A Santa says: 'Keep kids safe from future sexual abuse. Don't make them sit on my lap.'

It’s takes a brave organisation to challenge one of the most long-held Christmas traditions: the photo on Santa’s lap.

But a New Zealand social service agency is doing just that. A photo of a grumpy-looking Santa is circulating online, with these words:

“Don’t force kids to sit on my lap! I’m fed up of parents not allowing kids to make choices about their own bodies. Let them hug, high five or wave, if that’s what they want.”

The post is part of a sexual abuse prevention campaign being run by child abuse charity CAPS Hauraki.

“Even a visit to Santa can be a chance to let your children know that they are the boss of their body and they get to say what happens with it,” it reads. “Too many children are forced to sit on Santa’s lap, even when they are deeply distressed and frightened. Visiting Santa is one of many opportunities we get to send super-positive messages to our children that can help keep them safe from sexual abuse, long-term.”

CAPS was also behind the recent post of the little girl that read, “I am 5. My body is my body. Don’t force me to kiss or hug. I am learning about consent and your support on this will help me keep myself safe for the rest of my life.”

That post went viral, and has been seen by more than 25 million people.

Another of their recent posts targets extended families.

“This holiday season we need grandparents and family members who understand that children shouldn’t be forced to do things, even harmless hugs and tickles, against their consent,” it reads. “Will you be one of these heroes? A nana who says to the reluctant hugger, ‘Don’t worry, we could high five if you like,’ or a big cousin who will ALWAYS stop tickling when little cousin screams STOP – even if they are giggling when they scream it.”

CAPS general manager Jo Taylor explains to Mamamia why they put out a post about Santa.

“We must raise children who understand that no one gets to do anything to their body against their will,” Taylor says. “This is a vital part of child abuse prevention and it is something every family can do. This includes forcing kids to sit on Santa’s lap if they don’t want to, or forcing them to kiss and hug family members at festive gatherings. These are opportunities for children to understand that they can say no, and that nothing happens to their body against their consent.”


Not every kid is thrilled to be sitting on Santa's lap. Photo via iStock.

The Santa post links to an article where Skip Corris, a white-bearded man who regularly plays Santa, says he sees "too many parents" who want to force scared children to sit for a picture.

"I think there is a special place in heaven for the parents who don't push their kids," he tells The Plain Dealer.

Child and adolescent psychiatrist Dr Florence Kimbo says if there's any sign of distress, parents shouldn't get the photo taken.

"When a child cries, usually that means a child is in distress, and we don't want a child to be in distress," she explains.

Dr Kimbo says there is no way to know how the incident will imprint itself on a child's memory, even if they seem too young to remember it.