they were old enough to know the word “no” that “no means no” period. You don’t get to say sorry, you don’t get to put it on anyone else, you must stop because the other person has said no, and that is the end of it.

      I had a teacher in High School that used to rub the shoulders of female students. One student in particular had told him several times to stop. He did not, so one day, in the middle of class, loud enough for everyone to hear and see, when he touched her shoulders she bounded out of her seat and screamed, “Don’t you ever touch me again!” He went beet red, and then ghost white before he stammered something unintelligible and left the room. Needless to say, he was better about keeping his hands to himself, and he avoided this female student for the remainder of the year.

      Make a scene; make the other person feel uncomfortable. As Allison noted, this is a “her” problem, not a you problem.

  3. some1*

    I seriously hate this crap, which probably stems from my parents giving me guilt trips when I was little if I didn’t want to give hugs/kisses to relatives and family friends. Basically, the message is, “Hey, young, impressionable child; you don’t have the right to decide who gets to touch you.”


    1. Turanga Leela*

      My parents always let me refuse to touch people, including them and my grandparents. My mom says it was hard to explain to people, but I give her serious credit for that choice. I grew up knowing that I could decide who could touch me and who couldn’t, and that served me well later in life.

      1. Burlington*

        This should be, like, required. People pitch fits when you start talking about “age-appropriate sex education” for first graders… THIS is that education. Teaching kids that they have autonomy over their bodies and that nobody has a right to touch them in any way that they don’t like or don’t want.

        1. kobayashi*

          Well, yes and no. Children usually have to go see a doctor, and while I never liked being touched, poked, prodded, taking my shirt off, etc. I really didn’t have a choice in the matter…and that was probably a good thing, or I may not be here today. But, I get what you’re saying, though I do think it’s a little different with children than with adults (competent adults can refuse medical attention, for example). Granted, we are not talking about molesters here, but there’s some differences in to the extent children and adults can dictate who has the right to touch them and in what way.

          1. fposte*

            And there was a spate of that kind of education for a while, and I don’t think it ended up having much impact for exactly that kind of reason. The fact is that kids really don’t have a ton of autonomy, whatever they’re told, and the lesson of their daily experience has more impact than a statement about bodies.

            I mean, I’m all in favor of the message–I just don’t think it’s as effective as a defense as we might hope.

            1. INTP*

              Yeah, I was told many times that I never had to let anyone touch me in a way that made me feel uncomfortable. But I thankfully never had any concept of sexual molestation so mostly I was confused about why I was being told this and then getting in trouble for fighting the doctor or pushing away relatives that tried to hug me or yelling at my siblings for being all in my space. I’m not sure if I would have made the connection if I did experience more nefarious uncomfortable touching or not.

              1. Lamb*

                Part of the problem (with your parents) in your example, INTP, is that when parents espouse that message, they are supposed to let the kid refuse to hug people and teach them to politely assert their need for space. They should have let you say “no” to those hugs. (And it wouldn’t hurt to try and make kids more comfortable with what the doctor is doing while we’re at it.)

              2. aebhel*

                I don’t think children should be required to hug relatives they don’t want to hug. It doesn’t have to be nefarious, but there’s no reason to override a child’s stated boundaries just because Auntie wants a hug. In the case of the doctor, there is a good reason to override those boundaries.

          2. Turanga Leela*

            I don’t think the issue with the doctor ever came up for me! My mother was also seriously good at preparing me for doctor’s visits. She would tell me in advance whether I was going to get an injection that day (always an “injection,” never a “shot”), and we would practice using my toy stethoscope and tongue depressors at home. I probably thought I was in control at the doctor’s office, too. I have no idea how my parents would have handled a kid who was more phobic about needles, doctors, and so on.

            I do remember that they listened to me when I didn’t like a particular doctor and didn’t want to go back to him—not an option for all parents, but again, a really good lesson in getting to choose (some of) my own boundaries.

          3. Jessa*

            There’s a difference and you should be able to teach kids that difference. It’s appropriate to teach kids that you can say no to “Auntie” but you can’t say no to the doctor when they’re helping you. As they get older they can be taught how to put reasonable limits on doctors as well. (IE only as much touch is needed, an attempt to be as pain free as possible and recognising when they need to stop, and a witness in the room for certain procedures. Also said witness being someone you trust.)

      2. Myrin*

        My mum also never chastised me for not wanting to be touched. I had really, really strong boundaries as a child (to the point where I wonder where all of this has gone – I wait, I know, bullying will do that to a young person /still bitter) and remember telling basically everyone who wanted to touch me to not do it and actually physically push them away. My mum also didn’t “explain” this to people, she just said – if anything – “She doesn’t want to”. Hearing about stories like some1’s above, I’m really glad that was my experience.

        1. SystemsLady*

          My husband is like this. He has told me I am the ONLY person who can touch him without it at least slightly stressing him out, let alone with it relaxing him. Even including his immediate family.

          His parents didn’t chastise him, either, and I’m glad for him.

          However, he did have a teacher in elementary school who was absolutely convinced he had autism or something “wrong” with him (for that and because he was talkative). His parents ripped her a new one after all the tests she suggested he take came back “not even close”.

          I’m for respecting everybody’s boundaries without question or judgment!

          1. SystemsLady*

            (Luckily he doesn’t remember that part of that teacher. He remembers not really liking her and that’s it)

      3. HR Generalist*


        I have friends and family members who insist that their child hug/kiss me to say goodbye. As a (proud) feminist it makes me uncomfortable – I don’t want anyone to be ordered to show affection to me. Once at a party I witnessed a friend who carried her toddler around the room to kiss everyone goodnight. I had met this child once and it made ME uncomfortable to have to kiss her goodnight, nevermind how she felt with a room full of people to ‘service’! I wish more parents thought of it this way.

        1. Carly*

          I agree, I hate when I am coerced into kissing a child I barely know who is going around the room for kisses! So weird!

        2. Wanna-Alp*

          I’m a relative, not a parent. If a child looks uncomfortable with hugging/kissing goodbye, I don’t insist; I didn’t like having to touch relatives in icky ways when I was young and I certainly don’t want to foist that on a new generation.

          Instead, if the child is uncomfortable, I wave with smiles at the child. Uncomfortable children seem to be a lot happier with the idea of waving goodbye, and the parents seem pleased that there is an alternative action that their child can still do to say goodbye in a polite way.

      4. Silva*

        What about handshakes? That seems to be an exception, where it would be a disservice to teach a child that a firm, reciprocated handshake is not required.

          1. Carly*

            I was taught how to give a good handshake very early – maybe age 4 or 5. It was expected that I would shake the hand of my parents’ friends. Much better than kissing or hugging.

          2. OhNo*

            I’ve seen it mentioned by some people before as an alternative to hugs or kisses from children. At least one blog on the subject I read said the parent gave their child a choice on how to greet or say goodbye to someone, and a handshake or high five was provided as the little-physical-contact option.

            That said, I don’t think handshakes are required either. I have a friend who refuses to shake hands on a regular basis (because of OCD), and there are polite ways to decline even that amount of physical contact if you wish.

        1. ThursdaysGeek*

          I’ve taught my 2 year old granddaughter to shake hands at church. I encourage her, but let her choose who to shake hands with. She will initiate the hand shaking and then when she is done making the rounds, it’s her decision to stop.

        2. nonegiven*

          No, no, no. I won’t shake hands. Too many 6′ tall, 200 pound adults have hurt me that way. I will not let it happen again. No.

        3. Marie*

          I’m a social worker that works with traumatized kids of about middle-school to high-school age. I use handshakes to establish a certain kind of relationship from the get-go, since handshakes are usually the ways adults introduce themselves, and my work involves a lot of building up confidence and autonomy in a kid, so it’s a way I try to establish that I’m going to be treating them like they’re my partners in this work and capable of a lot. It’s also an easy segue into some rapport-building chit-chat, since kids have TERRIBLE handshakes by and large and I can immediately go into, “Oh, no, what was that? You gotta be firm, like this, and then do the eye contact, like BOOM I mean business. That’s the secret adult language for meaning business, just firm squeeze and right in the eyes. Kids never shake firm, nobody’s gonna expect it from you if you master this, let’s try again.”

          BUT I start all that by sort of halfway extending my hand questioningly and saying something like, “You a handshaker? Some of my kids are handshakers. Or you more of a waver? We could also do the mute cool nod, if you’re a cool nodder. Or just stony silence is cool, I think we’re hardcore enough for stony silence. You are, anyway, turns out, I *never* stop talking.” Most kids are handshakers, some take the opportunity to play along and do something silly, and some just kind of shrink away and then I give them the finger guns while being like, “Oh, I get it, we’re finger-gunning from across the room, all right,” and then just keep that up every time I meet them until they decide to change it.

          Work with adults is sometimes easier, because they’ve had much more practice at signaling what is and isn’t appropriate to them in a situation, and much more practice at speaking up. Kids have so many silent unknowns when you’re working with them. Until you get to know a kid and their situation, you don’t know if they’re coming from a home where you don’t get to say no to adults, or a history where physical touch is traumatizing, or if they’re just unbelievably shy, or just having a bad day, or just think you’re boring — to an outside observer, all those situations culminate in a kid just giving you a blank face and a limp handshake, and then sullenly not talking.

          Adults have to be really conscious about how they frame activities and interactions and offer multiple opportunities in multiple different ways for a child to engage in consent and experience giving or withholding consent as successful and appropriate. A kid who doesn’t get to say no to adults can take the cool nod over the handshake without having to say no, and a kid who finds physical touch traumatizing can give me the finger guns without having to reveal their personal history to a stranger and/or risk being triggered. And if I get a kid who, for whatever reason, needs to remain in a stony silence, I’ve just changed that from something they’re doing that’s odd or possibly defiant to a plan we’ve both agreed upon and are okay with, so they’re no longer doing something “wrong” or “weird.”

          This whole story eeks me way out the door. Well-intentioned adults can make well-intentioned mistakes with kids and their boundaries because most kids are still working on how to be assertive and communicative, but an adult who refuses directly stated requests from other adults has lost the benefit of the well-intentioned doubt for me. Most people are capable of reading a variety of cues and signals that illustrate discomfort or a withdrawal of consent in many kinds of situations, but for those who can’t read those cues or somehow missed them, a direct “no” is unmistakable. Disregarding that is forcing others to either accept your behavior or escalate a situation beyond what most people have ever had to experience, which means it’s deeply challenging for others and puts them into a kind of social interaction with which they’ve likely had no practice whatsoever. It’s the equivalent of forcing somebody who’s never been athletic to win a cagefighting match in front of a live audience before they’re allowed to make a request of you. That’s a wonderful way to set others up to either never make a request of you, OR make that request so poorly and fumblingly that you can continue to ignore it based on their inability to behave perfectly in the intolerably stressful environment you’ve created for them.

          I agree with everybody here. Making a scene at this point is required, because your coworker has required it (and I’d say specifically required it, consciously or unconsciously, because they’ve probably learned at some point that most people won’t go there, and this is how they can continue behaving exactly as they like with no interference). And, too, as somebody who has had to become professionally adept at scene-making or dealing with scenes others have made, it never quite gets easy or less stressful, but it’s like any other social skill in that enough practice allows you to learn the lay of the land and know how these interactions usually work out. It’s an enormously valuable life and workplace skill to have. Just in case you want to silver line this situation, I think everybody should have some practice in scene-making just because it makes situations like this feel like an annoying stressful hill you have to climb instead of an impossible nightmare mountain.

          1. OldAdmin*

            I wholeheartedly agree with Marie. This is a great post.

            I won’t go into a lot of detail, but touching and even groping verging on the inappropriate was forced on me by family and relatives for my entire childhood, which made me cringe at every event… and when something truly inappropriate happened and I fought back, nobody took it seriously.
            It took me decades to recover from all that, and I was a very shy person that hated kissing/hugging/touching against my will. I finally learned to shut it down in the family, stop strangers, and do what I was comfortable with – handshaking. Much later I learned to do more again, when *I* felt like it.

            That backgroumd taught me to be easy on children. I never, ever, ruffle hair/pat them/grab them etc. I do however do the “shy eye contact and look away” thing when we meet, maybe wink, other body language that signals curiosity. At a later stage, when we are talking, I might wave when leaving. The utmost I’ll do to a child I’ve met several times is maybe offer a little handshake, but without pressure or the parent prompting.
            Makes all sides feel better. :-)

      5. Blue_eyes*

        Turanga Leela – your parents sound awesome. Even giving kids a simple choice like waving, giving a high five, or hugging lets them control their level of contact and make choices about what they are comfortable with.

    2. Ezri*

      I definitely trace some of my personal-space issues back to forced contact with relatives. Particularly by a stepfather who was adamant about getting the same treatment as my actual parents. I love my stepmom to death partially because she doesn’t demand physical affection from me, knowing I hate it.

      Back to the letter – in my mind the aggressive touching is worse because of the exact reason OP mentioned. The poor kids probably don’t feel like they can say stop to an adult in that position. I’m surprised that parents have commented and Kim still hasn’t gotten reprimanded – is her supervisor really willing to risk business over this? I wonder whether a formal complaint would get her attention.

    3. BananaPants*

      Our kids have been taught from toddlerhood that they don’t have to hug or kiss or have any physical contact with ANYONE if they don’t want to. Especially since we have girls, we want to instill in them that they are in control of who touches them and that they don’t have to submit to unwanted physical contact to make other people happy. This has caused issues with my mother in particular, who expects that her granddaughters will ALWAYS want to go give Grandma/Grandpa/random family friends/their pet dog/whoever a hug and kiss on-demand. A reluctant granddaughter will be cajoled or guilt tripped until she acquiesces, which is clearly even more problematic for us. But I digress…
      OP – As a parent I would have a huge issue if I found out that an adult working with my child was touching them in an affectionate way when they clearly didn’t want to be touched. My child would be removed immediately from whatever recreational program this is and I would be reporting the specific employee and the program to CPS. Allowing Kim to continue this behavior could have major repercussions, including to you if you’re a mandated reporter and are not reporting.

      1. Relosa*

        The mandated reporter thing is a good point. I know her touching is a gray area but there’s an entire informal culture about it in the workplace now and the children are smart and perceptive enough to pick up on it. I would give a quick heads up to CPS, if there really is any way to just say “hey this is what’s going on, my bosses won’t do anything about it and it’s affecting the children in our care.”

      2. Not So NewReader*

        This brings out a good point for the OP to mention to the boss, when the boss says she cannot fire Kim. “Well, that may not be an issue because with less kids we won’t need so much help.”

  4. Muriel Heslop*

    As someone who works with children on a daily basis, I this has to stop. It HAS to. The liability here is entirely too huge and if your supervisor doesn’t understand that, I would hope that the person above her does.
    I’d be surprised if any kind of PIP, discipline plan, or discussion would put a stop to the behavior but if your employer needs to go through those motions, I hope they will.

    I hire a lot of people to work with children; Kim’s behavior would result in dismissal after two requests to stop. Maybe one if she didn’t seem remorseful. OP, I get that you don’t want to “make things difficult for anyone” but if that is true then you must be assertive here. Kim is making things difficult for a lot of people and as an adult, you must advocate for those children. Good luck! You can do this!

    1. H*

      Yeah, my first thought was that this was a lawsuit waiting to happen and while I can understand that maybe the superviosr would be wishy-washy about complaints from other employees I am very , very shocked the supervisor isn’t being tougher on Kim in regards to touching the children

      1. K.*

        Mine too. Frankly I’m surprised the word “lawsuit” hasn’t come up before. That’s why I’m shocked that no one has addressed this. My best friend is a lawyer with a 4-year-old and she would be having exactly none of Kim’s behavior.

        1. Ann Furthermore*

          I think it’s because Kim is a woman. Does anyone think this would be tolerated for more than about 30 seconds if the touchy-feely person was a man?

          1. Ann without an e*

            Oh agreed.

            “I heard from an adult support staff person that she slapped him in the rear also, as she was laughing when he told her not to touch him”……. My jaw dropped when I read that. She should be so fired just for that. He specifically asked her not to touch him and she responded by laughing and slapping him in the rear……..

    2. Arbynka*

      This. I volunteer with children and this is completely inappropriate and unacceptable. And quite frankly, even being the laid back person I am, if any adult in charge slapped my child’s butt for whatever reason, some serious hell would be raised.

      1. Colette*

        I volunteer with children as well, and I think very carefully before touching them in any way. Sometimes it’s necessary (injury, really homesick child, etc.) but I’m always very careful and thoughtful about what I’m doing. I know I’m not going to abuse them, but I need to make sure that it looks appropriate to any bystanders, and that the child is comfortable with what I’m doing and can tell me if they have concerns.

        1. kobayashi*

          I was a substitute teacher once a long time ago for elementary school students, and I can’t tell you how many times little kids would come up and hug me when class was over. One little girl in particular LOVED me (for some odd reason LOL) and she would hug and hang off me. I’d always do the stiff-pat-pat thing and worry that someone passing by the classroom would “report” me as I gently tried to push her away.

          1. AdminAnon*

            My mom teaches preschool and they are only allowed to do one-armed side hugs or pats on the back. It is pretty hard to enforce sometimes because these kids are so young and don’t understand why they can’t sit on the teachers’ laps during story time or get a hug and a kiss when they skin their knees.

      2. catsAreCool*

        I worked in a daycare center when I was a kid, and I was cringing while reading this letter. There are a lot of things you just don’t do, and what Kim is doing is a lot of them.

    3. Sassy Intern*

      RIGHT?! OP maybe you need to frame it for your boss, but she’s invading a CHILD’s personal space. A CHILD that your organization is in charge of. Maybe play the gender flip card (it sucks to have to do this, cause it plays into the “all men who’re interested in children are predators” fallacy) but honestly. Repeatedly caressing, poking or slapping a CHILD’s behind is a no-no.

      Also, I would call her out in front of the children. Yes, she’s an authority figure, but like you said they may not gave the confrontational skills to say, “No.” Doing that for them at least let’s them see that it’s okay to say, “You’re making me uncomfortable.” to anyone, no matter their authority.

      1. Adam*

        Exactly. The OP stated “Kim” is still new in this job and that would have to be the case, because it shouldn’t take long for one parent to see this stuff happening and completely flip the script. And when “Kim” gets caught in this (emphasis very much on WHEN), the organization employing her is going to get more heat then Death Valley in July.

      2. Burlington*

        + 1 for your second paragraph. OP is (certainly unwittingly) reinforcing to these kids that it’s not appropriate to make a scene if someone is doing something that makes you uncomfortable. And that it’s not appropriate to do so to an authority figure. Both are very, very troubling lessons to be passing on!

      3. Nerdling*

        Exactly. The OP can help to model this behavior for the kids, so that if they need to, they know it’s okay to tell an adult no. Kids are perceptive. They’re going to see that the OP is uncomfortable with the touching, and they’re not going to think, “Oh, s/he is waiting to address Kim in private to avoid making us uncomfortable.” They’re going to think, “S/he isn’t saying anything, so maybe I shouldn’t say anything, either.”

      4. catsAreCool*

        Yeah, call her out in front of the children. This isn’t OK. They need to know that it’s OK for them to say “stop touching me”.

        I’m still shocked that the manager hasn’t put a stop to it. This is a lawsuit or several of them waiting to happen.

    4. Rocket Scientist*

      Not only is it litigious, but a parent could easy blast this on social media or to the press. “Worker with repeated warnings continues inappropriate touching of children in local after school program.”

      1. AndersonDarling*

        This! It would take just one parent with a phone camera to film Kim caressing a little boy’s face, posting it to Facebook, and then there will be a whirlwind of bad publicity.
        When I was reading the question I kept wondering if Kim knew what this contact looked like from a parent’s perspective. It would be very confrontational to film her interactions and play the video back for her. But she may have no clue what it really looks like.

        1. Rayner*

          I would not do this, as the US has a variety of laws regarding filming or recording other people without their permission. Because this situation also involves children, it could get hairy with parents, too, who don’t want their children filmed.

    5. cuppa*

      Yeah, enabling this behavior (which is what is happening, whether or not it is intended that way) is sending the wrong message to children. Enforce your boundaries. Being nice isn’t working, so it’s time to be more firm about it. Really, if talking to her in private about it isn’t working, then she’s given up that privilege. Address it every time it happens, when it happens.

    6. Celeste*

      I agree that this is intentional and worthy of dismissal. She’s had enough chances. That one parent who complained is going to see it continuing and start talking to the other parents. No good can come of keeping her.

    7. Anonathon*

      No kidding! I work at an education organization and I taught in a summer program for many years. As others have said, unless kids are injured or doing an activity that requires physical assistance (say, climbing or tumbling), they should be the ones to initiate contact, I believe. Some kids like to hold hands or sit in laps and that’s fine, and others like to stay in their own bubble, but it should be up to them.

  5. I am now a llama*

    Happy Wednesday, everyone! This reminds me of the post about the coworker that LOVED to be hugged/give hugs.

    1. Elizabeth West*

      Me too–and this is just as manipulative as that was. I’m not thinking it’s a sex thing (though I could be wrong but I doubt it). It’s definitely a control thing. Kim deliberately making people uncomfortable when they do nothing to stop her puts her in control. She doesn’t want to be told to stop and so she won’t. She thinks the apology will mitigate it.

      The boss needs to get rid of her. Pronto. Grow a spine. boss. Seriously.

  6. BRR*

    First it’s not you making the scene, she is. Tell her at the moment. “I have asked you repeatedly, please stop touching me,” It will let onlookers know it’s not the first time if you’re worried about embarrassing yourself (which you shouldn’t be at all).

    Second, after her “oh sorry,” I would say that, “an apology doesn’t excuse your repeated behavior, you need to stop it and not do it again.”

    Third, hopefully somebody can shed more light on this but I believe she should be extra cautious about any physical contact with children.

    You might want to approach your supervisor as a group since many people are upset. If not file a written complaint. You’re not making things more difficult, she is. You did the right thing and addressed it with her and your supervisor.

  7. Meg Murry*

    Does Kim want to correct this behavior? If so, could you come up with something short and quick to say when she starts getting touchy – like “Kim -hands off” to remind her when you see it? It might take a while, but it could help remind her.
    When I was working with kids, we used high fives in place of offering hugs – if kids ran up and hugged us, we didn’t discourage them, but we didn’t offer hugs or otherwise initiate physical contact beyond the high fives. Its also what they encourage among the kids in my son’s daycare now when they got a little older and hugs turned into “run across the room and physically tackle your friend but call it a hug”.

    But yes, it sounds to me like Kim doesn’t really want to correct this behavior – if that’s the case and she doesn’t seem to be making an effort with gentle reminders, I agree it should be escalated, especially if parents are complaining.

    1. fposte*

      That’s my thought–Kim thinks she’s fine and that the OP is fussy. She feels like she’s indulging the OP by restricting herself somewhat and doesn’t see this as an inherent problem.

      1. neverjaunty*

        Except Kim has been told no by multiple people and has been spoken to by her boss. If she does not understand that patting a co-worker’s or a child’s butt is not OK, she is beyond “gentle reminder”.

        1. fposte*

          Oh, I’m not disagreeing with that–I’m just agreeing with Meg Murry about her likely mindset. She’s not taking these responses as a sign that she needs to change her behavior, which suggests she’s still convinced that her actions are utterly appropriate.

    2. A Reader*

      “…“run across the room and physically tackle your friend but call it a hug”.”

      I lol’d because this is totally something I would have likely done with my friends.

      But your point is a good one. High-fives or even fist bumps are a much more acceptable action than hugs. I have heard of more places that work with kids/special needs people that are turning to these options rather than hugs.

      1. Journalist Wife*

        Heehee! I laughed at this one out loud, too — because every single morning when I drop my sons off at day care, at least one of them gets potato-sacked or clotheslined by a boisterous friend’s greeting before I’m even out the door. Little boys, I swear…

    3. Blue_eyes*

      I worked with kids in a number of capacities (teacher, camp counselor, tutor, baby sitter) and I have a personal rule of only hugging kids when they initiate it. Otherwise I will offer a high-five, and not mind if they don’t want to. I’m naturally a pretty touchy person, but I reign it in because I don’t want to touch anyone if they do not want to be touched.

    1. Muriel Heslop*

      The supervisor is the one that gets me. Kim is an adult and her behavior is normal to her; the supervisor should recognize it’s not normal or acceptable and take active steps to remedy the problem.

      1. Kelly L.*

        I know it’s never easy to just up and get a new job, but I’m really leery of this supervisor–even if Kim’s just oblivious, what else is this supervisor willing to put up with just so she doesn’t have to hire anybody else to cover the lost hours? Yecch.

      2. cuppa*

        I would think that the supervisor should be extra involved in this because they all work with children. Big red flag to me that the supervisor isn’t addressing it properly.

  8. Lisa*

    This seems like a great way to discuss inappropriate touching with those kids. Maybe you can organize a speaker to come and talk to them. I expect most kids will come out with questions about how Kim is touching them though.

    I’d add more to your scolding when Kim does it again like ‘STOP CARESSING THE CHILDREN – IT’S CREEPY, WEIRD, AND EXTREMELY INAPPROPRIATE’ – say this around some parents and they will ask their kids if Kim touches them. Nothing will change until enough angry parents go to your boss.

    1. Dot Warner*

      This is a great idea. Maybe the supervisor will take this more seriously if the parents complain. But honestly, OP, I’m thinking maybe you should start looking for a new job, and when you find one, tell the parents why you left.

      1. Elizabeth the Ginger*

        It sounds like at least one parent *has* complained: “I heard from a parent that she slapped her daughter’s behind (not in punishment; as part of an exercise).” My guess is that that was a complaint, not just idle chit-chat.

  9. Judy*

    Last summer at Girl Scout Day Camp, one of the outside programs we had was from the local crisis center (I think) about personal boundaries for the younger girls and more intense personal boundaries for the older girls. (didn’t want to be put in moderation there :) Maybe you could have someone come in and give some programming for the kids about that? (This is assuming it’s an ongoing program like scouts, a summer day camp or boys and girls club, rather than just day events.)

    I’m just amazed your supervisor isn’t doing anything about that. It seems like, based on my GS leader training, something that Shouldn’t Be Done.

    1. neverjaunty*

      I think such programs are a great idea, but they’re not going to be very effective here if the children learn that the adults don’t enforce them. “Here’s how to insist that people respect your boundaries! However, if Kim doesn’t, nothing will happen, and the adults in charge will dither and let her keep doing it.”

      1. JamieG*

        I agree. Teaching kids that they have a right to not be touched is great and should be done more often, but there’s not a lot they can actually do themselves in this situation; if the other adults aren’t willing or able to intervene for them, it’s just confusing (“People can’t touch me if I don’t want them to, but nobody cares if they do so I guess it’s okay”).

  10. Lead, Follow or Get Outta the Way!*

    Kim is treading on seriously dangerous waters! It won’t take much for a child/parent to accuse Kim of inappropriate touch (which it seems she has already done – swatting of the behind) and for your organization to be left with the fallout because no one really addressed this. If you phrase to TPTB the serious trouble this could lead to, then this may help escalate the problem and get the situation addressed more promptly.

    As for her touching my child…NO! However at a certain point if I had to ask her more than twice to not touch me, then she would have already experienced my “non-professional” persona and it wouldn’t have been pretty. IJS…

    1. Arbynka*

      Yes. It’s one thing to find an adult in childhas been inappropriate with your child. But then to find out person in charge was aware of that and did nothing ??? I would so go after the organization.

      1. snuck*

        Yeah… if I found out as a parent that this staff member had a history of this type of thing – inappropriate touch – I’d be talking loudly and clearly as I carried my child out the door….

        And I’d be reporting the matter to the appropriate child care centre registration department for my area.

        I’ve been in charge of teen and tween children’s groups before and had to remove a staff member from the group (who had the “Working With Children Check” etc safety precautions) because said staff member would not stop talking to teenagers out of earshot of others, deliberately engaging with the youth away from other adults in a way that became noticable. This staff member wasn’t touching them, wasn’t chatting to them away from the program (as far as I knew)… but he was creating murky waters for that sort of thing to occur in, and I couldn’t allow it to happen on my watch.

  11. Adam*

    Wow. I’m trying very hard not to jump in the deep end with making assumptions about “Kim”, but Oh Lord do we have a case study here.

    I will say though that you do not need to accept her empty apologies. This is something I’ve had to learn over the years when certain people in my life would do something hurtful to me and then an hour later come crying in hysterics saying they apologized and didn’t mean it, blah, blah, blah. Being young and not knowing any better I’d accept it because, well they apologized, right?

    This is bad, because then I thought I was no longer allowed to be angry since they’d manage to blurt out the words “I’m sorry” regardless of the sincerity behind them. And let me tell you, anger does not go away magically and it does not have a shelf life. If you don’t make the opportunity to deal with it properly it will come out sooner or later. And the longer it takes the more rotten it’s going to be.

    So don’t let her fake apologies take away your own assertiveness. If she can’t learn to change her ways and really repent when she slips up, she does not deserve your energy. Good luck!

    1. Chinook*

      “I’m trying very hard not to jump in the deep end with making assumptions about “Kim”, but Oh Lord do we have a case study here.”

      Adam, I agree that it is hard not to jump to conclusions with her. Part of me wants to say that she is touchy feely but the part of me that did the “how not to play with kids” training (I can’t remember the actual title but involved video taped interviews with convicted pedophiles who went over their techniques and what made them stop and move on) can’t help but wonder if she is “grooming” the children, looking for someone vulnerable and/or receptive.

      Basically, it is people like Kim that that are the reasons for the blanket rules that ban comforting hugs for sad children or pats on the shoulder for congratulations (because she doesn’t know where the line is or chooses to leap right over it).

      1. Observer*

        The thing is she IS grooming these children -whether or not she intends to. It IS possible that her creepiness stops at this point, but it’s still habituating the kids to having their boundaries crossed in a big way.

        1. OhNo*

          ^ This. This is what makes me so upset about this situation, because even if she isn’t doing anything other than some technically acceptable but still inappropriate touching, the kids are going to learn that they “need” to put up with this kind of contact from adults, which is way not okay.

          OP, if you do end up finding a new job or just not coming back, PLEASE make sure you still report this behavior to a state agency, or your boss’s boss, or a bunch of the parents, or someone who can do something about it, so that people know it is going on and the can (hopefully) kick up enough of a fuss to make it stop.

          1. snuck*

            And she’s grooming the adults.

            Already the adults aren’t willing to discuss the issue with her… about their own space, or the children’s.

            Even the OP’s own child… after a conversation was had. And the OP.

            This IS grooming… she’s groomed you OP – you don’t want to cause a scene, you’ve asked her before to stop and she apologised (and continues to do so) and she continues. The line has shifted… now she knows she can do this in front of you… to you… and get away with it. What’s the next line? She also knows the supervisor won’t do anything about it. And the apologies are part of the grooming – they keep you on the back foot – you can’t reject an apology (can you? Read Adam Lazare’s On Apology – fascinating reading about a quality apology) … so she is using social constructs and rules to keep you in your place… your place being one that doesn’t question or reject her touch.

            Regardless of if she is abusing kids, or just enjoying power over other people via their personal space… she IS grooming kids and adults, and leaving doors open for other predators to move in, and this is completely, utterly and unforgivably not ok in a child care setting. This isn’t child ‘care’ this is child ‘negligence’ at least, and ‘abuse’ at worst.

        2. simonthegrey*

          Right. She doesn’t have to be the one who takes that next step; if she’s groomed them, it’s that much easier for the next person.

      2. Adam*

        Agreed. I hate the idea of bringing accusations regarding child abuse on an innocent person because it can completely destroy their life as they know it, but social services exist for a reason and if this person isn’t correcting their behavior after multiple instances of being told to stop she’s bringing it on herself at this point.

        1. Blue_eyes*

          As part of teacher training I’ve had mandatory trainings on child abuse reporting. When you make a report, CPS (or whatever it is called in your jurisdiction) will take the report and if they think what you described constitutes abuse, they will begin an investigation. They will use the results of the investigation to decide on an appropriate course of action (which could include legal action). If they don’t find evidence of something wrong, it should not destroy the life of the person accused.

          1. Adam*

            It shouldn’t, but I’ve heard a few too many anecdotal stories both in person and in various news reports where CPS was called in a situation where it wasn’t merited and it tore a family apart. I am most definitely not casting accusations on you or anyone else here or social services in general, but as a result of things I’ve personally encountered I do view service providers as human and will never view them as infallible. Thus I will want to make doubly sure with my own judgment that something could very seriously be wrong before I would make a reporting call, and in the past I have not hesitated to dial 911 in social situations where I wasn’t involved but what I saw made me extremely uncomfortable. If the woman in this post were my employee she would be on thin ice if she wasn’t completely gone already.

            1. Ethyl*

              That’s interesting because the people I know who actually work in social services tell me it’s basically impossible to get the truly bad people to be held accountable for their actions and the damage they do. Maybe “anecdotal evidence” and “tv stories” aren’t telling the whole truth.

              1. Adam*

                I definitely don’t want to derail the thread so I won’t say any more than my previous post. I have the utmost respect for the good competent social workers out there and have never let the possibility of human error prevent me from making a reporting call when I was worried something really bad could be going on.

              2. fposte*

                It also varies a lot from agency to agency. Some are more interventionist than others; some are better staffed than others. I have a friend who does official inquiries after social services goes wrong in a situation, and it’s really fascinating, if sad, to see how it happens.

        2. Amy*

          Innocent is someone who does this once, is spoken to, and is truly sorry and stops. Not someone who laughs at a person asking her to stop, blatantly ignores her training and reprimands. She should not be working with children or at risk groups. Ever.

    2. Beebs*

      I can be a “touchy-feely” person at times, and it really comes from a kind place. But when I was in my early 20’s (college years) I had been touchy with people who were not fond of this behavior. I found out through a gossip-mill, but oh my. At the time, it never really occurred to me that someone might be bothered with it, especially since it would happen with people I considered friends (as in, not colleagues or almost strangers). Let me tell you, the minute I realized that this might bother others, my hands have been kept to myself ever since. To this day, I am still conscientious about it and reserve said behavior for my truly inner circle who I know for certain are comfortable with it and keep it very appropriate.

      If being called out on this behavior does not resonate with her, she needs a serious intervention about appropriate behavior and interactions. Most people would be instantly remorseful and want to stop making others uncomfortable immediately!

      1. Adam*

        Agreed. It is entirely possible that “Kim” came from a background that was just really loose with the touching boundaries, that she never learned the rest of the world really doesn’t operate this way, and that she doesn’t mean anything by it.

        But after being told (multiple times) that this behavior is not acceptable and needs to stop and she still continues it is not just disrespectful, it indicates she has a screw loose, to put in the nicest possible way I can right now.

      2. cuppa*

        This is really key. Just because her intentions may not be inappropriate in the physical sense, her ignorance of what is appropriate behavior in a position of authority over children and respect of personal boundaries is. Her contact is sending the wrong message to everybody, and that is still not okay.

      3. The Cosmic Avenger*

        I am a very touchy-feely person from a family of touchy-feely people, but as a young man I was very aware that many men and women were not comfortable with that coming from me, so my default is to always be OPEN to hugging, but not to initiate it with people I don’t know well.

        1. Adam*

          Right. I think society in the past few decades may have taken its views on touching to a possible extreme swing of the pendulum, particularly in interactions where adult men are concerned, but there are still boundaries that should not be crossed and every relationship should establish what those are before you get into it.

          And with children it’s a much firmer blanket edict. You do not touch a child in this manner. Period.

        2. Ann Furthermore*

          I’m not an overly touchy-feely person, but I don’t recoil from it like some people do. Like you, I’m open to it, but I don’t initiate it.

          A few months ago I was leading a week-long software testing event, where everyone was essentially closed into a conference room together all day, every day, for 5 days. When we were all wrapping up and I was leaving for the airport, the one person I’ve been working with most closely walked up to say goodbye, and I offered my hand for a handshake. She said, “What, no hug?” And I laughed and said that I never know what people’s feelings are about personal space. She then said, “Oh, I’m a hugger!” and so we hugged and it was no big deal.

          My boss on the other hand is not a hugger at all, and she makes it clear. The same person went to give her a hug, and my boss said, “I’m sorry, but that would be an invasion of my personal space.” She smiled and sort of laughed when she said it, so the tone was very light but the meaning was clear. So the “hugger” laughed and they shook hands instead.

          1. The Cosmic Avenger*

            Sounds like your boss and the “hugger” both handled it well! Hooray for acting like grownups! :)

      4. Relosa*

        I had/have a similar experience. I was a strictly hands off child, didn’t even want my parents touching me (curiously, my mother never understood that autonomy lesson!) I was also very depressed , socially awkward, etc.

        Later when I reached young adulthood, I got into therapy, things changed and I was able to relate to people better, and also found that I actually could enjoy hugging and casual touching. The problem is that I still had/have trust issues so those I trusted were the ones that were on my good list, and others I didnt/dont trust weren’t, so sometimes I would accidentally overstep boundaries, because it was a way I knew to communicate my trust of that person (touching shoulders, hugging hello or goodbyes, swats and such for especially close friends) . However it is something I’m hyper vigilant of because I know all too well how uncomfortable it made me when I was younger, and generally these days I’m completely hands off again.

        (extra awkward because my boss and I are friends and I don’t mind contact with him, but his business partner is a class A creep, so it gets super awkward when K can touch my shoulder or elbow or fist bump or whatever, but I don’t want V near me)

      5. Blue_eyes*

        I’m totally the same way. When I was 20 and working at a summer camp, another counselor told me that one of our coworkers was uncomfortable with my level of touching (and she thought I was a lesbian…but that was probably because she was bi but still in the closet). I felt sooo embarrassed and became very self conscious about my level of touching with my coworkers from then on, because I really don’t want to make anyone feel uncomfortable.

        1. Beebs*

          Interestingly, the reason I found out about their discomfort was not so much a “you should be aware that they don’t like this” conversation, but the gossip was that “they think you are a lesbian”. Regardless of the reason, I never want anyone to feel uncomfortable and I had the insight and maturity to receive that message even though it was buried in presumptive gossip.

      1. nona*


        No response to apologies other than “You need to stop.” Do not validate her or accept what she’s doing (the apology is part of her habit now).

    3. puddin*

      I think you have a very good point about Kim’s behavior not only being manipulative but, in the end, abusive as well. The cycle of repeatedly hurting someone and then couching the actions in empty apologies and promises to change is the very definition of abuse in my book.

      1. Adam*

        Yes. Emotional/mental abuse may be harder to discern since it can be a lot more subtle, but it can be just as bad or even worse than the physical harm. I had a problem with a family member with the “I’m sorry” game practically my whole life, and when I finally understood what was happening and called them out it they tried the exact same route. They apologized, but this time I said I didn’t believe them. Then they dropped this line:

        “Enough of this. Say “I believe you, [person], or else you’re going to make me feel bad.”

        As my therapist says, layers upon layers of manipulation there.

        1. cuppa*

          “Enough of this. Say “I believe you, [person], or else you’re going to make me feel bad.” After they had made you feel bad for years? Stunning.

          1. Adam*

            Too be fair, I worded my post incorrectly in that it wasn’t the “I’m sorry” thing I was calling out but another separate issue that wasn’t as bad but still beyond aggravating. But when they started the “I’m sorry” thing in that instance it finally snapped in my head and I mentally went “Oh no. I am not falling for this crap again.”

        2. puddin*

          Well, well, well you seem to know my mom.

          …my line would be “Why should I care if you feel bad.” or “I cannot make you feel one way or another, your feelings are your choice.”

            1. Adam*

              “You don’t want to do this? Dammit, Adam, I could be dead tomorrow!” is one of my personal favorites.

              1. Lemur*

                “Well, that’ll suck for you; you’ll miss Taco Night. But I’m still not doing this.”

  12. neverjaunty*

    OP, you are an adult working for an organization that provides services to children. Your most important priority is the safety and well-being of those children. After that is the safety and well-being of adults in the program. I understand that it’s really hard to overcome that socialization to be nice and not rock the boat, but in the scheme of importance, “is this going to be awkward?” is priority #294,494,294.

    You have a co-worker who deliberately and knowingly violates personal boundaries – including with young children – after being told to stop. As AAM pointed out in another letter yesterday, your co-worker has already made things difficult. You are not making things difficult by insisting that she keep her hands to herself. You are simply handing her back responsibility for the problem she has created.

    Sooner or later, OP, some parent whose child had Kim pat their butt or stroke their face is going to realize that your organization is doing nothing to stop an employee who acts inappropriately towards their children, and will decide that maybe you will listen to their concerns if they are filtered through the police and Social Services. That’s going to be a way more difficult situation than dealing with Kim, particularly if you or your supervisor are are a mandatory reporter.

    1. Ollie*

      “Sooner or later, OP, some parent whose child had Kim pat their butt or stroke their face is going to realize that your organization is doing nothing to stop an employee who acts inappropriately towards their children, and will decide that maybe you will listen to their concerns if they are filtered through the police and Social Services.”

      Thank you! To be honest, I’m quite surprised the police haven’t been involved already!

    2. cuppa*

      “As AAM pointed out in another letter yesterday, your co-worker has already made things difficult. You are not making things difficult by insisting that she keep her hands to herself. You are simply handing her back responsibility for the problem she has created.”
      Seriously, this nugget is the most valuable thing I have learned from AAM. Hands down. Applies to so many things.

  13. City Planner*

    I had to do a child abuse preventation training in order to be a volunteer working with children, and one of the things it emphasized is that a red flag for child abuse is when an adult initiates touching, rather than the child. So, a kid running up to give an adult a hug is not a big deal; an adult hugging a reluctant kid is. I know it’s a long way from “she’s touchy-feely” to “she’s an abuser,” but I think you’re right that it’s not appropriate for an adult to behave this way with kids who don’t have the social skills to deal with it, even if it’s not abusive. And it’s disappointing that your management doesn’t recognize this as a problem.

    Putting aside your personal issues with Kim, which seem easier to deal with, I wonder if you could encourage a parent involved in your programming to speak up with management about this situation. Maybe hearing an outside voice would bring this more to the forefront as an issue that must be addressed? Otherwise, I would develop a script to use around the kids that validates them if they seem put off by her behavior – “Kim, Harry doesn’t look comfortable with your touching.”

    1. ReanaZ*

      “Otherwise, I would develop a script to use around the kids that validates them if they seem put off by her behavior – “Kim, Harry doesn’t look comfortable with your touching.””

      This. While I agree with other commenters that this requires more and higher-level followup, this is a really great in-the-moment script.

  14. Robin*

    Holy Hannukah balls. Don’t mess around on this one.

    1. Agree with Alison’s advice to kick this one upstairs.
    2. Every time she touches you, don’t just tell her in the moment. Tell your supervisor this is continuing. Each time.
    3. Encourage your coworkers to do the same. Tell them what you are doing about this.
    4. If a parent complains to you again, encourage them to also take this above you. I think that should shut things down pretty quick.
    5. In most day care systems, there are “incident forms” that I think regulatory agencies can see (IANAL). Any time a parent complains, fill out one of these. That should also get some results.
    6. If none of the above works, consider filing a complaint with whatever agency regulates you.

    (So grateful that my daughter is completely comfortable yelling “get away from me!” when circumstances require it.)

    1. Relosa*

      #2 is also an excellent point and one I have utilized myself as both an employee and manager in the past.

      Believe me if you immediately tell your boss every single time, this will get their butts in gear. Not only is it a squeaky wheel thing but it will paint a much better picture just how constant and invasive her behavior is.

  15. HR Manager*

    Wow, parents are complaining and they don’t think stronger conversations or actions are needed? This place is a lawsuit waiting to happen, and I would say this to your supervisor just that way. I would also put it out there to the supervisor that since she continues to touch you and your child, after repeated warnings to stop, that you will address this more firmly with her if she continues. I would repeat to the supervisor the direct risk s/he is exposing the organization to by not addressing this in a more proactive manner. Touching a kid’s fanny is never, ever appropriate – regardless of her age or gender. I would absolutely go above the supervisor’s head on this.

    I would address this with her by not only reiterating that you do not want her to touch you — I would be very frank and say that her repeated behavior, despite your asking her to stop on multiple occasions, not only makes you uncomfortable but is highly inappropriate (<– I would use that term). I would also let her know that parents have made comments about this and let her know that this behavior needs to stop immediately.

    This may seem harsh, but it doesn't seem like she sees how wildly off-base she is with this. Her continued apologies after she touches doesn't make any of this ok or go away. I can guarantee that if this were a guy, we'd be talking legal action here. She doesn't get a pass because she's female.

  16. Ollie*

    I’m sorry, but isn’t this sexual harassment? Perhaps not the arm touching, but slapping childrens’ and coworkers’ behinds??? Touching anyone after they’ve said stop is more than inappropriate. Why is she still working there?

    1. Burlington*

      IANAL, but it COULD be. The issue is that the touching is probably not sexual to Kim, but typically that doesn’t matter. OP could very well have grounds to file a complaint/suit; sexual harassment typically is about how the recipient of the advances feels, not about how the person making the advances feels.

      However, OP would have to be able to argue that they feel the advances are indeed sexual in nature though, which it sounds like OP knows they are not. So, unfortunately, in this case, probably would not be a successful complaint/suit.

      1. Ollie*

        It’s one thing if OP doesn’t want to file a sexual harassment case for herself. But it’s completely appropriate for her to file a harassment case for how Kim is treating the children, and to be honest, I’m very concerned that the OP/management hasn’t done that already.

        1. fposte*

          There’s no such thing as a sexual harassment case for the kids there, though. Sexual harassment is a workers at the workplace thing.

          1. Burlington*

            Yeah. There are certainly things one could legally do about this, but client children aren’t legally protected under the same sexual harassment laws that adult W-2 employees are.

        2. Burlington*

          Well, it’s not a matter of not wanting to file. It’s that if you don’t feel that someone is touching you in a sexual manner, you don’t have standing to file. OP can’t, in good conscience, file a sexual harassment complaint for non-sexual touching that he/she does not feel are sexual advances. That doesn’t mean there’s not other laws at play, but if the contact is not understood to be sexual by either the toucher or the touchee, or by the people observing the touching, it’s not sexual harassment.

    2. snuck*

      Actually… arm touching could be sexual harrassment. Or take the sexual out of it… and just call it harrassment. She’s been asked to stop and hasn’t. You don’t have to keep asking forever nicely… you ask. They stop. Or they face repercussions.

  17. Colorado*

    Wow, just wow! I will point out the obvious and say if this were a man doing this and esp to children, I’m sure it would have been dealt with immediately. This woman is manipulative and controlling. Your manager sucks and this is so inappropriate. Sounds like you are very rationale and trying to do the right thing. Good luck!

  18. H*

    I know LW doesn’t want to make a scene in front of the kids, but I actually think it might be beneficial for them to see that interaction, even stage it as a lesson if it looks like it’s making them uncomfortable. It could show them that they need to respect the boundaries of others (especially when asked) and that when someone tells them they don’t like being touched they need to listen and can’t simply keep going with no consequences.

    1. Adam*

      Yes. Children notice everything. And I mean EVERYTHING. So if you are not careful you can pass on some backwards lessons that can take years to sort out even if you had no intention of doing so. I imagine a lot of the kids are really uncomfortable about “Kim” but are too nervous to say anything.

      1. H*

        Yes! And I meant to include that it might also give the children who feel uncomfortable the nerves to speak up and advocate for themselves when Kim touches them (and once that starts happening maybe the supervisor will actually do something…)

        1. OhNo*

          If nothing else, it will tell the kids who feel uncomfortable that they have an adult ally who feels the same way. Even if the kids never call out the coworker directly, they might start feeling comfortable enough to go to the OP to complain about the situation.

          And once that happens, OP will have serious ammunition to take to their boss, or social services, or whoever they need to go to. “Sometimes I see Kim touching children in an awkward fashion” is bad enough, but if you can pull out “Janie, Davey, and Johnny all said they found Kim’s touching upsetting and it made them very uncomfortable”, you have a complaint that no one should sweep under the rug.

      2. Arbynka*

        YES. I was just trying to figure out how to say ” think of the children” in less cheesy sounding way. Because liability aside, there are kids involved. This has to stop.

    2. cuppa*

      Yes. And demonstrating these skills for these kids could really come in handy for them later in life. Them seeing that this is being allowed to continue is not a good lesson for them.

    3. BethRA*

      This x 100.

      All the managerial, liability, and interpersonal work stuff aside, the kids really need to see that it’s ok to set personal boundaries.

    4. nona*

      I completely agree. It will help children to see that it’s important that their boundaries are respected – not just that an adult’s boundaries are respected, or their parents’ complaints are respected, or that a potential PR problem is respected.

  19. ScottySmalls*

    I wonder how the supervisor can ignore the fact that parents are complaining. Has the supervisor been out to the site to see how she behaves? This is just way too much. Caressing faces while talking? Eww!

    1. H*

      The face caressing thing just really squicks me out. I know that I personally need to check myself every now and then because I’m a “hand on the shoulder/arm as we talk” type and I know that makes some people uncomfortable but NO ONE not even my boyfriend or parents gets to caress my face. blegh.

      1. Kyrielle*

        Yes. I’ve known people who would hug someone they thought they knew well enough without checking if that person wanted hugs, or touch a shoulder or back briefly for attention rather than using their voice or moving where they could be seen.

        But poking in the ribs, touching the face at all, stroking any part of the person (face, arm, back, I don’t care – stroking is NOT the same as just touching – and also not the same as a massage or backrub if someone is in discomfort, but you ask before those anyway), or touching the backside?

        I have never seen that, and it is WAY over the boundaries, in a way that I would guess very few people can even pretend to think of as normal.

        I’d say I’d be horribly upset if Kim did this to my oldest (who is school age), but I think Kim might be even more upset, because we have firmly taught him about body boundaries and he knows we’d back him. I’m pretty sure he’d make a scene…and when I heard about it, so would I.

        I wouldn’t sue – not until I knew, anyway, about the bit where the director knew about it and didn’t handle it, and maybe not then. I’d file a complaint with the parent organization, and if I knew about the supervisor ignoring it, also any remotely-relevant official/regulatory body I could find. I would expect Kim to not be at that site ever again after that; if she was, I’d pull my kid out and switch programs, and report everywhere if I hadn’t already.

        …which, you know, should be what the supervisor SHOULD think of…about an hour after telling Kim to cut it out or be gone, because the supervisor should think of the kids first…but if the kids aren’t important, at least considering that just one unhappy parent can make their life a living investigation misery….

    2. Not So NewReader*

      The supervisor can ignore this because people go to OP and her coworkers rather than approaching the supervisor.

      OP, look at it this way, every time you don’t tell someone to go talk to your supervisor you are insuring Kim keeps doing this for a while longer.

      Heaven forbid that this becomes a lawsuit and it comes out that you and others knew something about it. How often do we see that in the news?

  20. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec*

    I’m not normally a fan of changing people’s behavior by embarrassing them, but that’s the right move in this situation.

    Right after college I worked at a store and constantly had people touching me – I don’t know what it was about this store. The security guard for the building enjoyed coming by and poking me in the ribs (sometimes “accidentally” touching my breasts – although the rib tickling actually made me madder), and grabbing my pony tail so that when I moved, it would jerk my neck. I tried a firm, “please don’t touch me again” and “please get out of my space” at least twice, and then resorted to yelling, “YOU ARE TOUCHING MY BREASTS AND PULLING MY HAIR AGAIN. I HAVE ASKED YOU OVER AND OVER TO STOP TOUCHING ME. DO NOT EVER TOUCH ME AGAIN AND STAY AWAY FROM ME”, attracting the attention of at least a dozen people. He turned bright red, turned around and left. Never happened again.

    I realize there were breasts involved here, but I don’t think your situation is different, except that it’s more extreme because children are involved – unwanted touching is unwanted touching, period.

    For some reason (youth?) I never mentioned any of this to my manager – I’m certain she would have done something if I had. Your manager sucks.

    1. cuppa*

      Some people won’t be stopped unless there is embarrassment or other serious consequences at hand. It’s unfortunate for those of us who hate escalating to that point, but it is what it is.

  21. Observer*

    I think that Allison is spot on. Absolutely DO go to someone above the supervisor. This is not “tattling”. It’s protecting yourself – and it’s protecting the children you all have a responsibility to.

    Two more thoughts here. Firstly, I’d like to emphasize what others have said about the liability to the agency. Think about it. What if it turns out that Kim is actually abusing or has a abused a child? But, it’s not just the risk of Kim being an abuser. If ANYONE in the employ of your organization is found to have abused a child, the organization is going to have a very hard time defending itself. After all, you (the org) have clearly not been following basic protocols regarding behavior to and around the children.

    Secondly, I think it’s time to stop worrying how your behavior will affect the kids’ perceptions of her as an authority figure. In fact, I would say that you need to do the reverse. Whether she intends this or not, what she is doing is grooming these children for abuse by getting them used to being touched without their consent in cases where it’s not clearly necessary (eg medical exams). You are effectively reinforcing that by worrying about her authority status.

    The thing is that she does NOT have the authority to do what she is doing, any more than she has the authority to take money out of the school’s petty cash box, or the kids’ backpacks. And the kids need to know it. Even more, they need to hear it from an authority figure and see an authority figure act on it. ESPECIALLY when she is doing this to one of the kids!

    I’d probably give your supervisor and whoever is above her a heads up that I was taking this tack, put something like this “As you know, Kim has a bad habit of touching and stroking people, even though she’s been asked numerous times to stop. Some of the parents have noticed an commented to me about this. I really don’t want them or the children to think that we think it’s ok for her to do this kind of thing, or that we think the children need to cooperate with her. So, I’m going to start calling her on this, even in front of the children.”

    1. fposte*

      I like that phrasing; it covers the problem and identifies the nature of the consequences without catastrophizing.

    2. Rana*

      That’s a really great point – the OP needs to be challenging Kim’s “authority” in the matter of unwanted and inappropriate touching, not shoring it up.

    3. M-C*

      I agree with Observer – it’s more than time for the OP to start addressing things legally, that is in writing. The days of verbal complaints are over. That is, I heartily endorse the tactics suggested above. They might actually have some effect, and it’d at least be setting a good example for the kids to counteract what they’ve been seeing so far.
      But it needs to go further than that. When a parent goes to the police, the OP will not want to be floundering with an “hmm, I told my supervisor” response to an investigation. The OP of course will want to weigh her legal reporting obligations with her desire to not antagonize her supervisor so much that she is the one who loses her job. But she really needs to have a trail of written (paper or email, no matter) reports to her supervisor of every single time she witnesses, or hears of, incidents of inappropriate touching toward staff or especially children.
      That said, clearly the supervisor is not doing her job. Maybe she needs a gentle reminder of her own reporting obligations? Does a local child protective agency provide details of who’s expected to report what? Perhaps just the suggestion that other people are noticing what she’s not doing will spur her to take her head out of the sand? Before starting the stream of day-to-day reporting, the OP might want to send a summary “Houston we have a problem” letter detailing as much as possible the incidents the OP has been subjected to, or witnessed, and especially the parent complaints. And if the supervisor goes ballistic, apologize profusely, and explain that, since it seems inevitable that there will be an investigation some day, the OP is too scared not to have it on record that she’s brought her supervisor’s attention to the problem, so sorry but..
      I’d also try to talk to at least some of your colleagues. Ask first the ones who’ve shown discomfort with Kim’s touching, and see whether they’d either sign the initial letter to the supervisor, or agree to report what they witness themselves in the future. Surely you’re not the only one who wants to see some action here..

  22. LikeOhMyGod*

    Well, WTF Wednesday strikes again.

    OP, props for never really losing your cool.

    I am a person who doesn’t like to be touched at all, unless I really know the person; so this coworker, I can’t even imagine, I would be so squicked.

    You know her best OP, but unless she’s really ~really~ dim, she knows exactly what she’s doing. You, and other people, and parents, and your manager (what even, ignoring the manager and continuing to touch people, ewww) have all told her that this is grade-A NOT COOL, but she still hasn’t really changed.

    That… that scares me, actually. I hate to play the cliché ‘but think of the little childeren’ line, but… THINK OF THE LITTLE CHILDREN who are being taught by example that it’s okay for someone in a position of authority over them to ignore their bodily autonomy. Shudder.

    I have to admit that I don’t have much advice for you. I, personally, am a scene-maker. I would have told her never to touch me the first time she did it, with increasing volume and written documentation of each following incident.

    Actually, wait, you can do that; after every time she touches you, send her an email calmly reiterating that you don’t want to be touched gratuitously and ask her to stop. In every. Single. Email. (It will be tedious as anything, but do it anyway.) What you want here is for it to be dead obvious that this is a mountain and not a molehill of a problem.

    If she’s the sort of person that I think she is (and if you want to hang around long enough), than in a few months you’ll have accumulated a nice ream of evidence of her creepyness for your written report.

    Or you could find another job, without the creepy coworker.

    1. Observer*

      But please document in the meantime – about you AND the kids. Maybe that will help to get her stopped.

    2. Michelle*

      Not only email her, but use the forward button so that there is a cascading document that shows how many times you have emailed her about this.

    3. peanut butter kisses*

      Great idea – perhaps you could even cc the supervisor on each and every e-mail as well. If it gets into a legal situation, the cc’s might come in handy, jmo.

  23. puddin*

    Your supervisor’s lack of action is disturbing. I agree with AAM’s assessment and advice.

    I would also recommend that the next parent who mentions it to you should be referred to the highest level of management to address their concerns. Heck I would even provide them with the contact info for all management.

  24. Jill the social worker*

    If you have a regulatory body, association, anything- report to them. this is so not okay. I am a child protection social worker and I am seeing many red flags.
    Just no.
    If it comes down to it, and a parent approaches to complain, encourage them to do complain personally to your supervisor/manager/board/association, etc.

    and of course, as always, follow Allison’s advice. However, I really don’t think that alone will suffice. do what you have to do.

    is this woman always supervised with children??

    1. hildi*

      So I’m curious, what other red flags are you seeing? I think most of us have our own and many of them are pretty common, but I’m curious if a trained professional is seeing something the rest of aren’t picking up on?

  25. Aunt Vixen*

    1. “Please don’t touch me.”
    2. Repeat, increasing volume and decreasing “please” as necessary.
    3. Document refusals to comply.

    Also, frankly, I’d think about lofting the kids a softball once in a while, just as one would if e.g. one saw a young woman uncomfortably cornered at a college party. “You okay? Want to go get a drink?*” (*snack/coloring book/seat at the sand table/whatever) That is, there are times that making a scene might not be the optimal choice for the kid’s benefit right then, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get the kid out of the situation right then and make a scene later.

    1. M-C*

      Absolutely! The children need to be actively protected here, even if you have to physically step between her and a squirming child.

  26. Student*

    I’m not accusing this specific co-worker of anything. However, this is exactly how you condition children for abuse of many kinds.

    You (the other adult) never stand up for your boundaries in front of them, teaching the children that their physical boundaries are not as important as not-making-a-scene. The touchy co-worker teaches them every day that their physical boundaries don’t matter, that they are there for the enjoyment of adults, like pets instead of people.

    Honestly, this behavior is so extensive and over-the-top that I wonder if she’s a predator looking for victims. She’s looking for the children who put up the least resistance to escalate with. Worst case scenario is a pedo, but there’s also the possibility of a control freak, someone who wants little children to validate her, someone who thinks little children are her toys/dolls instead of people.

    1. Muriel Heslop*

      I had all of your same thoughts. This behavior seems beyond the pale of normal “touchy-feely” actions.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        The fact that she can’t stop, makes one wonder what is driving the behavior. It could be that she does not see the problem, but, oh boy, one would have to have their head in the sand not to know what an issue this is.

    2. M-C*

      Yes, Student, you’re right that this behavior is way out of line. But apart from the touching the OP doesn’t seem to think that Kim’s a totally horrible person. What this makes me wonder is whether Kim herself has been a victim of abuse. She may be in denial about it, she may not have processed it enough to figure out how it works, she may not see the continuum between what she is doing and actual abuse, she may think that because she is in fact NOT abusing the kids her behavior is by definition OK. I think it may be worth having some sort of compassionate conversation with her about it, and saying something like “you’ve been asked repeatedly to stop touching people in a way they perceive as inappropriate, but you seem to have no real grasp of how and why. I wonder whether this may have something to do with your own background?”. Quote some of the other commenters’ excellent explanations of why it’s unhealthy for kids to be subjected to unwanted touching of any sort. Have some material to hand out for further thought, like the stellar “Why does he do this?” by Lundy Bancroft. For that matter, start by reading it yourself, so you’re more fluent in explaining to everyone, from Kin to supervisor or parents, how this all works :-). And OP, good luck, you’re on the right track, don’t feel alone there…

    3. snuck*

      And she’s found a good family to start with – the OP and the OP’s child.

      The OP asked her to stop, she didn’t… she then did it again, to both the OP and the OP’s child… in front of the OP, blatently (face touching!) and nothing happened.

      Now she KNOWS she is going to get away with it with OP and OP’s child.

      OP. Get your child as far away from that woman as you can.

  27. allisonallisonallisonetc*

    “I don’t want to make a scene around the kids by reprimanding one of their authority figures in front of them.”

    ” And really, what is a child going to say? He’s not going to say, “That made me uncomfortable/I didn’t like it/don’t do it again.” He’s going to say, “It’s okay” or something like that, because he’s a child and he doesn’t have those confrontation social skills, and she’s the authority figure.””

    OP, you’re second line that I quoted is exactly why you need to reprimand your coworker in the moment, even if that’s in front of the children you work with. Authority figures do not deserve blind respect and obedience just beacuse they are in authority and a much better lesson to be teaching kids is that they have boundaries that deserve to be respected and other adults can help them with that.

      1. maggiethecat*

        Especially since “Kim” did this to the OP’s child in front of her! I get not wanting to make a scene but I would not have been able to stop myself from reaching out and PRYING her hand off of my child in that moment.

    1. I'm a Little Teapot*

      YES YES YES. “Always obey authority figures no matter what” is a terrible lesson to teach children, and people who think that way boggle my mind. (Aside from the obvious matter of child abuse, look up the Milgram experiment, and any sort of “just following orders” atrocity.)

    2. Amy*

      The child shouldn’t need to respond. “What you are doing right now is inappropriate. You need to stop it now. I have asked you to stop touching the children and you refuse to listen. Please go attend to the food until we can address this in private”

  28. Anon for This*

    How different would people’s opinions and reactions be if Kim were, instead, Karl?

    She is displaying very disturbing behavior and the fact that your supervisor refuses to really address it is alarming. I’m not sure if this would warrant a “mandated reporter” call to your state’s child abuse agency, but it looks like Kim is about two touches away from instigating one.

    1. chump with a degree*

      Exactly. This would immediately been seen as inappropriate by a male coworker, and should certainly been seen for what it is.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      I think you mean the boss’ opinion. I have to wonder about that, the boss seems to be almost as dense as Kim. Which more disturbing, because if Kim cannot stop herself someone, like a boss, has to.

  29. Iro*

    I found this letter odd. Why is everyone going to the OP with “complaints”. And I put “complaints” in quotes because several of the examples she provides just says “parents/coworkers have mentioned to me”

    While out of context something like “slapping a kids butt” might sound outragously over the line, I played sports all throughout my child and teen years and butt slapping, head patting, chest bumpging, hugs, arm punches, etc. were all very common between the coaches, support staff, and amongst the team.

    I dunno it just feels to me that there is a lot more to this story than we are hearing and I get the hunch (and maybe I’m completely wrong) that the OP has other issues with the co-worker and that these “complaints” may be more one-off comments that the OP is hearing because she is so outspoken about not liking the behavior. Her comment about “losing it with the co-worker in front of kids because she is snarky” also led me to think this may be the case. The sympathetic but unacting supervisor also makes me wonder if maybe the OP is the only person who has a problem with this behavior, or at least is the only person complaining about it.

    Don’t get me wrong. When it comes to the OP and her child the co-worker should definitely stop touching since it sounds like the OP has had a conversation with her to not do that. As for the other kids, it may not actually be a problem and the OP isn’t really in a position to go a supervisor and say “I think people are uncomfortable and this behavior should stop towards all co-workers/children” if other’s aren’t complaining.

    1. neverjaunty*

      1) Kim is not playing sports. We are not talking about ordinary, appropriate contact in a sports game.

      2) It is not uncommon for sexual predators to use their coaching positions and sports games as a way of finding excuses to touch children, and to normalize overriding boundaries. (“Geez, Coach was just being friendly! Stop being paranoid!”). This was true when you and I were kids and it’s true today. Butt-patting a kid is not appropriate.

      3) According to OP’s letter, the supervisor agrees that Kim’s behavior is a problem, and has talked to Kim about it repeatedly but done nothing further. So no, this does not appear to be a situation where OP is overreacting to nothing, or where an objective observer would think this behavior is totally OK.

      This is not a subject where it’s clever or funny to play devil’s advocate.

      1. Observer*

        This is not a subject where it’s clever or funny to play devil’s advocate.


        The term “gslighting” comes to mind. I’m not saying Iro is doing that. But, the arguments in this post are CLASSIC gaslighting tricks.

        1. fposte*

          I feel like we’re falling into the practice of considering disagreement to be something sinister here again. I hope we can avoid that.

          1. Observer*

            I don’t think Iro is being sinister. But, the arguments here do fall into that classic pattern. Basically, he is cherrypicking some facts and concluding from that and the fact that in sports some types of contact are normal, that the OP is being highly unreasonable and over-reacting.

            Yes, it’s possible to over-react to people touching kids, and I’ve seen it. But, the facts as presented by the OP do NOT match the scenario painted by Iro in the least bit, and that is a problem. It’s a problem because real abusers and gaslighters use these kinds of genuine mistakes to create a smokescreen of confusion. The only way for people of good will to avoid unintentionally helping abusers out this way is by being aware of the issue and playing along.

            1. fposte*

              And the OP *is* in sports.

              I just think “gaslighting” has validity as a term in a relationship but isn’t really substantive in a discussion; it ends up being dismissive by associating people with villainy without engaging with the content.

            2. Iro*

              Funny. That’s how I feel about a lot of the commenters. Cherry picking sections of the letter to conclude Kim is a creep/grooming for pedaphila/touching children innapproriately and I don’t see it.

              I’ve also never said the OP is being highly unreasonable and over-reacting. I think in the case of her personal bounderies being invaded she is undereacting actually.

              However from this letter I am not ready to conclude that Kim is innappropriately touching children, or grooming kids for molestation, or needs to be fired on the spot, or any other of the myriad sentiments. If that makes me a devils advocate then fine.

              1. Liz*

                I don’t think people are saying Kim is *intentionally* grooming the kids, or that she’s touching them in a sexual way, but she *is* inadvertently grooming them: she’s teaching them that adults get to touch them, even if the kids don’t want to be touched and don’t like it, and they just have to put up with it.

                OP – as a foster parents, Big Sister and childcare worker, you should make an official complaint to your supervisor listing the types of contact you’ve witnessed and had yourself, and the parental/child complaints. I’d do it in writing, by email if necessary, and copy an HR person. They need to take this seriously. While they’re doing whatever they need to do, each time Kim touches you speak up. “Kim, I’ve asked you not to touch me/my child. Please stop stroking my arm/smacking my butt/touching his face.” And then document it.

          2. Jake*


            This case is extra sensitive due to the nature of the post, however I’ve seen many fair discussions squashed by accusations of gaslighting.

            1. Iro*

              Not to mentions it’s quite the accusation to claim someone is exhibiting a form of mental abuse … all because they took a stance and provided some counter examples to an arugment you disagree with.

      2. Iro*

        I’m not being clever and cute – I’m calling it as I see it.

        1) How do we know they are not coaching/engaged in these acitivities?
        2) “Butt-patting a kid is not appropriate” I did not have a problem with this behavior from my coaches as a kid, and I don’t see it as an issue. Now, if someone says don’t do that/don’t do that to my kid then it is an issue and needs to stop. But if *Dustin’s mom has an issue with it I don’t see why it should be a blanket ban on the whole team.

        3) When it comes to the OP and her child, I definitely think this should be addressed. I’m just not sure that I can agree with the OP that Kim’s behavior towards other’s is innappropriate or being complained about. That’s not so say I believe she is overreacting to these instances, but it doesn’t sound like other people are actually complaining about the behavior to anyone but Kim and that strikes me as odd.

        1. Colette*

          Just because you were OK with something as a child doesn’t mean that other children should be OK with it or that an adult should be acting in a way that is not socially acceptable.

          1. Iro*

            I think everyone has a right to their boundries. And that includes not having blanket “no touching except for emergencies” policies applied to everyone.

            1. Colette*

              I think you should be able to touch people who want you to them. That does not include children (except in specific circumstances where the child is injured or initiates contact) or people who have repeatedly said no.

              1. Iro*

                I disagree. I think it should apply to children as well and the pendulum has swung too far the other way in a manner that has dehumanized a lot of interactions.

                Of course I agree about it applying to any individual who says no.

                1. NewishAnon*

                  I agree with you to a point. My friends 7 year old daughter came home with a note the beginning of this school year explaining that teachers are no longer allowed to hug students. I think that is dehumanizing.

                  That said, I don’t think it should ever be assumed that you can just hug someone or touch them in any way without their permission. Especially with children, because most of them aren’t comfortable with saying no.

                  A simple “can I give you a hug?” is all that is needed. No need to ban stuff like that. But can you imagine someone saying “can I pat your butt?” Um, no. Becuase that is completely inappropriate in almost any context. If you can’t even ask it, you certainly shouldnt be doing it.

                2. aebhel*

                  I don’t think a ‘don’t smack a child on the ass, ever’ policy is going to dehumanize our social interactions.

                  I hate being touched by people I don’t know well. I always have. As an adult, I’m perfectly capable of having friendly relationships with people without touching them. As a child, I was frequently made to feel uncomfortable by people who thought being physically affectionate was appropriate as long as it wasn’t sexual. No. If you’re a touchy-feely person, it’s ON YOU to make sure that everyone you touch is totally on board with it. Some kids are fine with being touched. Some aren’t. And the ones who aren’t are going to have a really hard time standing up to an adult who won’t stop touching them, especially when the other adults around them see and do nothing.

                  tl:dr, you might have been fine with a coach slapping you on the ass. I wouldn’t have been. I would have freaked out, in fact.

            2. Ezri*

              It’s not a ‘no touching except for emergencies’ policy applied to everyone, it’s applied to adults working with children they aren’t related to. Which is a pretty different situation, considering the authority dynamics in play.

              1. Ezri*

                To be clear, I’m not necessarily advocating that we don’t have physical contact with kids in these settings. I do think a butt-pat is over the line where a shoulder pat might not be. I’m just saying that there is a different standard with kids.

                1. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec*

                  Yes. There are certain kinds of touching that most everyone feels okay about, non-emergencies included. High-fives come to mind.

            3. JB*

              That’s not what the OP was asking for. And the OP also said this:
              “one coworker actually ran up to me at an event and asked me to keep Kim away from her”
              “she was laughing when he told her not to touch him”

              That’s *at least* two other people who have complained, not including the parents who have mentioned it but may or may not have been complaining. This is not just the OP being unhappy and projecting.

        2. neverjaunty*

          If you can’t agree that it is inappropriate to keep touching and stroking people at work, especially after being told not to, then I really don’t know what to tell you.

          And whether you, personally, objected to butt-patting as a kid is not really relevant. Some of us are old enough to remember when teachers and coaches could get away with throwing things at kids when they were mad. That would not make it OK if Kim were doing this.

          If you read OP’s entire letter without needing to insert facts, it is blindingly obvious that Kim is a problem. No jumping to conclusions needed.

        3. Kyrielle*

          “(one coworker actually ran up to me at an event and asked me to keep Kim away from her)”

          “I heard from an adult support staff person that she slapped him in the rear also, as she was laughing when he told her not to touch him (??).”

          (Note the key ‘when he told her not to touch him’ part.)

          “When I bring it up, t the story is always the same; our supervisor will agree and sympathize with me that it’s not right, but she won’t take any action against her other than talking to her.”

          “It’s the fact that people have said they don’t like it or it’s not appropriate, and she still does it anyway.”

        4. Ezri*

          I have to disagree really hard with your second point. You never had a problem with your coaches patting your butt as a kid, and you probably aren’t alone in that. But that doesn’t mean all kids are okay with it and it definitely doesn’t mean it’s acceptable. It’s an authority thing – there are young children who are reluctant to tell adults in authority positions not to do something that makes them uncomfortable. And if you don’t ask the kid, you can’t know for sure whether it’s okay.

          I guess I also have a problem with the double standard when it comes to touching children. Most of us wouldn’t touch the behinds of people we know at work, so why is this okay for children we work with? We need to give kids the same boundary respect we’d give adults.

          1. Iro*

            But why should your opinion on acceptable impact the experience my child has in the event? If a kid is not okay with something, fine, they shouldn’t be exposed to it, but I think the arm stretches too far to say since *one* is uncomfortable than it’s clearly an unacceptable practice and should be blanket banned.

            1. esra*

              With what you’re saying here, how would you know the kid isn’t okay with it? If the default is touching, how are they not exposed to it?

            2. NewishAnon*

              But it’s not just *one* person that is uncomfortable with it. 99% of the people on this thread alone are uncomfortable with it so it stands to reason that most people lean towards this not being ok, including children.

              And really, is your child’s experience going to be impacted by not receiving butt touches from his/her coach? Probably not. While a kid who IS uncomfortable with it is very likely to be negatively impacted by it.

              I’m not sure why it’s so difficult to understand this concept. One does not ever assume rights over another persons body. First you assume you don’t have the right, then you can proceed once it is given to you. Not the other way around.

        5. A Teacher*

          As a teacher, I’m telling you it IS inappropriate. I would be written up and investigated if I ever did this stuff. My mom retired as a el ed art teacher and she is not a touchy feely person. Kids would run up to her in the middle of teaching and hug her and she’d stand awkwardly. At most she might give them a pat on the top of the head or shoulder–at most, nothing else. The behavior of “Kim” is problematic on so many levels and needs to be stopped.

        6. Observer*

          The OP has explicitly stated that tow other adults HAVE complained about the matter. What makes you believe that she is making that up?

          That fact, and the fact that she has repeatedly asked the the touching stop are at the heart of the problem. Beyond that, the kinds of contact being descried is NOT in any way typical. In all of your youth sports, did ANY of your coaches even stroke your face during a conversation?

        7. NewishAnon*

          No. The default should always be to not touch someone’s butt. It shouldn’t be that butt touching is ok unless you’re told otherwise.

          I don’t care it it’s a sports environment and that it was the norm when you were growing up. It was the norm 50 years ago to call females “sweetie”, “baby”, “honey” and make general lewd remarks to them in the workplace. Just because some women may have been ok with it back then, or even now, doesn’t mean it’s ok to continue that behavior. At some point norms change and we reevaluate whether behavior is appropriate or not.

        8. M-C*

          Iro, I’m glad you’re not feeling particularly traumatized about people feeling up your butt as a child. But I think it’s disingenuous to claim that it’s OK because it’s sports, because it’s not. In fact, it’d be good if everyone remembered that coaches are relatively major offenders in child abuse, in great part because of their position of authority. Let me just say “Sandusky”.

      3. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I want to ask that we assume good will on the part of other commenters, even when we disagree strongly (or they disagree strongly with us)! We’re usually good at doing that. I know it’s harder with an issue like this one, but I think it’s doable. Thank you!

        1. Iro*

          Thank you Alison.

          From the accusations of gaslighting (a form of mental abuse I might add), playing devils advocate, as well as the numerous other extrapolations about my supposed motives for posting what I did it was hard for me not to take some of these posts personally.

          Also I think this has been an issue more recently, perhaps due to the heavier posts of late, but I worry about about the comments flat out accusing Kim or other subjects in the letters of various ailements such as pedophilia. That’s a big accusation to throw at someone. Even an anonomyzed someone based soley off a few paragraphs in a letter!

    2. Observer*

      The sympathetic but unacting supervisor also makes me wonder if maybe the OP is the only person who has a problem with this behavior, or at least is the only person complaining about it.

      Here is the thing. Kim has been EXPLICITLY told by at least two people to NOT touch them (the OP and another co-worker) and at least one other co-worker asked the OP to essentially defend her from Kim. So, clearly it is NOT just the OP. And clearly it IS a matter of Kim crossing boundaries because she HAS been told to stop. That is enough. Full stop.

      1. fposte*

        And it’s okay for the OP to complain if she’s the only one, too.

        Look, I have issues with the current fear of touching children; I think it’s gone way overboard and that it’s a problem when we fail to acknowledge that cuddling kids can be okay even if you’re not related to them; there’s really not much evidence it’s a gateway to victimhood elsewhere.

        But this is somebody who’s been asked to stop and hasn’t. That’s a problem in its own right wherever it is. This is somebody whose behavior has disconcerted at least one parent. That is also a problem. Her behavior doesn’t have to be evil for it to need to stop when she’s told. This is where it really is like the hugging-mad woman in the other post–nobody was going to cast her as preying on people, but her behavior was out of line and needed to stop, even if she didn’t get that.

        1. cuppa*

          Yes! When I was a teenager, someone who was like a second father to me was denied contact with children at my church because he was spotted side-hugging another teenager in front of many people, including adults. I never experienced or witnessed any inappropriate actions or red flags from him, and to this day, it still upsets me a little.
          But, if I knew that he was making someone uncomfortable? If someone said it made them uncomfortable and asked him to stop and he didn’t? Totally different. To me, it’s not the action itself, it’s the complete disregard for personal boundaries and respect for others that makes this inappropriate. Also, this is with small children, who don’t have the self-awareness and other skills to make their preferences known. Totally different, and completely inappropriate.

          1. fposte*

            I like that point–I feel like I was heading there and didn’t quite make it. One of my resistances to automatically casting this behavior as sexual is that it suggests it *has* to be sexual for it to be out of line and needing to stop. It’s out of line because it’s out of line.

            1. NewishAnon*

              I agree with you fposte. It doesn’t have to be sexual for it to be out of line. It just has to have the possibility of making people physically comfortable because of the way others are interacting with them. If there is that possibility then caution should be used.

              I am not a touchey feedly person at all. I can deal with hugs from acquaintances when saying good by after spending some lengthy time together. But I’d rather get away with out hugging. A handshake will do just fine. When I was a kid, if someone had touched my butt in gym class I would have been extremely uncomfortable. So much so that I wouldn’t have been able to stop thinking about it.

              And not necessarily for all the reasons discussed here. I’d have been thinking why did they touch me like that? will they do it again? Did others see? What are they going to say to me about it? Will I be picked on? Will they make fun of it and touch my butt in the locker room later? Whose going to steal my underpants from my locker and say the teacher took it?
              One simple butt pat and those should have been my thougs for the rest of the day and at least half of them would have manifested in some way or another.
              This is why you don’t patt childrens rear ends.

              1. Connie-Lynne*

                This — the out of line part is mainly “People have asked you to stop touching them and you refuse” with a side order of “the default for other people’s bodies should be ‘don’t touch unless asked to.'”

                Heck, even people who like to be touched and hugged might find days or situations where it’s not comfortable. I’m generally very huggy, but while I might hug fellow volunteers on a community project, I don’t hug my day-to-day coworkers.

                It’s not hard to get permission, if someone really needs a hug — one of the women in our office opened up to me in a 1:1 meeting about some really horrible stress she was going through. Afterward, I said “That sounds really hard. Feel free to say ‘no,’ but do you want a work-appropriate hug?” She did, and we had great bonding moment. If I’d just gone in for the hug without asking, it would have been weird.

          2. Iro*


            But we don’t really know that Kim’s behavior is with small children either. The OP works with 6 – 7 year olds, but her agency works with kids of all ages and Kim is a co-worker but doesn’t mean she works with the same age group.

            Maybe that’s what’s bothering me. A lot of the issues with Kim are left implied in the OP’s letter with regards to her behavior towards others. It’s implied that Kim is working with 6-7 year olds, but not stated. It’s implied that a parent complained, but not stated. It’s implied that a co-worker complained, but again not stated.

            1. LizB*

              Why does it matter if the kids are 6-7 versus any other age? Why would parents and co-workers be mentioning Kim’s behavior to the OP (including asking the OP to keep Kim away from them, in one case) if they were totally comfortable with it? I’m not really seeing why we need to pick apart the OP’s phrasing here to justify the idea that she’s overreacting.

              1. Iro*

                I never said the OP was overreacting, just that I thought it was weird that all these people were mentioning it to her. There are also a myriad of reasons a behavior could be mentioned but not complained about. It’s like cuppa’s comment.

                1. BethRA*

                  Why is that weird? People talking about the odd/inappropriate/problematic behavior of their colleagues is more common than not in my experience.

            2. Observer*

              It’s implied that Kim is working with 6-7 year olds, but not stated.
              What difference does it make? It would be the same problem with 11 year olds.

              It’s implied that a parent complained, but not stated.
              What is your point? It has been stated clearly that a parent noticed enough to mention it. That already creates an issue in this context.

              It’s implied that a parent complained, but not stated.
              That’s actually not correct. The OP give two specific examples of people who have complained. In addition she states that multiple people have stated that they don’t like it or that it is inappropriate.

              1. Iro*

                It has been stated clearly that a parent noticed enough to mention it. That already creates an issue in this context.

                Not neccassarily though.

                I have been in situations where people have said they felt a certain way under pressure to do so but didn’t really have an issue with it when I followed up one on one. This actually happened to me in a previous role where I did not get along with the manger. That manager came to me with”complaints” that a co-worker had “mentioned” to her about my communication style.

                But when I apologized to said co-worker?

                The co-worker told me she didn’t feel that way at all but that she felt pressured by the manager and our other co-worker to say that. You see it turns out that our other co-worker who didn’t know me as well over heard a casual advice conversation and completely mis-interpreted it in a way that the alleged “complainer” did not.

                I can just see the OP projecting some of her feelings onto these other events, in the same way my co-worker did above. I can even see some people mentioning event in a sort of “yeah this happened” way that doesn’t neccassarily mean they are complaining.

                1. Observer*

                  Talking about projections…

                  Considering that the other items are not really open to interpretation, what you are saying is a stretch, even if the OP hadn’t amplified on that issue later.

        2. neverjaunty*

          The current paranoia about touching children is a direct result of situations like the one OP describes – where somebody behaved badly and the adults turned the other way because it was awkward to say anything.

          1. fposte*

            I’m going to strongly disagree with that–it’s a lot more complicated and a lot less justified that that statement would suggest.

    3. JB*

      Nothing about this letter sounds like all the touching is happening in the context of sports. I’m a lawyer, I work in the criminal justice system and my office handles a lot of sexual abuse cases. I’m not saying that’s what’s happening here, but the pattern OP is describing is VERY familiar to me. It seems like the person reading into things and viewing behavior through their own experience isn’t the OP.

      At the end of the day,leaving kids out of it, and even if OP is the only person bothered by it, we have someone who has been told repeatedly not to touch the OP, and she either cannot or will not stop. That is a BIG problem. That is absolutely different from the stereotypical butt-slapping after a good play.

      1. Iro*

        I completely agree. The person has been told repeatedly not to touch OP and that needs to stop. Period. That’s unnacceptable and needs to be addressed.

        However a lot of the other stuff in the letter sounds like OP is watching Kim do stuff she thinks is innappropriate and I’m not ready to jump to that conclusion.

        1. neverjaunty*

          It is not “jumping to conclusions” to note that Kim behaves inappropriately with children and adults. You need to re-read the whole letter.

        2. Elizabeth West*

          Inappropriate doesn’t necessarily have to mean sexual. It means it’s not suitable or proper in the circumstances of the situation.

          It’s inappropriate for me to stand on a table in a restaurant and recite the Gettysburg Address from memory. If someone asks me to stop the behavior and I don’t, whatever happens next is on me, not them. If I were ASKED to stand on a table and recite the Gettysburg Address from memory at a Fourth of July celebration, that would be appropriate.

          It’s inappropriate for Kim to touch people willy-nilly, especially after she has been asked to stop. Period.

          Disclaimer: I cannot actually recite the Gettysburg Address from memory.

          1. Iro*

            So you work with Co-workers A, B, and C. You are a huggy person. Person A was uncomfortable and has asked you to stop. You stop hugging co-worker A, but continue to hug co-workers B & C.

            Is there a problem in this scenario because I don’t see it?

            Granted that’s not the scenarior for the OP. In that scenario Person A is still being hugged and that is wrong, needs to be addressed and is innapprorpriate, but a lot of the other stuff in the letter is implied that it should stop and I’m just not ready to conclude that’s the case in this scenario.

            1. A Teacher*

              The problem is, the other ones she’s touchy feely with are kids. The power dynamic is drastically shifted between co-worker to co-worker and adult to kid.

            2. Elizabeth the Ginger*

              I think it is a bit different with kids, though. Co-workers B and C are adults and able to speak up for themselves – though even in that case, the hugger should pay attention to body language – if B enthusiastically returns the hug but C always stiffens up when hugged, the hugger should notice and adjust! But kids don’t necessarily feel comfortable telling adults to stop, especially because in many cases the kids don’t have the right to tell an adult what to do. (Examples: kids can’t choose when they eat lunch, kids can’t decide to take off their shoes whenever they want, kids can’t choose to talk while a teacher’s giving directions, kids can’t choose to go over here when everyone is going over there…) Also, kids are very eager to please and want adults to like them, so they can be hesitant to speak up.

              I work with young kids and actually do touch them frequently – but it sounds like Kim is crossing boundaries. I don’t think there’s any evidence that it’s sexual/pedophile behavior, but that doesn’t mean it can’t still be inappropriate for other reasons. Appropriate touching from a teacher/counselor to a student: a hug the kid initiates, a light touch on the kid’s shoulder to remind him to settle down during circle time, a hand out to help up a kid who’s fallen, an offered high-five, picking up a kid who’s more seriously hurt after asking “Can I pick you up?”, holding a kid firm to keep her from hitting/kicking another kid after verbal warnings haven’t stopped the behavior. Frequently initiating touching without asking is disrespectful of the child’s boundaries.

            3. Colette*

              I’d argue that hugging any of A, B, and C is inappropriate. It’s not a close relationship (they’re coworkers) and consent should not be assumed. Perhaps B & C are less direct or feel like they can’t say no because they really need the job or don’t have the energy/emotional reserves to handle the conflict that could arise if they say no.

              1. Iro*

                I disagree.

                I also don’t think people should be held accountable to people who won’t speak up about something that bothers them. We can’t expect everyone to walk around on eggshells in case they might offend someone, and I think it’s unfortunate that the U.S. and other contries have adopted rigid, dehumanizing, daily interactions that last for a Majority of the day just because someone *might* be uncomfortable and *might* not speak up.

                1. Observer*

                  That’s an arguable position to take with adults. With children vs adults it’s utterly untenable.

                2. NewishAnon*

                  But you don’t get to disagree. It’s not your place to decide what other people should and shouldn’t be comfortable with. If you are fine with hugging people, great. Other people may not be and shouldn’t have to go around announcing to everyone that they aren’t huggy people in order to avoid feeling like their space has been invaded. You don’t have to walk on eggshells about it. Just don’t go around hugging people and there won’t be an issue.

                  As a very non-huggy person I can tell you that it is incredibly awkward and uncomfortable to deal with someone who invades personal space in the work place. I don’t mind if someone touches my arm in conversation occasionally, or puts their hand on my shoulder. And Im ok with the occasional hug goodbye after a lengthy meeting. But some people I don’t want to hug at all and I don’t want to have to distinguish between them openly.

                  I just got back from a week long training where my desk mate was an overly familiar type. He was leaning on me, placing his hands on my biceps when laughing at a joke, whispering very closely to my ear. He touched me at least 10 times a day. I really didn’t like it but being forced to pipe up and say “im not a touchy person, can you please stop?” Is embarrassing for both people involved. I shouldn’t have to do that. Just don’t touch me unnecessarily. It’s really that simple.

                  I agree that we shouldn’t be flying off the handle and threatening lawsuits because of occasional contact. I agree that it’s becoming dehumanizing to a certain extent. People shouldn’t be scared to have naturally human interactions with others. Which is why I wouldnt complain about normal, casual touches that aren’t persistent. But that is a whole different stance than arguing that you should just be able to touch and hug people whenever you want unless they tell you otherwise.

                3. Iro*

                  Your scenario is different then collettes, whom I very well can disagree with, which is that is innappropriate to hug a co-worker ever. always. period.

                4. NewishAnon*

                  But that’s actually not what Collette said. She said it’s not ok to ever assume consent. That is not the same as saying don’t hug ever. period. It’s saying make sure it’s ok first.

            4. NJ Anon*

              Co-workers are different than children. I worked at a social services agency that dealt with kids from 13-18. Touching was absolutely forbidden friendly or not.

              1. Iro*

                And I think that is sad and dehumanizing and isn’t going to stop the issue it’s meant to address (abuse) which is usually done by a family member anyway.

                1. Elizabeth West*

                  We were JUST talking about this at work in a different context–Coworker was talking about foster training, and there are certain things you just do not do in that situation. I’ll try to explain it as I understood it, so correct me, somebody, if I’m wrong:

                  The example Coworker used was kids sitting on the foster parent’s lap. The reason you don’t let the foster kid sit on your lap is that many times, foster kids are in foster care because of abuse. Sitting on the lap is a very common place for molesters to start. “Come sit up here and I’ll read you a story.” If they climb up there on their own, you discourage it because it’s something they’ve been conditioned to do to receive affection (and I use the term loosely, because for some kids, that is all the affection they ever got). You want to avoid continuing that association.

                  Not to mention, of course, the whole thing about how it looks. It’s to protect both of you.

            5. plain_jane*

              The scenario isn’t accurate because you are missing the power dynamics for the kids.

              You work with Co-workers A, B and C. You are their manager. You are a huggy person. Person A was uncomfortable and asked you to stop. You never asked B and C if they were comfortable and continue to hug them assuming that they would speak up if they weren’t. (Please note, I was at a job where I was person A, persons B & C came to me and said they wished they were able to be brave enough to speak up and say they didn’t want to be hugged either, but they felt constrained by the power dynamic)

              1. Iro*

                I personally do but I don’t label individuals as innappropriate just because they don’t.

                I think we are shift towards a society that will ask first, which is great, but during this transition period I’m ready to cut people some slack.

    4. nona*

      This is not a great time to play devil’s advocate.

      Maybe Kim is completely harmless. It really doesn’t sound like that’s the case.

      1. Kyrielle*

        And it doesn’t matter.

        If a kid is uncomfortable because completely-harmless-Kim is touching them and they don’t know her that well and it doesn’t feel nice, the kid is still uncomfortable.

        If a kid gets used to this behavior from completely-harmless-Kim and then accepts it from a predator in the future, Kim has still groomed them for that predator, even without meaning to.

        1. Iro*

          Completely agree. In fact I always ask my young cousins, nephews and nieces, “may I have a hug?” and if they say “No” then that’s that and I don’t guilt them. I plan to do that when I have children too because I think it is very important that children learn that they have control of their body, even as a 2 year old.

          1. Colette*

            So why is that important for your potential children but not for the children Kim is touching? Based on the OP’s letter, she’s not asking, she’s just touching.

            1. Iro*

              I think it would be a great action for anyeone, but I would not go as far as to say it’s innappropriate that people don’t do this.In fact this thinking is fairly new, and a know a lot of grandmothers and aunts who get really annoyed when a kid says no to a hug. As the thread above adequately points out, there are many valid arguments against the ask first policy.

              Just because Kim is not in the “always ask first” camp doesn’t mean she’s innappropriately touching children.

              1. Observer*

                It’s not new – it’s just become more popular.

                I’ve got adult children, and I can say with a fair amount of confidence that my parents (who come from a higher contact background than the US) would have found Kim’s behavior profoundly disturbing.

                Kim is not in the “not in the always ask first camp.” She is in “ALWAYS IGNORE WHAT SHE IS TOLD”.

              2. Rana*

                To be honest, those sorts of grandmothers and aunts can stuff it. I can see being hurt or disappointed that a child doesn’t want to return your affections, but we’re adults, and should be able to handle it. Children have as much right to decline unwanted affection as anyone, and I firmly believe that one of my jobs as a parent is to support my child’s wishes in this matter.

                And in this case, we’re talking a person who has not even an unreasonable expectation of “deserving” children’s affection, or of them allowing her to treat them like a pet or doll. She’s a grown woman – she shouldn’t need to stroke children’s unwilling faces to be emotionally satisfied.

      2. Natalie*

        And ultimately it doesn’t matter whether or not she’s harmless. If someone doesn’t want her to touch them, for whatever reason, they get to say so and Kim should listen. The road to hell, etc…

      3. Elizabeth the Ginger*

        If she’s making people uncomfortable, then she’s not harmless. It’s a much milder harm than some we can imagine, but making people (kids or otherwise) uncomfortable just because you like touching people is Not Okay.

        It’s important to distinguish intent from impact. We don’t know Kim’s intent, but it doesn’t matter – the impact of her behavior is that at least some people are uncomfortable, they have expressed it to her, and she hasn’t stopped.

        1. Elizabeth the Ginger*

          And because I love being precise:

          I don’t think people have a universal right to not be uncomfortable. There are times it’s perfectly acceptable to make someone feel uncomfortable – for example, if someone tells a racist joke, they might feel uncomfortable if I call them on it. But the benefit of me calling them on it outweighs their discomfort. However, whatever benefit Kim gets from touching people like this does NOT trump the other people’s discomfort. Her behavior is very selfish in this regard.

          1. Katie the Fed*

            Yes. And when we’re talking about the most powerless of people – children – then we take EXTRA caution. There were all kinds of rules about how we interact with or touch children when I worked at a children’s play center, and that’s ok. Some of them may seem a little extreme but I’d rather err on the side of caution because we’re talking about fragile little humans who don’t always have the ability to set boundaries.

      4. Felicia*

        Even if Kim is completely harmless, it’s dangerous to teach children that when an adult touches them when they don’t want to be touched, and they say no don’t touch me, then the adult will still touch them. Children should be taught that when they don’t want to be touched, that wish will be respected. Because if they encounter someone not harmless, they will hve learned that saying no don’t touch me doesn’t do anything, nor does telling someone.

    5. Chinook*

      “I played sports all throughout my child and teen years and butt slapping, head patting, chest bumpging, hugs, arm punches, etc. were all very common between the coaches, support staff, and amongst the team. ”

      There are some NHL players – the most prominent being Theo Fleury (I believe) – who have testified that a lot of this behaviour is exactly how one or two minor league coaches groomed them to be their victims. They talked about how they thought that this type of behaviour was normal from a coach but, in reality, it helped the coach blur the lines of appropriateness and gave them room to do abuse their power and their athletes.

    6. A Reader*

      “While out of context something like “slapping a kids butt” might sound outragously over the line, I played sports all throughout my child and teen years and butt slapping, head patting, chest bumpging, hugs, arm punches, etc. were all very common between the coaches, support staff, and amongst the team.”

      If these actions are things happening between teammates that are ok with each other performing such actions, that’s fine. But even then, if a senior does this to a freshman, it could still be unwanted, but the freshman just goes with it because the other person involved is older than them/everyone else is doing it.

      At no point should this ever really be accepted if it is a coach/authority figure doing it to the kid. Even if it isn’t meant as a sexual action (butt slapping specifically) it could still make the kid uncomfortable. Young people want to fit in with everyone else, they are still figuring out who they are and don’t want to rock the boat resulting in being an outcast. It’s far more likely they will just be quiet about it and let it continue to happen rather than speak up about it which only serves to reinforce that the actions are OK when they are not.

    7. Tea*

      I don’t understand how or why an adult touching a minor’s butt (let alone face caressing and back rubbing) in a sport’s context is somehow more acceptable than an adult touching a minor’s butt in a non sport’s context. ESPECIALLY after the big and public blow up of horrific revelations about Penn State of everything that took place under the aegis of “perfectly acceptable contact between coaches and children.”

      And I can tell you, I’ve been touched inappropriately by adult authority figures as a child (sexually? I don’t know, I was too young), and there’s nothing quite like that sense of having your hackles rise and your shoulders go up around your ears but feeling like you can’t say a thing, because… hey. He’s the class teacher. She’s the team coach. He’s your friend’s parent, she’s the tutor at your after school program. They’re adults, and nobody is saying a thing, so clearly, nothing can be wrong and you are the one overreacting who needs to get over it.

      Children often do not have the power to speak up. It is an adult’s responsibility to watch how they act.

      1. nep*

        Yes — and adults’ responsibility to call out other adults who are behaving inappropriately toward children.

  30. Amber*

    The whole time reading this I’m thing she’s only getting away with this because she’s a woman. If it was a man behaving this way, touching people and the kids everyone would take it more seriously and potentially already been fired.

    1. JB*

      Probably, but not necessarily. People who act this way are very good at turning it around on the other people, making them feel guilty for being suspicious and reluctant to do anything. We tend to feel hesitant to call someone a creep. I agree it would probably happen faster if it were a man, but not as fast as it should happen.

  31. Xarcady*

    If she remembers enough to say “Sorry,” she can remember not to touch you. She just doesn’t want to. Right now, the “price” for touching you is to say “Sorry.” It’s clearly not a high enough price to get her to stop.

    So, next time she “apologizes,” look her in the eye and say, “Nice, but I don’t want an apology after the fact. I want you to stop touching me.” Best if there are witnesses, because maybe she’ll be embarrassed. Or say, “Why do you keep touching me when I’ve asked you to stop?” Keep your voice calm and pleasant. Wait for an answer. Make her squirm.

    Also feel free, when she makes a frontal assault, to stop her. Raise your hand in the “stop” motion, stick out an arm with the elbow locked so she can’t get very close to you, step back from her, flinch. Give her signs that her touching is unwelcome.

    As for her touching the kids, I’d bring this up with your supervisor. If nothing happens, bring it up to your supervisor’s superior. It needs to stop.

    1. Xarcady*

      Oh, and she’s just lucky she hasn’t “touched” someone like me. Growing up with six brothers who all took martial arts, I took martial arts, too, so I could defend myself from the boys. I have a heightened startle reflex. Someone comes up behind me and gives me an unexpected touch–well, they are likely to get an unexpected elbow to the stomach. I have strong “fight or flight” reflexes that kick in.

  32. Preston*

    Is this a volunteer organization? Just tell Kim her services are appreciated but no longer needed. If this is a job with pay give a final written letter about the behavior that it stops. If it doesn’t stop… termination.

    1. Kyrielle*

      Right, but the OP is a coworker and the supervisor is refusing to take these next steps. I agree they absolutely should…but they haven’t.

  33. Lontra Canadensis*

    I think Kim and the supervisor have more than used up their chances, and it’s time to seriously consider elevating this to Child Protective Services, *and* making scenes in front of the kids.

    Yes, CPS is the nuclear option. I think this situation has gone way past just sending it up the organizational food-chain. If OP doesn’t do it, someone else is going to.

  34. lol*

    Lots of great advice but one piece that’s not getting enough attention:

    Document document document document document document.

    Be meticulous. Every time Kim does this, every conversation you have with her about, every conversation with management you have about it. Time, date and summary. Google docs is great for this because the edit history will be timestamped as well.

    This will help protect you as well. A supervisor who’s unwilling to deal with this will throw you under the bus and feign ignorance when a lawsuit inevitably gets filed.

    1. nona*

      LW, please document. Seconding the Google docs recommendation – I use it for all kinds of things and used it in school, and the edit history is great. You can also share access to a Google doc with anyone who’s seeing the same issues, so they could watch your documentation or add to it (and you can choose whether their access is view-only or not).

    2. Arbynka*

      The only thing is that, if in fact she is a mandatory reporter, documentation can turn around againts her. It will be evidence that even though she knew things were going on, she did not report them. Ad I said above, we were specifically told it is not the place of the reporter to investigate or gather supporting evidence. If there is a suspicion, you report what you know.

    3. Bold As Love*

      This, most definitely:

      Document document document document document document.

      I hope lol doesn’t mind me bolding and repeating their text; I’m hoping to help make it stand out more amidst all of the comments in this rapidly-expanding thread. Because it seems to me that if LW really wants to pursue this issue, documenting it and getting all of the names and times and incidents down in writing is going to be key. Especially if this issue gets escalated up the management chain, to the press, or to the police.

      1. Arbynka*

        And once more, if she is a mandatory reporter – and chances are she is – and this goes to police and they will see her log she will be asked why she did not report it. I know I am repeating myself but again, mandatory reporters are not suppose to gather evidence, keep logs of incidents or collect documentation.

        1. fposte*

          I get where you’re going, but I think you’re way overstating. The OP should report and not document if she believes there to be abuse going on. But it can be concerning without being abusive, and there are plenty of situations where it’s fine to document. It can be a work problem involving children without being a CPS case.

          1. Bold As Love*

            Agreed. Frankly, reading only the text provided by the LW, it sounds as if LW is still trying to evaluate the situation to the point where they understand just what they’re seeing, which is arguably part of the process that leads to a report. It’s easy to say “oh, you should just report everything!” but in real life, people are going to put some thought into it first – it’s simply the responsible thing to do. And documenting the situation can be an invaluable aid to the thought process.

            And in any event, I do not see how a written version of events can do anything but help LW, especially if she decides to make a report. It’s like when you’re in a traffic accident or if you get mugged or etc: you want to write down what happened while its fresh. Because if LW does choose to report this, and then gets a call two months later to discuss it, it is to everyone’s advantage that she can refresh her memory and provide a consistent and useful account of events.

  35. Cordelia Naismith*

    So she keeps touching people in spite of repeated requests to stop, but she makes a huge production out of apologizing for it? Wow, that’s seriously passive aggressive. That behavior needs to be shut down yesterday.

    When she does it again, don’t accept her apology. Say something like, “Don’t be sorry. Just don’t do it again” or “No, you’re not. If you were sorry, you would stop doing it.” Don’t be emotional about it; be calm and matter-of-fact.

    Then, when she does it again (because you know she will), make a scene. Be loud. “I TOLD YOU TO STOP TOUCHING ME.” Don’t let her make you uncomfortable. She’s the one creating the discomfort, so send it back to her, where it rightfully belongs.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      “No, you’re not. If you were sorry, you would stop doing it.”

      I have said this with some umph behind it- okay, I was really ticked. You know, it WORKS.

  36. Michelle*

    I do not understand why the supervisor is allowing this to continue, especially when children are involved, because she is worried that there is no one to cover for Kim. Did I understand that correctly?

    What she is doing to the children could easily be considered “grooming”, what pedophiles do to children they are going to abuse. What is your supervisor going to do when your entire organization is sued by a parent who feels there child has been abused? It takes only one accusation to ruin a company/person.

    Someone touching me multiple times, without permission, *after* I have told them to quit and that it makes me uncomfortable would not like how I react. Her violation of touching my child would have been the straw that broke the camel’s back. There would have been a very loud, possibly violent confrontation, that included me taking her hands off my child and saying right in her face to keep her hands off my child and go find a welcoming adult to fondle.

    Your company was looking for an employee when they found Kim and surely they could find someone less touchy-feely to fill the position because Kim needs to be fired/terminated/dismissed immediately. She has been told multiple times by you and other coworkers to stop touching them and the supervisor has discussed it with her multiple times as well. Time to stop worrying about what others will think and put a stop to her now. I’m sure she will try the victim “I said sorry” angle, but that’s no excuse. She has been told enough times by enough people to stop it and she hasn’t.

    This has made me so mad, I’m shaking. The supervisor probably needs to go to, since she apparently has no concern for her workers and the children entrusted to the care of the company.

    1. Cordelia Naismith*

      Okay, let’s not get carried away. This doesn’t sound like grooming to me. She isn’t singling anybody out for special, individual attention — she does this to everyone. I agree it’s boundary-violating and needs to stop ASAP, but let’s not jump to conclusions.

      1. Michelle*

        If you have read some of the other replies, you would see that I’m not the only one jumping to that conclusion.

      2. Arbynka*

        Well the thing with grooming is that it follows selection. Anyways, I cannot say with any degree of certainty what is this woman doing, however I see lots of red flags and whatever she is doing has to stop. Now.

        1. Chinook*

          I agree – I wouldn’t jump to the conclusion that Kim is grooming but her behaviour is a red flag (and there can be flags but no underlying issues, after all, as well as issues with no obvious red flags). Coming from the perspective of a mandatory reporter, red flags must be reported. A good CPS worker can distinguish between true grooming and someone who is merely touchy-feely, partially because they have seen enough to know the difference. They also have access to confidential files and know if someone has been reported before with a red flag and/or keep her name in a file in case she comes up again in an investigation.

          1. Michelle*

            Maybe grooming is a bit of a jump. I cannot even articulate how awful this seems to me- creepy, weird, gross, disgusting- all come to mind. The fact that there are children involved, yet the supervisor’s main issue seems to be “who would cover for Kim” is just ludicrous to me.

            1. Cordelia Naismith*

              I agree that this behavior is creepy and inappropriate, and that the supervisor needs to grow a spine. Who ignores serious issues because they’re inconvenient? That’s lazy and incompetent, and it lets minor issues grow into major problems.

          2. fposte*

            “Coming from the perspective of a mandatory reporter, red flags must be reported.”

            That’s not actually true, though. Obviously a mandatory reporter is free to report any concerns and suspicions, but the phraseology in my state and many others is “reasonable cause to believe,” not “the slightest suspicion or concern.”

          3. Cordelia Naismith*

            I wouldn’t jump to the conclusion that Kim is grooming but her behaviour is a red flag (and there can be flags but no underlying issues, after all, as well as issues with no obvious red flags).

            Yeah, exactly. This is what I was trying to say. It’s a red flag and definitely needs to be dealt with, but I’m not comfortable labeling a stranger with pedophilia over the internet.

          4. Observer*

            I would put it a bit differently. There may very well not be a direct problem with molestation here – in fact, based on the fact that she does this so widely and to adults too, I would bet that that is NOT what is happening. BUT – this is still way more than a red flag. The behavior is flat out wrong. And, in effect, it acts as “grooming” for a whole cadre of children, in that it accustoms them to being touched on the whim of an adult with no say in the matter. And, to seeing that other adults seem to be OK with it, because the toucher is an authority figure.

            In short, my take is that this woman is probably not a pedophile, but her behavior is still wrong in the short term; it tends to make all of the children in her orbit more vulnerable to abuse; and it places the organization at great risk.

  37. Elder Dog*

    OP, if you haven’t been documenting this, you need to start ASAP. If there is a lawsuit, or a criminal investigation, and I expect there will be, your documenting you have asked her to stop and you have taken your concerns to your supervisor repeatedly and you have taken parents’ concerns to your supervisor, will help to protect you.
    And you are going to need protecting if there is either a lawsuit or a criminal investigation.

    Don’t worry about undermining Kim’s authority by speaking to her at the time she’s doing this. This is the sort of authority children should not be honoring.

    1. Cordelia Naismith*

      I completely agree. Document, document, document. Keep a log of dates/times/incidents. Include what you can remember of past incidents. Show it to your supervisor; maybe seeing the sheer extent of it laid out in black and white will be the kick in the pants they need to take action.

      1. Arbynka*

        And again, if she is in fact mandatory reporter, documentation will NOT protect her, in fact it will speak againts her. If she is mandatory reporter she should report now. Waiting and documenting can get her in trouble.

        1. fposte*

          Well, sure, the OP shouldn’t document instead of reporting a breach. But if the OP hasn’t witnessed a breach–which she hasn’t by my state’s law–there’s nothing wrong with her documenting. This behavior is inappropriate whether it’s sexual or not.

          I don’t necessarily think documenting is that helpful–it’s really unpleasant and and puts the documenter in a strange relationship with the behavior. But it doesn’t mean the OP is going to get in trouble, either.

          1. Arbynka*

            I am sorry but again, you do not have to witness the breech. Even if you just hear about it and don’t report it, you might get in trouble. Think about it. How many people do you think rape/ beat their kids in front of an audience. If we had to witness it, most child abuse cases would never be found. So if you just keep documenting the incidents without reporting, yes you most certainly get in trouble.

            1. fposte*

              You’re right you don’t have to witness it; I did not phrase that well. But by my state’s law slapping a kid’s ass in a sports program isn’t inherently an abusive practice. I appreciate how seriously you’re taking mandated reporting, but I feel like you’re not acknowledging that there’s a lot of bad behavior that isn’t abuse.

              I have no problem if the OP wants to report–she’s there, she’s seeing the totality of the situation and has information and knowledge I don’t. The parental concern might be enough to move to a report to me, for that matter. But you’re arguing from a position that this is inherently abusive as a practice, and I can’t agree.

        2. Cordelia Naismith*

          I guess I was thinking more in terms of getting the supervisor to stop ignoring the situation than in terms of legal ramifications. If this isn’t just an annoying situation and the OP really feels like there’s a possibility of abuse, then she should definitely report. She doesn’t need to know for sure, just suspect the possibility. Child Protective Services can investigate from there.

  38. Beezus*

    I’ve developed the habit of interrupting token apologies with, “I don’t need your “sorry”, I need you to stop. We’ve talked about how you need to stop doing X multiple times, and here we are again. What is it going to take to make that happen?”

    Insincere apologies are a peeve of mine. “Sorry” means “I regret my action and will take steps to keep it from happening again.” I have no patience for “sorry” said as a social lubricant to ease tension in a situation where someone has no intention of correcting their behavior.

    1. Kyrielle*

      Agreed. Many times over.

      And yet, as a society, we teach children that’s what it means – we force them to say sorry when they’re not, and to promise not to do things again when they don’t mean it. We want them to mean it, of course – but we don’t teach them to mean it, we teach them to say it when they don’t.

      1. bearing*

        I teach my kids that the purpose of “I am sorry for what I did, will you forgive me?” (not just “sorry”) is to help the aggrieved person come to a place where they can forgive you.

        As such, it doesn’t matter one bit how my *child* feels about what they’ve done. What matters is how the aggrieved person feels. It doesn’t matter if that person is mistaken (although the apologizer can certainly give them the information to correct that — “It was an accident, not on purpose.”)

        An apology is above all an invitation to forgiveness. My child might not feel sorry, but my child — I hope — will always want someone who is angry to forgive, because that is good for everyone. IT happens that we use the formula “I’m sorry” for an apology, but if you think to yourself, “this means ‘I invite you to forgive me,'” and don’t get hung up on the semantics of sorry=sorrow, then it becomes much clearer.

        I find that it’s much easier for me to apologize sincerely now that I have figured this out. Because I do sincerely want people to forgive.

        But this lady? She’s using it to mean “I said the right words, now get off my case.” NOT OK.

        1. Kyrielle*

          I * really* like that framing. A lot.

          And I definitely agree with you about Kim. (Even in your framing, to use it honestly, she would need to be actually wanting forgiveness…and if she wanted forgiveness for it, logically she would also get that it was something that needed to be forgiven. And not repeated.)

        2. hildi*

          This whole thing needs to float to the top so everyone can read it. Excellent! We’re dealing with my 5 year old who will flash of a hasty and irritated “Sorry” and I’ve been lacking the words to teach her this. So many thanks!!

    2. Darth Admin*

      Yes. As my family says “Sorry doesn’t feed the cat”. When my six-year old apologizes, I ask him why he’s sorry and what he’s going to do differently in the future. Kim deserves that same treatment at a minimum.

  39. Another Ellie*

    1. A lot of schools and childcare organizations have policies that explicitly prohibit adults from initiating any touching of children, unless it’s in an emergency. Responsible organizations have also thought through child-initiated touching (eg, five year olds who run up and hug teachers), and have trained staff on what to do in situations where they are being touched by the children (often unwanted on the part of the staff member, as it’s more than a little awkward to have five third graders hanging off of you!). It’s extremely concerning to me that this organization doesn’t have those policies in place, and that they aren’t taking this seriously.

    If I were the OP, I might be looking for somewhere else to work. Especially since this place would be in a world of hurt if sued because of Kim’s misbehavior or even worse offenses by another staff member. Part of protecting an organization from lawsuits is having a policy set up for preventing misconduct in the first place and for responding to accusations of inappropriate conduct. This place obviously is not doing that.

    2. It’s a good idea to also train children on boundaries on touching other people. I know that I both should have been taught to stop people from touching me, and taught to not touch others (it didn’t occur to me until I was an older teenager that putting my hands on boys shoulders and arms was probably making *them* uncomfortable!). OP, at least start talking to your own children about this now.

  40. JB*

    People who will not respect other people’s reasonable boundaries after repeated warnings should be called out on it. You don’t have to say “you’re being creepy,” you just stick with the facts. “I’ve asked you repeatedly to stop touching me, and you keep doing it. That is not acceptable.” If they say something like, “are you suggesting I’m some kind of pervert?” “I was only being friendly, geez!” or anything else to try to force you into backing down (either by going along with the line that you’re oversensitive or because you will be reluctant to accuse them of something really serious), you just keep repeating your position. “I’ve asked you to stop touching me, and it’s unacceptable for you to keep doing it.”

  41. Adam*

    The OP really needs to move this on up so “Kim” can be dealt with before the kids get the wrong idea.

    To go all Pop Psychology 101, children are like sponges. They see EVERYTHING and they take it all in, and if you as the trusted adult figure don’t tell them what’s what from the get go, then their not fully developed, inexperienced brains are going to come to conclusions all on their own, and odds are they won’t be good conclusions. But once the kid starts to hit, oh, 15 or 16 or so, their inner sponge starts to harden, and whatever spills they’ve absorbed up to that point get a whole lot harder to wring out.

    Please take care of this now, while the kids are still porous and eager to learn. You’ll be doing them a great service.

  42. Nanc*

    Whoa, the minute she touched anyone’s ass she should have been gone. You do not slap coworkers or patrons on the ass unless that’s the service for which you were hired.

    Also, I volunteer with kids and the library I’m with with has outlines of what kind of touching (very little) is OK. We tend to go with the “Give yourself a pat on the back!” or “Give yourself a hand!” instead of a hug. Really, the only time we touch is if we need to hold their hand to guide/lead them somewhere and even then we always ask if they want to take our hand.

    Your supervisor sucks and you need to start documenting and be prepared to cover your own ass.

    Sorry you’re having to deal with this.

    1. Hermione*

      “You do not slap coworkers or patrons on the ass unless that’s the service for which you were hired.”

      Yes yes yes.

  43. Ihmmy*

    This is absolutely unacceptable when kids are involved. Few kids in that age range are confident and aware enough to tell an adult to stop when they feel like they’re crossing the line. I know I wouldn’t have, but I would have been SERIOUSLY uncomfortable as a child by that behaviour.

    Has anyone talked to the kids in question? Have any of them flagged this to another adult yet? Because this can explode, and needs to stop today.

  44. Malissa*

    If this were me, next time Kim touched me a would grab her wrist, lean in close and whisper, “I’ve asked you nicely not to touch me. You are still touching me. Next time you touch me there will be a scene.”
    If she apologizes I would say, “No more apologies stop the behavior.”
    Next time she touches me I would Say very loudly, “Kim keep your hands to yourself.” Or, “Kim I told you NOT to touch me.”
    Whatever you do, OP, don’t use the word please. That makes it sound like a request. There is no request here and no reason to be nice.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      I am chuckling. How about a very loud, “What is up with you that you cannot keep your hands to yourself?”

  45. Carrington Barr*

    “You might be tempted to smile or otherwise soften this when you say it. Don’t.”

    $10 says that’s when the tears and hysterics start.

      1. Adam*

        Depending on how “good” of a manipulator she is, I’m betting if it’s in front of the children she’ll go for the tears.

      2. bearing*

        Righteous indignation is par for the course when repeat boundary violators are faced with a clear boundary.

      1. Carrington Barr*

        Ehh, I’m getting more of an “I’m so innocent and wronged!” vibe from this one than I am a table-turning vibe.

  46. Katie the Fed*

    I apologize for not having read all the previous discussions, but I’m really concerned that she’s doing this with the kids. I think teaching kids that it’s ok to violate their boundaries is incredibly dangerous – and if the kids are uncomfortable she needs to respect that. I’m not saying she’s doing anything untoward with the children, but she IS teaching them that it’s ok when adults violate their boundaries.

    I also feel strongly that she’s getting a lot more leeway on this because she’s a woman. I can’t imagine anyone tolerating a man acting this way with children. I might get some flak for that but I can’t picture anyone seeing this behavior from a man and thinking it’s acceptable.

    I honestly think she shouldn’t be working there anymore.

  47. CAinUK*

    You need to enlist a parent to complain immediately.

    The next time a parent makes a comment, say: “Actually Jane/Bob, would you mind speaking to my boss about this really quick?” and the immediately call your boss over and stand there while the conversation happens. Then, if your boss does not address the problem AND Kim’s behaviour doesn’t stop, you go above your boss and explain you have reported it directly, you have had a parent report it directly, and so now you need the situation dealt with immediately or you report the situation. When I say “immediately” I mean they need to meet with Kim that day, and the behaviour needs to stop directly after that meeting. If the behaviour returns, you contact an outside agency. If management drags their heels in talking to Kim, contact an outside agency.

    Giving your boss one more chance to address Kim directly is warranted if it means the touching stops sooner (sometimes going above a boss’ head can drag things out more, and the priority is to make the touching stop ASAP).

    And if the parent comments are not frequent enough, find a parent you trust who complained previously and still do the above.

    1. Elizabeth West*

      This sounds like a good plan. It’s not enough for the OP to report to Boss that the parents are complaining. That makes it too easy for Boss to wimp out and dismiss those reports. Let Boss get the full force of this directly from the parent and see if that helps. If not, OP does need to go over Boss’s head.

    2. Adam*

      I like this. Management may be able to waive away an employee easily enough, but a parent is going to be a lot harder to dismiss.

  48. caraytid*

    i think i’ve shared this story here before but wanted to tell it again to demonstrate how NOT normal this situation is, OP.

    i once, while working onsite for a client, had my ass slapped by MY CLIENT (same gender as me). it was in a “joking” scenario, but i was bent over helping someone and completely unexpected/unwelcome. i was too shocked to do anything, but my boss got wind of it, had my back 100%, reported the offending party to their supervisor, and ultimately that person lost their job.

    everyone in the chain of command took it very, very seriously. more so that i was expecting, actually. and this was one isolated incident!

    my point is this: a good supervisor will not tolerate this unwelcome touching in any form, but the ass slapping should be especially cut and dried.

  49. Verde*

    I wonder about the message this is sending to the kids. They are told that they don’t have to put up with this, but yet this woman is allowed by other adults to continue to do this to the kids, and they don’t see the adults saying “no” either. That is a serious violation of trust, incredibly confusing, and sends a horrendously mixed message to the kids.

    1. nona*

      The message this sends to kids: Adults can do what they want, until it upsets enough other adults or becomes a PR problem.

  50. nuqotw*

    OP, you are about 8 million times more patient than I am. I would have made a scene the second time it happened.

    One useful thing I did recently when I was getting that kind of after-the-fact “apology” was to say directly “No, you’re not sorry. You’re deliberately doing X after I’ve asked you not to, and then minimizing my feelings afterward by apologizing.” It felt horribly confrontational, but it did get results.

    1. Sadsack*

      I like to think that I would respond the same way. I know I would with someone I know very well, but with someone who is practically a stranger, it would be difficult. After a while though, I think I would find the courage.

  51. WhatWhatWhat*

    I have never commented here before, but this is actually enough for me to break my silence.

    I am also a mandated reporter. OP, I believe that you, who are a witness to this behavior (particularly the butt touching) and presumably a mandated reported are legally on the line if it is determined that this is abuse of a child and it was found you had knowledge of it but said nothing.

    In my state, failure to report can lead to the mandated reported being charged with a misdemeanor or even a felony (for sex abuse).

    Anyone else familiar with mandated reporting laws who can weigh in on this? I know they vary state to state, but I don’t know by how much

    1. Katie the Fed*

      I’d rather err on the side of caution on these types of things. I cannot believe the employer is allowing this to continue.

    2. Bend & Snap*

      I have an anecdote. In high school, I had a friend whose mom was a cop. She learned of a situation where a kid was being raped by her uncle in her home. The cop put a sticky note on her computer to address it after she went on vacation. Then she toodled off on a cruise.

      The girl got pregnant before the cops made it back to her case.

      My friend’s mom was fired, fined and publicly humiliated. I can’t remember if there were any charges.

      1. Nerdling*

        She just left without letting anyone else know that a child was possibly being raped (I’m guessing repeatedly if it was in the family home)?! I… Wow. That poor girl.

    3. Arbynka*

      I have been mandatory reporter for fifteen years now, I get the training once a year. We are always told to remember that we might be facing a jail time if we fail to report. Posters here advising OP to document, and the mean well, only if OP is mandatory reporter, that is a bad, bad idea. If OP is mandatory reporter, she should report now. She reports what she knows. She does not – and should not – conduct any additional investigation.

      1. M-C*

        You’re going on and on about this Arbynka. but if you’re a mandatory reporter you’re probably not a lawyer :-). There is nothing wrong with OP writing down everything she knows, and then continuing to write it down as she tries to address the situation. Just because she may be floundering about this a bit does not make her guilty of anything. Clearly she -is- trying to address the situation. So lay off the legal advice a bit, would you?

  52. Bend & Snap*

    As a parent, I would be absolutely LIVID if my child were being touched this way by a caregiver, especially if she said no.

    My daughter is 18 months and we do not force her to hug or kiss anyone, even us, if she doesn’t want to.

    The teachers at her school give affection only if the kids solicit it, and then it’s only hugging or sitting on laps.

    You can bet your sweet bippy I’d be raising holy hell if I heard about my kid being poked in the ribs or “caressed.”

    I agree with those who have said to report. In a regular workplace it seems like harassment; working with children makes it so much worse.

    1. Katie the Fed*

      Yes, thank you. I’m not even a parent and this letter upsets me more than almost any I’ve ever read here. It’s NOT ok to violate children’s boundaries like this – you’re teaching them a dangerous lesson.

  53. Ash (the other one)*

    Yikes. If I were the parent in this situation, my kid would be pulled from this program immediately unless Kim was fired. Just no.

    I also hate touchy feely people — I am not a hugger, I don’t like when people touch me at all so I would be all sorts of uncomfortable with this situation.

  54. Freya*

    I am surprised by the comments… In my country, Kim would be a bit touchy, maybe, but nothing out of the ordinary. As somebody has pointed in another comment, she has not been seen inappropriately touching the kids (and she also do it with adults, so I really don’t think there is anything sexual involved at all). All the things listed – touching a kid in the head, back stroking, etc. ) are not rare to me. Once I read a very interesting article in an anthropology journal speaking about “contact cultures” -where physical contact is normal in many situations and “non-contact cultures” where the “personal bubble” and the border of what is considered invasive is much lower. People from southern Europe and the Mediterranean sea (where I come from), Latin Americans and most Persian cultures (Afghans, for example) are contact cultures. I wonder if Kim may actually be from one of these cultures.
    Of course, I am not saying what she is doing is OK. If one says “do not touch me”, she must accept that.

    1. Another Ellie*

      The US (and England…definitely, England!) are most definitely *not* contact cultures. It’s possible that Kim is from one, but that doesn’t matter, violating other people’s boundaries is never ok. Some people in the US definitely think we’ve gone way too far in excising physical contact, and that’s probably partially true. But I also wonder how people in contact cultures would react to a teacher affectionately slapping children’s and coworker’s bottoms, which is described here along with the carressing and hugging?

        1. Another Ellie*

          I’ve been thinking about this. The standard for how much touching is allowed between children and coaches has obviously changed substantially over the past 2+ decades. To take the organization I was involved in as an example, I would say that around 10 years ago, the coaches of teenagers (especially those in the football programs) were probably still affectionately slapping butts. I don’t think the coaches of elementary school students were at all, a decade ago, no matter the sport, I don’t know about 10+ years ago, though. That kind of contact between children and adults would have seemed very odd to me, especially since butt-slapping and kids usually = punishment (it’s also quite hard to slap a small child’s butt in a natural manner, since they’re much smaller than the average adult). I don’t think the female coaches were ever involved in butt-slapping (I certainly have never had my butt slapped by a coach in my own (inglorious) sports career!). I think that now, it’s probable that even butt-slapping between coaches and high-schoolers does not happen anymore, although I’ve been out of that organization for a few years, so I could be wrong.

          I was in the administration, not the coaching staff, so this is just impressions from walking around the facilities, going to games, and the training guidelines, not actual experience. But I was in the part of the organization that handled risk management and HR, among other things, and I know that we would probably have at least warned a coach who was reported to have butt-slapped an elementary school student that that was not allowed, and probably we would have taken further action if they continued.

      1. Chinook*

        Add Japan and parts of Canada as also “not contact” cultures. Yet, other parts of Canada are very touchy feely (I am looking at you, 2 cheek kissing Quebecois). Just like we have to shift our language/dialect between worlds, we have to do the same with our body langugae and culture. Even the most affectionate Quebecois knows it is not appropriate to go up and hug and kiss a Torontonian* without their permission. and if they did, the frozen stiff body language should/would be enough for that action not to be repeated.

        *Then again, who would want to hug a Torontonian? *buh-dum-dum*

        1. Ihmmy*

          Truth! I hadn’t really thought about the culture angle until reading this post. I’d be more lenient as a cultural issue if it was adults only, and if Kim actually backed off when told to, but there are unfortunately children involved AND she isn’t listening to another persons clearly stated boundaries.

          I wonder, especially in Canuckistan, if there’s also contact variation based on the density of the location. I’m in the prairies and we tend to be super spread out, and super avoidant of contact with strangers (buses with winter jackets is awkward), but the moment we decide we like each other there are frequent hugs exchanged.

          1. Chinook*

            “I wonder, especially in Canuckistan, if there’s also contact variation based on the density of the location. ”

            There may be to some point, but Toronto is a good example of that not being the case. It is a big city and relatively dense compared to somewhere like Calgary but in both places we feel the need to have a larger personal bubble. But, those who are from rural Quebec may kiss on the cheek when gretting. I honestly think it has more to to do with the the original culture of those who settled first (not including First Nations) and set the tone and expectations. So, in that way, Toronto still shows its British roots.

            As for buses and winter jackets, I think there we choose to ignore the discomfort of being in each other’s space because what else can you do.

            1. esra*

              I was about to say that about Toronto, we’re all crammed so tightly onto the TTC and we still go out of our way not to touch each other.

        2. Felicia*

          Hey, I’m a Torontonian, and I’m very huggable ! Though here if you even talked to or made prolonged eye contact with a stranger, unless you were asking for the time or for directions, would not be ok. My theory is because it’s so dense, and you will see thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of people every day, and if you likely will never see most of them again, and interacting ith them would just be too exhausting for all of them. When you actually know someone, talking to them and even a hand shake or hug is generally acceptable

          Also I think that regardless of what kind of culture you’re from, when someone says “Don’t touch me.” you don’t touch them.

    2. Perpetuum Mobile*

      This is very true. I have lost in the past a couple of friends because they were originally from Spain, and every time we saw each other I felt my personal space rudely violated. I would step back but they they would step forward to close the distance, without even noticing! Oh, and one of these two, a lady, would all the time touch my hand, shoulder…which was ok if she did it once or twice but not again and again throughout the conversation. Eventually I just stopped seeing them as this constant two-step dance simply wasn’t enjoyable. Same story with my co-worker/team member who is Colombian, a very nice person, only now it’s even more frustrating as I can’t avoid them AND I don’t want to say anything (at least, yet) so this person doesn’t get upset!

      Having said that , this story I believe is taking place here in the US where the understanding of personal boundaries and general touchy-feeling’ness is quite different. Unless Kim indeed comes from one of this cultures that were mentioned AND she is a fresh immigrant, I think her behaviour towards both kids and adults is completely unacceptable.

      1. Lili*

        Cross your arms on your chess and if someone tries to reach you, just move you upper body to avoid such contact – you can also add a firm (but no need to be aggressive) “stop that” if you feel more confortable – and keep the conversation going.
        Even in a Latin culture (and for the record: I am French woman who lives in Spain), this means that you do not want to be touched and it works

    3. Student*

      I don’t want to discount what you’re saying. There are certainly cultures where people feel very differently about physical boundaries.

      However, some of those cultures that you’ve named also treat children very differently than we do in another respect. They treat children (and, often, women) as property. Their children often work as child labor. Some of them would be marrying off the older end of the girls that the OP discusses. Not all the cultures you mentioned do that, but I think it’s pretty relevant context when we’re talking about treating people like they can’t establish more rigorous physical boundaries. It often comes from a place where the people in charge, the people doing the touching, regard the person being touched as more of a thing than as another person. There’s a pretty substantial difference between touching people because you regard them as less than you and you can control them, and touching people with genuine familiarity and affection.

      1. Kat M*

        I would be wary about generalizing all those cultures-especially as there are many and times and understandings are changing greatly. I would also like to point out that the level of physical touch does NOT always come from a place of control (even if it may have been the case historically). It may just be that people belonging to certain cultures are more informal and friendly in general and that’s how they choose to express it.

        I’m only saying this because I and many of my friends and community come from some of these cultures and we’ve constantly heard how our cultures are domineering/anti-woman/etc., with little regard to those of us who are very modern. Being from a Mediterranean culture does not prevent me from being able to respect people’s boundaries and I find such an idea insulting.

    4. Observer*

      The real key is that she continues to touch even though she has been explicitly been told not to by at least two people and a third has made their discomfort publicly known. The fact that the level of touching also well outside of cultural norms just makes it worse.

      I do agree that it’s probably not sexual. But, it’s a big mistake to act as though that is the only issue that can be a problem.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        That’s what I was going to say–that regardless of where she’s from or what kind of culture she grew up with, she’s been asked explicitly to stop and she hasn’t.

  55. OP*

    I’m the OP in this story, and I have to say that I’m amazed at the number of responses this topic has gotten in the short time it’s been up! Thank you for all of your insight. I do appreciate it, and after a while of this happening, it’s comforting to know that I’m not just making too much of this in my mind.

    I tried to obscure details, but as one poster suggested, this is a sports program. I don’t know if that changes anyone’s opinions or not. In part of my interactions with the children, I touch them too. But I’ve never poked kids in the ribs, and I’ve never stroked faces (I think she was having a sort of disciplinary talk with one very talented but disrespectful boy at the time, and I don’t know….was trying to build rapport? Who knows? But she was several inches from his face and I saw her caressing his cheek.) However, this has really made me question my own interactions with the children! It’s inevitable that I will have to touch them to demonstrate things or get a skill correct, or simply to adjust equipment. And it feels weird of me to do some of the same things that I’m telling her not to do. But some of the other things I’ve seen her do just made my hinky-meter go off. I have even mentioned to my supervisor a few times that it’s a BIG potential liability to our program if the wrong person sees something that she does.

    A lot of parents did leave the program after last year, including the family of the child who had her rear slapped. It was reported, but the governing organization had other major issues last year, so I think if there was anything specific to Kim and her touching, it was probably overlooked and the blame for the attrition was attributed to the larger organizational issue/problem. Several parents have mentioned it to me or it’s come up, but they are largely all small things where they probably feel strange bringing it up too. However, I have encouraged them to say something to Supervisor.

    Kim is very energetic and almost expertly cultivates the helpful, we-gotta-stick-together-and-do-it-for-the-team type of attitude with the parents. But it goes beyond that, almost to the point where I feel like she’s grooming her own little fan club of parents. She kind of comes across as sucking up to me at times, so when I see that attitude, I inwardly roll my eyes. It’s hard to explain, but I feel like she’s jockeying for position with me, and I don’t want to play that game. I’ve been here a lot longer and have a well-respected history and track record by now, and I’m old enough and experienced enough to be confident in what I do. I think that confidence may scare her a bit. I don’t know. I just want to do the best job I can do for the kids that I work with and not play touchy-feely power games or popularity games, you know?

    I should say that a lot of her touches that annoy me are what I call “drive-by”; she might be walking to a different part of the facility and rubs my shoulder as she’s walking by. Then if I say anything, she’s not close anymore, so I’m raising my voice to get her attention, and it also distracts and interrupts me from actually working with the children. (And it looks petty on my part if I say something.) That is how it’s so easy for her to get away with it. Not an ideal reaction on my part, I know, but understandable, I hope. I will definitely have to work on going against my first inclination and actually say something about it. I agree that it’s reached that point, and that will likely be the first step if anything is going to change.

    I like my supervisor, but yes, I do believe she is very non-confrontational and wants to believe the best about Kim. I heard that Kim used to be a participant in our program years ago, and Supervisor knows her from that. That history could also be some of the hesitation in reprimanding her. I did mention the latest incident with me and my son to Supervisor, and she agreed with me, but I know that she probably won’t do anything at this point. Believe me, I know how fast this could spiral out of control with the wrong situation, hence the reason I wrote to AAM in the first place. I also honestly fear that if I take it higher, it will not be good for my longevity in the job.

    Again, thank you to Allison and everyone for sharing your insights and perspectives.

    1. Kathryn T.*

      “But some of the other things I’ve seen her do just made my hinky-meter go off.”

      In my experience, the hinky-meter is the most valuable tool you have in these kinds of situations. What’s the difference between appropriate touching in a sports program and inappropriate touching? One makes your hinky-meter go off, and one doesn’t.

      The sexual offender recognition training I went through to volunteer with my local Y specifically mentioned exactly this scenario; touching that doesn’t feel right and yet doesn’t seem objectionable. It is a specific class of behavior deliberately chosen by offenders to identify which children will put up with it despite their discomfort, and which adults will allow it to happen despite their misgivings, so that they can move on to more destructive and exploitative behavior. Whether or not that’s Kim’s reasoning, “you are treating these children exactly like a sexual predator does” is a good enough reason for her to change her behavior or be fired.

      1. Turanga Leela*

        Whether or not that’s Kim’s reasoning, “you are treating these children exactly like a sexual predator does” is a good enough reason for her to change her behavior or be fired.

        This is a really good point. I recently found out that a man I knew ages ago, through a job at a school, was a serial child molester. It’s one of those nightmare scenarios you see on the news (which is in fact how I learned about it). He had worked at a number of jobs with kids and molested young adolescents at many of them—but not, as it turned out, at the school where I met him. At that school, someone noticed his grooming behaviors: he was hanging out with kids outside of school, inviting them to his house, and giving them snacks and alcohol. Administrators had no evidence that he had hurt any kids, but they fired him, before his behavior escalated, because he was acting like a predator.

        The administrators didn’t know enough to go to the police, but at the very least, their actions protected the kids in their care.

    2. Another Ellie*

      I have a lot of experience in a large sports based non-profit. If taking *this* up the chain of command would affect your job security, you NEED a new job. They’re so far outside of what are established norms for that type of organization, I can hardly believe it’s possible. Seriously, the organization I was with required its entire staff to go through *yearly* training on physical contact, sub-departments had extra training, the policy on sexual harassment/physical contact was published in several staff areas, new buildings were designed with this partially in mind, etc.

      It’s an extremely serious liability issue, not to mention that failure to put a policy in place endangers children. If they can’t deal with a new staff member touching staff and children in unwanted but non-sexual ways, what are they going to do when beloved coach Bob is found to be fondling boys in the locker room? How are they stopping coach Bob from having that opportunity in the first place? These are real, serious issues in sports especially (look into the scandals coming to light in the swimming world right now). In fact, the most trusted members of the staff (long term, super popular coaches, and staff who were once members of the organization themselves are often the culprits [something I saw in my org, even with our very strong policies. The policies are part of what allowed us to handle the issue quickly and well.]).

      I’m also worried about the organization following the law on this issue. Are all adult staff and volunteers finger-printed? Are you background checking new staff? Have you been trained on mandatory reporting, if it applies to you in your state? Also, without adequate policies and training, it opens staff up to personal liability, even if they’ve done nothing wrong. This is a particular problem with sports because of the locker room, where coaches can be alone with children without prying eyes. What’s the locker room policy? Is there one?

      1. fposte*

        I think this is a really important point–this is revealing some serious deficits in this organization. And post-Penn State, it’s utterly moronic for an org working with kids not to have clear policies not only about staff behavior but about dealing with problem behaviors when they arise.

        You can’t serve kids in 2015 without having protocols about how to handle this kind of stuff. That is part of how you serve them.

        1. Another Ellie*

          Absolutely, the first line of defense against children being abused is making it hard for adults to abuse them. I’m always shocked when I come across organizations that don’t have even the most basic policies in place. Teachers should *never* be alone in an enclosed space with children (car, locker room, office, etc). It’s such basic common sense, and should be enshrined in policy and people’s behavior. And yet, even that occurs regularly. Unfortunately, too many schools don’t think about their policies until after something tragic happens.

    3. cuppa*

      Wow… what a pickle.
      I really don’t think that it is right that, regardless of the other factors, that you get to be made uncomfortable by her touching. End of story. I see how difficult it can be to address it in the moment, but it needs to be addressed, and seriously. Ideally, I think your supervisor should be handling this, but like you said, I don’t think that is going to happen. I would pull her aside again, like AAM said, and address the pattern. “This is still happening, I’ve asked you to stop. It makes me uncomfortable when you do this, and I think it makes some of the children uncomfortable, too. It needs to stop. What are you going to do to ensure this doesn’t continue?” The time for apologizes is pretty much over, now the conversation needs to focus on action. Good luck.

    4. Bold As Love*

      Thank you for commenting and providing more information!

      I have a question: how old is Kim? I may have missed it, but I don’t recall seeing her age.

      As someone commented earlier, this not a good thread in which to play devil’s advocate. And I’m not trying to give Kim an ‘out’ for her behavior. But some of her behavior reminds me of my mom (who died 12 years ago, so be kind). My mom was an elementary school teacher before she retired, and was rather touchy-feely. And especially as she got older, she just really didn’t heed people’s requests to back off. A lot of which seemed to be the result of her absolute assurance that “Momma knows best”, for want of a better way of putting it.

      Again, I’m not trying to cut Kim a break. Believe me, my mom drove my entire family crazy with this kind of thing. But if you tell me that Kim is in her 60s, my take on the situation is a bit different than if Kim is, say, 30yo.

      1. JB*

        But why? It doesn’t really change anything for the OP either way. Kim might be like your mom–not grooming kids for later abuse or anything like that. And if you chose to put up with that from your mom, that was up to you. But there should be no tolerance for employees who ignore reasonable personal boundaries in the work place. It doesn’t matter if there’s no ulterior motive or if Kim has good qualities, too. This has to stop. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t matter whether that makes her objectively a bad person or someone we can understand. It makes her someone who repeatedly violates another person’s stated boundaries, and that’s all we need to know about it.

      2. I'm a Little Teapot*

        I don’t think that’s an excuse. I’ve experienced a lot of creepy or condescending behavior from older men and I think it’s because they a) learned their social skills at a time when people said “boys will be boys” and they never bothered to start treating women, especially younger women, with respect and b) a lot of people’s minds go automatically to “respect your elders” or “he’s just a sweet old man, he doesn’t meeean any haaarm” and a lot of these people KNOW this and use it to get away with doing whatever they want.

        The dynamic is a bit different when it comes to older women and children, but a boundary-pushing older woman still benefits from (b) above and is still probably aware of it (you mentioned “Momma knows best”).

        My parents are in their 60s. My mother works with children every day. And both of them are appropriate, respectful, and aware of basic social norms, as are most people in their age bracket.

      3. HeyNonnyNonny*

        I think this could be good to keep in mind when looking for solutions. Addressing ‘momma knows best’ is different than addressing ‘manipulative grooming.’ So no, of course it doesn’t excuse the behavior, but it might help when deciding how best to confront Kim– you might get through to her differently depending on something like this.

          1. JB*

            If that was directed at least in part at me, I *did* read your response, and that’s why I asked a question. You said, ” But if you tell me that Kim is in her 60s, my take on the situation is a bit different than if Kim is, say, 30yo.” I asked why. Because you said “your take” would be different, but you didn’t explain what you meant by that, so . . . what does that mean? You would think it was less bad, more understandable if a 60 yo did it? Your approach to the situation would be different? Either way, you are talking about someone who has been told to keep her hands to herself and she flat-out refuses to. For me, there’s no difference in the level of acceptability or the way you solve it, but it sounds like you think one of those should be different, or something else should, but I honestly couldn’t tell from your comment what you were getting at with that part.

      4. Observer*

        But if you tell me that Kim is in her 60s, my take on the situation is a bit different than if Kim is, say, 30yo.
        Yes and no. Yes, in that it’s a touch more understandable – but one VERY little more understandable, since most seniors who are capable of holding down such a job are perfectly capable of acting in work appropriate ways. This woman’s behavior does NOT qualify.

        No, in that it doesn’t really make a difference. The behavior is not appropriate regardless of her age, just as her cultural background is not really relevant at this point. It needs to stop.

    5. RoseTyler*

      If this situation has you seriously considering leaving the program, then you have nothing to lose by quietly and individually (privately) contacting the parents who have voiced concern to you and telling them that you consider it to be a serious problem that’s gone unaddressed by leadership. Get them to approach the director on their own, as a group.

    6. The Toxic Avenger*

      OP – thank you for the update. This book has been mentioned before, but have you read The Gift Of Fear? After reading your post again, the comments, and your update, I think that Kim is a menace. She is doing this deliberately. She’s manipulating you, the kids and your boss. Your intuition is screaming at you. Parents have complained. Your supervisor acknowledges this is an issue, but she’s chicken.

      Gavin De Becker, the author of TGOF, is quoted as saying:

      “Like every creature on earth, we have an extraordinary defense resource: We don’t have the sharpest claws and strongest jaws–but we do have the biggest brains, and intuition is the most impressive process of these brains. It might be hard to accept its importance because intuition is often described as emotional, unreasonable, or inexplicable. Husbands chide their wives about “feminine intuition” and don’t take it seriously. If intuition is used by a woman to explain some choice she made or a concern she can’t let go of, men roll their eyes and write it off. We much prefer logic, the grounded, explainable, unemotional thought process that ends in a supportable conclusion. In fact, Americans worship logic, even when it’s wrong, and deny intuition, even when it’s right. Men, of course, have their own version of intuition, not so light and inconsequential, they tell themselves, as that feminine stuff. Theirs is more viscerally named a “gut feeling,” but whatever name we use, it isn’t just a feeling. It is a process more extraordinary and ultimately more logical in the natural order than the most fantastic computer calculation. It is our most complex cognitive process and, at the same time, the simplest.”

      Heed your intuition, OP.

    7. Ihmmy*

      re: drive-bys – can you grab her wrist (or start with a tap at least) to get her attention, then firmly say “I have asked you before to not touch me. You just did. This is inappropriate”.
      If not, then raise your voice. Who cares? If nothing else you’ll be showing the kids that it is ok to a) have boundaries and b) stand up for those boundaries and yourself.

      1. fposte*

        I agree with the wrist grab. The other thing is that you really can still talk to her later–she’s not a dog who will have forgotten what she did. It may not feel as forceful as when you’re heated in the moment, but it’s not necessarily any less effective to talk to her when you’re both indoors or somewhere less walk-off friendly and say “Kim, what you did this afternoon is exactly what I’ve asked you to stop doing….” People have provided some good scripts here for going on from there, too.

      2. HeyNonnyNonny*

        That’s a good idea. Also nothing wrong with calling her back to you and then talking to her immediately.

      3. Iro*

        Oh I would be careful with a wrist grab. Wrist grabbing is a common form of domestic abuse, and any domestic abuse victiem would have a serious response to that.

        I know that I would Flip.My.Shit and probably shove and kick anyone who grabbed my wrist before a person could blink. It’s an automatic defensive response with me.

    8. Ethyl*

      “Kim is very energetic and almost expertly cultivates the helpful, we-gotta-stick-together-and-do-it-for-the-team type of attitude with the parents. ”

      Predators do not only groom children, they often groom the adults around them so that they can’t see what is happening. This is why so many of them are charming, gregarious, friendly, and helpful.

      **another youth worker who has to go through regular predator identification training**

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Most pedophiles that I have know were very charismatic, they had numerous qualities that drew people to them. I can see that people who know a pedophile, or have been harmed by a pedophile would be very alarmed by this letter.

        I am not saying Kim is a pedophile. That is not where I am going. I had a person in my life that was doing X behavior. (Sorry, no identifying details.) I said to that person, “did you know that this is one of the classic behaviors of a pedophile?” My person was absolutely horrified and stopped the behavior instantly. This person said “Above all else, I wish to be transparent to everyone that I mean no harm.”

        I think that most of us here think along these same lines. If we were told that our actions could be misread by others, we would stop the action immediately.

    9. Elsajeni*

      Since you say “I have encouraged them to say something to Supervisor,” but it doesn’t sound like that’s necessarily happened, I wanted to call attention to CAinUK’s comment upthread, with the suggestion that you loop in your supervisor in the moment. “Wow, Parent, that sounds like it could be a big deal. Thanks for letting me know — could you wait here a second while I grab Supervisor? I know she’ll want to know about this as well.” Grab Supervisor, bring her to Parent. “Parent, could you tell us again what happened? I want to make sure I’ve got it right.”

      This is basically the method I used to use in retail with any customer who was mad about something I had no power over — the “This is not my problem, it’s my manager’s problem, so let me make it her problem as quickly as possible” method. I think that’s kind of the situation you’re in (although your problem is more serious than my retail issues generally were) — you have a problem that needs to be fixed; you don’t have the power to fix it, but your supervisor does; therefore, it is her problem, and anytime it crops up it’s perfectly reasonable for you to go find her and say “Hey, your problem’s back, come deal with it.”

    10. Wanna-Alp*

      “I should say that a lot of her touches that annoy me are what I call “drive-by”; she might be walking to a different part of the facility and rubs my shoulder as she’s walking by. Then if I say anything, she’s not close anymore, so I’m raising my voice to get her attention”

      Yes yes! Do raise your voice to get not just her attention, but the attention of all the others around! Embarrassment is a great tool here…

  56. TubbyTheHut*

    Kids are involved???? This needs to stop ASAP! You need to confront her, do it loud, do it in front of everybody. As a parent, I’d be livid. I’d lose my cool and I’d let Kim know exactly how she crossed the line and then I’d make sure that the supervisor, and the supervisor’s supervisor knew. This is a lawsuit waiting to happen. Eventually she’ll cross the line with the wrong person and there will be a lawsuit and the plaintiff will point to this repeated, well known behavior.

  57. AW*

    I don’t know if anyone else here also frequents Captain Awkward’s blog*, but your boss has let Kim become a Missing Stair: everybody is jumping over and working around this obvious, huge problem and eventually someone is going to get hurt because they weren’t told about this hazard. I guarantee you that she is already doing harm to your organization’s reputation if this has been going on for a year.

    I don’t want to make a scene around the kids by reprimanding one of their authority figures in front of them.

    Kim is the one causing a scene with her overly dramatic and insincere apologies. She’s the one causing a scene by constantly touching people. I’m probably going to sound like the kids you work with but she started it.

    I don’t have anything new to say here: I think other Allison and the other commentors have some really good scripts, the mandatory reporting should be something you consider, and CAinUK’s advice to get the parents talking to your boss is very good. I just want to add my voice to the chorus shouting, “This is not OK!”

    *Actually, I think Captain Awkward was quoting a different blog but I can’t recall which one.

      1. Ethyl*

        Just for other posters who may not know, Cliff’s blog is not very safe for work. Not in the explicit photos way but lots of frank discussions of sex and sexuality.

    1. TubbyTheHut*

      I think that if children seeing you, another adult, saying that it is not appropriate and it needs to stop in front of them, it may give them the courage to say something the next time she tries to touch them.

  58. LittleMouse*

    Oh, OP… What a horrible situation.
    1) Document the heck out of everything. Dates, times, actions… Not just what Kim’s doing, but what the SUPERVISOR is doing. Submit formal, written complaints. If you have a conversation, follow up with an email: “Just wanted to confirm/clarify: today, I told you this. Your response was this.” BCC a secure email that your company doesn’t have access to. Document what the parents are telling you too.
    3) Go back to your supervisor and say “This is continuing, what needs to be done to fix it”. If you get a non-answer, or an unsatisfactory one, go to your supervisor’s supervisor. Then up another step, then up again until you get to someone who will take this seriously.
    2) Report the behaviour to your Children’s Aid or Child Protective Services. You can also call the police and report. I believe, depending on where you are, you can report your employer for not correcting the problem. I would be calling your local labour board and reporting your employer for that.

    Most important, aside from protecting the wellbeing of the kids, is protecting yourself, doing your due diligence, and being able to show that you tried to make this stop. When this turns into a law suit, and it WILL, you want to be able to prove that you didn’t sit back and watch it happen.

    And, FWIW, I have a “rule of three”: first time, she’d have been told to stop. Second time, she’d have been told loudly and sternly, that I’ve asked her to stop and if she did it again, I’d put her on the floor. Third time? Follow through.

    1. JoJo*

      America doesn’t have local labor boards. America has “at-will” employment where you can get fired at any time for no reason.

    2. fposte*

      “You can also call the police and report.”

      The police are not going to take a report that somebody heard that a kid’s butt got playfully slapped.

      1. Chinook*

        “The police are not going to take a report that somebody heard that a kid’s butt got playfully slapped.”

        If they are smart, though, they will refer you to CPS. At the very least, if you do report this to the police, make sure you emphasize the hinky-meter feeling and everythign else, not just the butt slap.

        1. fposte*

          They’ll refer you to CPS to give you something to do, not because they think it’s necessary that CPS do something, though; it’s not a measure of the situation.

  59. OP*

    OP again….for what it’s worth, I only heard about the butt-slapping from the mom of the child quite a bit after the fact when we were discussing that they were going to leave the program. I did not witness that, nor did I witness the time with the coworker. I hope that had I witnessed something of that magnitude, I would have had a “WTF are you DOING?” moment with Kim, because honestly, when the mom told me, my jaw dropped. You just don’t DO that sort of thing!

    1. EA*

      “You just don’t DO that sort of thing!”
      This. Kim doesn’t see or want to see her behavior as wrong. No one is enforcing to her that she must stop doing things that make other people uncomfortable. And if no one enforces, she will continue.
      If bringing the issue to someone above your manager will jeopardize your job, even if you put emphasis on the parents leaving this program because of Kim, then it’s time to find another job. And possible voice complaints (anonymous or otherwise) to anyone higher up in this organization. Retaliation after a complaint is illegal under harassment law, so any threat to your job would be seen as retaliation to me (I’m not a lawyer, just have worked in HR for a while).

  60. Wren*

    I also think it isn’t crazy to think Kim could be abusing kids. No abuser goes straight to sexual touching: it’s too high risk. They “groom” the victim first by pushing lower risk boundaries. She could be priming kids to not complain at being touched.

    Even if she isn’t (or isn’t planning to) touch anyone sexually, it’s a manipulation. Any level of unwanted touuching is inappropriate. We have to learn to get over the idea that contact needs to be obviously sexual or painful to be actionable. If the OP is uncomfortable, frustrated and annoyed, think how bad the kids are feeling: I bet some are feeling trapped, like nothing they do will make it stop.

    1. Bunny*


      Step one of most predatory people is to repeatedly and openly test and push boundaries to look for the weak ones. It’s especially helpful if the community around them excuses or ignores the boundary pushing, because once they do it to everyone and everyone accepts it, then they can use the tactic on their intended victims without it looking like unusual behaviour for them.

  61. Darcy*

    I used to be a Before and After School program director at an elementary school, which is what this job sounds like. If you are like us, we were unionized “classified” district employees. This adds a complexity to the situation because generally speaking, the program directors could only recommend firing actions. However, that doesn’t preclude supervising and managing employees, and escalating to the school principal if necessary. I was able to fire someone when I worked in the program because I got the principal and district HR involved and they conducted an investigation. So I agree 100% with the recommendation to go above your supervisor’s head if they won’t/can’t deal with it.

  62. JAL*

    Is it Wednesday already? :P

    But anyway, this is ridiculous and I would be po’ed. I ‘m not a touchy feely person as it is, but this takes it a whole new level. I’d definitely document every incident this happens – to you and to the kids. Even if it’s not for your own safety, I’d worry about the safety of the children. There are too many creepy people out there – and yes, women can just as easily be pedophiles as well.

  63. RS*

    OP, can you recruit your coworkers to back you up the next time Kim touches you or you observe her touching someone else? Making a scene is going to be uncomfortable for you initially, but if you know that when you speak up loudly, calmly, and firmly your coworkers will stand with you, I think that might lesson your discomfort, and make your message all the more clear to Kim. Backing away from Kim while vocally confronting her because she just touched you (as others have suggested doing) would be all the cue that coworkers in the know would need. If you said something like “Kim, this is the last time I’m going to tell you to stop touching me. I don’t like it when you touch me, our coworkers don’t like it when you touch them, and it’s absolutely inappropriate for you to be touching the kids as you do,” you’ll give a natural opening for others to chime in. If you have a word with your coworkers alerting them to what you’re going to do the next time Kim starts touching, they’ll know how to pitch in to get the message across clearly. And if the kids witness it, great – it’ll make Kim more accountable for her behavior, rather than just apologizing, because it will be openly common knowledge: she’ll know that everyone knows, and that they know that she’s been told to stop.

  64. Karla*

    If she were a man, she would have been reported and sacked by now. Touching children inappropriately – even if it’s superficially ‘innocuous’ is awful. Go over your supervisor’s head.

  65. Museum Educator*

    Holy cow! I have worked in a number of museums directly with the children’s programs and this would absolutely not fly in any of them. I’m appalled that the supervisor is not doing something about this. As the director of the education department and summer programs I definitely tackled issues with boundaries. In my opinion a person gets to be told ONCE that they have to stop touching a someone, especially a child. If I’d had a staff member that was behaving like this they would have been sidelined into a position where they didn’t have direct contact with children pretty swiftly and until I was confident that it wouldn’t happen again. That time would include training on appropriate/inappropriate touching and boundaries.

    I will say that working with kids you do have to put your hands on them from time to time for various reasons. But there are limits. Even if it’s unclear what those are exactly, being asked to stop is very clear. No exceptions. OP you are not overreacting.

  66. CQ*

    I’ve written in before about managing my career with Borderline Personality Disorder, and decided to finally comment because this letter really grabbed my attention.

    OP, I’m sorry you’re dealing with a situation like this. I agree with Allison that you need to make a scene. It would be terrible for someone like her to get away with such behavior. I’m someone who’s really thoroughly uncomfortable with people touching me, to the point that it drives me to panic attacks, but because I’m afraid of what people will think of me, I often don’t speak up when I should. I’m wondering if there might be someone in your workplace like me who is really deeply upset by this touching and who is afraid to say something, in which case I think you have a responsibility to your co-workers (not to mention the children) to do whatever you can to get this woman to stop.

    Best of luck managing this situation! I know it can’t be easy.

    1. Anonymous for PTSD*

      Yeah, I agree. Her behavior would have been a PTSD trigger for me a long time ago. I used to scream involuntarily – really, truly involuntarily – if someone touched my back unexpectedly. Nobody did it twice!

      I think this woman knows her touching people is unnerving. I think LW’s manager is aware of it, too. I really hope that LW and whoever else this has been reported to can get her to stop.

  67. Camellia*

    Sorry, I don’t have time to read the comments right now, but I think it would be GREAT if you did this in front of the kids because then they could see an actual role model of how to handle this situation. You can step back, look her firmly in the eye and say, very forcefully, “STOP” or “DON’T TOUCH ME”. You say that kids don’t know how to do this type of behavior so show them how! And do it every time! Clearly, so there is no doubt at all of what you mean. These kids need to see that this is not right and that at least one adult is handling/dealing with it. Please, I beg you to do this immediately.

    1. Nerd Girl*

      Absolutely! Kids are sponges and they’re learning the behaviors we model. If you allow the touching, accept the apology with a meek “that’s okay” and then move on that’s what the kids think is appropriate behavior. You want kids to say loud and proud, “Stop touching me! I don’t like what you’re doing!!!” when they feel the situation warrants it. You want kids to feel safe in vocalizing their feelings, for listening to the instincts that scream “this person is a creeper and I should get away!” Model that and the kids will follow.

  68. Bunny*

    This woman’s behaviour is grossly out of line. And I’m inclined to say it’s intentional. She has been told by you to stop touching her. You’re not the only person who has told her they don’t like it. She has been told by you, and others, on multiple occasions to stop touching them and she continues to do so. She is repeatedly and intentionally violating people’s stated boundaries. This is seriously predatory behaviour.

    If she was a man doing this, she would have been fired months ago and worse.

    And importantly, her behaviour and the reactions of adults to it is teaching an entire group of children terrible lessons about boundaries – that when someone in authority, or someone you respect, touches you or does something to you that you don’t like, you don’t make a fuss. You don’t complain. You put up with it.

    You’ve… not quite got a Broken Stair here, because it sounds like people as a whole all notice her behaviour and agree it’s out of line, but you’re definitely not far off.

  69. Nerd Girl*

    OMG so many thoughts. So many feelings.
    First: This woman should not be working with children. If she has garnered the attention of parents this is close to becoming a legal issue. This means kids are going home and talking about the touching and how it makes them feel. They may not be dealing with this adult in the moment, but I can assure you they’re looking for a way to make it stop and that means telling mom and dad.
    Second: OP, you are totally, 100% allowed to say something when she inappropriately touches you or another. I said it in a comment above, but it bears repeating here: “an inappropriate touch is not based on where it takes place but how it makes you feel. If you are uncomfortable in any way and express that and the touching continues it’s inappropriate.” It seems that you and others have verbally expressed that the touching makes you uncomfortable.
    Third: She’s not apologizing when she says “Oh, I’m sorry.” She’s responding in a way that makes her look like she’s taking responsibility for her actions. Chances are the automatic response is “that’s okay” (A habit we should ALL break, BTW!) She’s not sorry, it’s not okay, and she needs to know this.
    My advice? The next time you see her touching someone point it out and remind her that she’s been told that she is not to caress, fondle, stroke, pat, or touch anyone unless necessary or invited. (By necessary I’m thinking sunscreen application, bug removal, separating fighting children, etc) I’d say it loud enough that the person being touched (if not you) knows this as well. Children may take power in your words. If she apologizes, accept it but let her know that it does not release her from the agreement she made to not touch others. Repeat as necessary.
    Disclaimer: I was sexually abused by a close family member and as a result come off very strong when it comes to things like this. I don’t mean to come off as blunt but it’s your body and those children are in your care and you need to be an advocate for them when they are too afraid to be one for themselves. It’s uncomfortable as hell to be the person who uses the strong words and body language when others are willing to just go along with it to not make waves, but I can assure you that once you start others will follow. You don’t need to be mean. Firm and direct works every time!

    1. Iro*

      “First: This woman should not be working with children.”

      I do not think we have nearly enouch evidence to be making statements like this.

      1. Observer*

        Anyone who wont respect boundaries should not be working with children. This woman does not respect boundaries. That has been clearly demonstrated. What more do you need?

  70. deathstar*

    If she tried to be dramatic about her apologies, I’d up the ante on her and go “ DIE!!!”

    kinda that.

  71. nep*

    Alison’s wording here is brilliant and spot on: ‘I’ve told you repeatedly that I don’t want you to keep touching me or the kids. It’s continuing to happen. It’s unwelcome. Touching someone after you’ve been clearly told to stop is a pretty big deal. I’m not interested in an apology; I need it to stop. What needs to happen so that this stops?’

    1. Camellia*

      I did finally have time to read through the comments and notice that many people use the word ‘ask’ when they recommend what to say.

      Using ‘ask’, ‘asked’, or ‘asking’ implies a question. A question means there is more than one answer. If you ‘ask’ her not to touch you or the kids it implies she has the right/ability to say no. “I’ve asked you to stop touching me.” “No, I’m not going to.”

      Always use the word ‘told’. There is no ambiguity with this word. “I told you to stop touching me. Next time I will report you.” “I’ve told you repeatedly to stop touching me. Now I’m going to report you.”

  72. Pinky*

    I’m Not sure if someone said this already, but op you are a mandated reporter, which means if you do not report to a supervisor or
    To your dept of children and families, you will held responsible by the law if something more happens and you did not report it. You must try to do more to report.

    1. Observer*

      I’m not so sure. The thing is that from what the OP has been saying this does not look like sexual or physical abuse. I’m not defending Kim, and I do believe that That the organization is laying itself open to a good deal of trouble. But mandated reporters are not required to report stupidity and bad behavior. They are required to report abuse.

      1. pinky*

        mandated reporters report anything that they feel is uncomfortable or suspicious, and the dept of children and families decides, mandated reporters do not need to know if it is stupid or just wrong, just need to report anything you feel is not right. DCF decides based on facts what to do next, screen in or screen out the case.

  73. Purr purr purr*

    She’s doing it deliberately. No-one accidentally touches another person. She’s hoping that the apology makes it all better and she’s relying on people being too polite to push her harder on the issue. If this was a different situation and she was a man, everyone would recognise the people-stroking behaviour as being inappropriate and would act accordingly. She’s using her gender to her advantage and your manager needs to come down harder on her.

  74. mathilde*

    Wow, it makes me really aggressive to this article. Incredibly rude of this woman to violate other people’s boundaries like this. If I were the victim of this touchy-feely person, I guess it would make feel wanting to slap her. Hard.

  75. Swarley*

    Does anyone else think that if this were a man doing the touching, he would probably be put on a certain national registry…

    1. Katie the Fed*

      No, I don’t. Because none of this (so far) is sexual in nature, so it makes no sense to assume that he would end up on a sexual offender registry. However, I do suspect that there would be far less tolerance than this employer seems to be giving this woman.

  76. sr*

    Please google “child protection (insert state here)” to find resources and support for how to frame the issue in terms of protecting children from unwanted adult physical contact. Maybe there’s a hotline that doesn’t exactly match what you’d need but you could still call it and ask for who you should be calling.

  77. aebhel*

    I find it utterly chilling that she’s doing this to kids. I mean, it’s inappropriate with adult coworkers, but children are not generally going to be able to enforce their boundaries against an adult authority figure–especially one as manipulative as this.

    Gross, gross, gross.

  78. crookedfinger*

    I’ve used this method a number of times with great success.* Denying the apology entirely and explaining why usually shuts them down. A loud (and make sure it’s loud enough so that everyone around you can hear) and undeniably angry “NO, you’re NOT sorry. When people are sorry, they stop their bad behavior. You keep touching me even though I’ve asked you to stop over and over. YOU. NEED. TO. STOP. TOUCHING. ME. Do you understand?”

    *Though, to be fair, I’m a naturally quiet, reserved, and unemotional person, so when I break out the big girl voice, people tend to get shocked into silence and understand that I’m very serious.

  79. AIP*

    I would strongly urge the letter writer to get a small notebook and over the course of 5-10 working days note down every case of Kim’s passive-aggressive nonsense, and what action you took (don’t do anything differently to what you normally do). Keep it with you to ensure correct times. If there was a way of making a recording of any CCTV camera observing you, then all the better.

    This will constitute hard factual evidence of her behaviour, demonstrating the sheer volume and pattern, and will make it harder for your boss to ignore. And as for “escalating” it into written complaint, that’s the least that should be done at this stage. Google the correct references for relevant anti-harassment/bullying behaviour in your state’s statutes (often hiding under Health & Safety) and childcare laws for inclusion. If that gets ignored forward that letter to the senior manager/ owner and the relevant regulatory bodies.

    If you don’t get any satisfaction from your bosses, start looking for another job. If they don’t want to sack Kim because of being short staffed, they need to know that they certainly will be a man down because of their actions.

  80. Workfromhome*

    I agree with many of the comments to directly and loudly confront the toucher. In situations like thi I always add in “Do you understand? I need you to say YES I understand I am not to touch you ever again” Its very uncomfortable for all involved but when you force someone to acknowledge out loud with witnesses that they clearly understand what you have said and have agreed in front of witnesses they won’t do it anymore its a powerful tool.

    If it happesn again there is no apology. They have already acknowledged they understand what you have asked . Now they are doing the behaviour despite this.

    Chances are it isn’t going to stop. So if it happens after you have clearly and publicly had them acknowledge this is an issue I would file a formal harassment complaint. I can’t think of anything that will get more immediate action than marching into HR or the Boss with a written complaint that says I am being harassed. On X date with X and Y and Z as witnesses I told ___ the touching was unacceptable and ___ agreed not to do it again. It has continued and this is harassment.

    A formal complaint of harassment will need to be dealt with by the supervisor no matter how they feel about losing the employee or the hardship.

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