Talking about consent shouldn’t wait
Be in Charge prevention specialist II Emily Rhoads wrote the following blog post.
The White House recently released a PSA called “One Thing” about the one thing needed to have sex – consent. Because without consent, the video says, it’s not called “sex,” it’s called “rape.”
According to the Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN), there are approximately 293,066 victims of sexual assault every year. That means that every 107 seconds another American is sexually assaulted. These numbers only include statistics for victims ages 12 and up. RAINN also reports that every 8 minutes, Child Protective Services responds to a report of child sexual abuse. Sexual assault happens, and usually by someone the victim knows. Eighty percent of rapes and 82 percent of sexual assaults are committed by non-strangers.
The best course of action for parents to take is to make sure our children go into the world understanding what consent is, how to give it, and most importantly how to get it. Because the fact of the matter is, it doesn’t matter if we teach our child to say no if the person they encounter doesn’t know how to take no for an answer. The way to reduce sexual victimization is to teach this generation that consent is imperative.
Talking about consent should start NOW!
It doesn’t matter if you have a 17-year-old on the cusp of leaving the nest and heading to college, or a 17-month-old with very little grasp of language, consent should be an ongoing discussion in every home. One way to do this with young children is to explain while you are helping them in the bath that a grown-up like mommy or daddy may touch their vagina or penis to help them get clean, and a doctor may touch their vagina or penis (with another grown-up around) if they are sick or need a check-up, but NO ONE ELSE gets to touch these areas. Remind them that they should never keep secrets about their vagina or penis from mommy or daddy, even if an adult asks them to and or threatens them if they don’t.
With your older children, begin to talk about consent from a standpoint to which they can relate. Ask questions like, “If you wanted to use your friend’s iPad, would you ask before you used it or just take it without asking? How would your friend feel if you just took the iPad without their permission? Do you think you would get in trouble for taking it without permission?” Let them know that just like personal possessions, we are not allowed access to another person’s personal body without permission. Explain the concept of consent to them, and tell them that only yes means yes. You might have heard the phrase “no means no” in reference to consent, but this phrasing implies that if a person doesn’t say no, they are saying yes, and that is not true. Only yes means yes. Both parties have to give enthusiastic and ongoing consent for a physical act to happen safely between two people. Remind them that something as simple as tickling or grabbing someone else’s bottom can be considered assault if the other person is not consenting to be touched.
As your children get old enough to leave home and start doing more things independently, continue to remind them that only yes means yes and tell them that no matter what their friends say, it is not cute, or manly, or romantic to continue to pressure someone into doing something they don’t want to do. Tell them that if you have to get consent by begging for it, it isn’t really consent. Tell them that if you have to get the other person drunk or high to get consent, it isn’t really consent. Remind them that they never want to look back on a physical relationship from their past and question if that person really wanted to be with them. A simple misunderstanding in communication could result in legal action, and a lifetime of trauma and regret for both parties. If your child thinks it would be too awkward or embarrassing to talk about consent with their partner, gently remind them that if they are mature enough to be engaging in any physical behavior, they are mature enough to have these conversations. Remember as a parent of an older teen that even if you are sure your child is going to stay abstinent, these are still good conversations to have just in case.
Model good behavior!
If you are tickling your toddler and they stop laughing or say, “STOP!” do you stop immediately? That’s consent. If you are washing your child’s hair or body and they whine or say, “No,” do you take the time to explain to them why it is important? That is teaching them you respect their boundaries which will set them up for higher self-esteem and a future of demanding consent. Have you ever been watching your child play a game like wrestling or monkey in the middle and noticed that moment when their face changes because they are no longer having fun with the game? Maybe you waited to step in because you wanted them to figure it out themselves, but what a wonderful teaching opportunity for you to step in and ask the other children to respect your child’s physical and emotional boundaries and set up a dialogue about consent. You can always find ways to bring the word consent up in daily conversation without making it sexual. Keep the word in your child’s vocabulary, and in your own.
Let your child set boundaries!
How many times did your parents make you hug someone, let someone kiss you, or force you to sit on someone’s lap to avoid being rude? In the south especially, we ignore all sorts of physical boundaries and red flags for the sake of politeness. It is hard, but we have to teach our children to set and respect their own physical boundaries. If your child is not the type that likes to be hugged, maybe they can come up with a special handshake or phrase to say goodbye to family members. Pushing your child into physical contact, especially with an adult they love or respect, teaches them that their boundaries don’t matter, their “no” doesn’t matter, and adults can do whatever they want to their body.
If we raise our children to believe that only yes means yes, that the physical boundaries of their partners and themselves are important and to be valued, and that having consent is the only way to have physical contact with another person, we can raise the generation that drastically reduces incidents of rape and assault.