Lately it seems as though every other news article, radio show, tweet, or blog post is about rape or sexual assault. Steubenville, Delhi, Rio de Janeiro, Halifax, Saratoga- it is clearly an international problem (and those are just five examples), and this important issue has gotten an overwhelming amount of media coverage recently. I have done a lot of work in violence prevention, and it can be challenging to hear story after story about serious violations and despicable acts of sexual assault. The increased media attention can push this issue to the forefront of policymakers agendas and inspire effective educational campaigns, but it can also be confusing and draining for young people to absorb. (I mean, it’s tough for even the most experienced professionals.) A parent recently asked me…
There’s so much going on about rape in the news these days, what can I say to my teens?
This is a very important question, that many may be overlooking. As much as we may want to shield our young people from the horrors of life, they will undoubtedly be exposed to something about rape these days. We need to see this overwhelming attention to rape as teachable moment to discuss ways to prevent sexual assault and encourage young people to gain and seek consent as a strategy to prevent sexual assault and rape. It’s a way to tell people what they should be doing, instead what they should be avoiding.
Adults need to engage in critical dialogue with the young people in their lives about what it means to seek and give consent. Parents, teachers, family members, faith leaders, etc can all take a moment to reflect on all of these cases in intentional conversations. Ask what they have heard/seen about the various cases being covered, and what their peers are saying about how teens have reacted. Here are a few suggestions for key messages to focus on and conversation starters:
- Consent is when one person gives permission to engage in a particular activity. How do you think consent can help in a relationship?
- Always gain consent for any physical interaction. How do you know if consent has been given?
- Give consent in clear ways. What’s an example of giving consent?
- Respect the boundaries that other people establish. What is a boundary, and how can a boundary help someone feel safe?
- Accept no for an answer. What can you do if someone says no? What might happen if someone does not respect another person’s no?
- If you are unsure whether or not consent has been given, stop and ask. How might you ask someone if they have consented?
- Sometimes a person is unable to give consent, like when they are unconscious, intoxicated, or under a certain age. How would you know if a person is unable to give consent?
- If someone engages in sexual activity with someone who has not consented, that is considered sexual assault, or rape. Sex without consent is not OK! How can you help create a social community that is respectful and honors everyone’s right to consent?
- Someone who has experienced sexual assault needs support and understanding. What could you do if you know someone who has been hurt?
- Social media outlets such as Facebook and Twitter should be used carefully and conscientiously. How might Facebook or Twitter be a negative influence on teens’ attitudes about rape? How could they be used to bully another person after they have been sexually assaulted? How might social media be used in a good way?
- Be a role model for others. How can you help your peers understand consent?
A few other posts and responses to the recent flurry of media about rape have stood out to me as great resources for helping young people understand this issue:
Laurie Halse Anderson: Another Hard Thing About Being a Parent
Huffington Post: A Letter to My Sons About Stopping Rape
King County Sexual Assault Resource Center, 100 Conversations: Conversations about Consent
And there is a whole bunch more out there too. The point is, do something, say something, and make it stick. Be consistent in your messaging, and the youth around you will learn consent from you.