Growing up, my siblings and I never really talked about sex with our parents. Thanks to movies like Titanic and Cruel Intentions, I was able to connect the dots about what adults did when they were “in love.” Rape was never talked about either. But I know now that’s not only because my parents wanted to avoid an awkward conversation, but because our society seems to dance around the subject entirely.
Rape is one of the most under-reported crimes in the country. Rape victims are often too afraid to come forward because the crime is perceived to be too personal and embarrassing. They fear being shamed by their peers, or they fear retribution from the individual who raped them. According to a National Violence Against Women Survey done in 1998, “1 in 6 women and 1 in 33 men in the United States have been a victim of an attempted or committed rape.” Behind these statistics are real people – people who have been damaged, abused, and left feeling worthless, all because someone else made the choice to disregard consent. It’s time to make a change; it is our responsibility to end this culture of sexual abuse by changing the way we talk to our kids about rape.
Rape is not an embarrassing topic we need to avoid. Our children need to be informed that their actions have direct consequences. We teach them how to brush their teeth and stay away from strangers, but we also need to discuss the rules of consent and how to prevent a dangerous situation. Anyone can become a victim or perpetrator of rape, and it is our responsibility to do our best so that neither term is ever applied to our children.
As parents, we don’t plan on our children becoming rapists or victims of rape. I look at my infant son and his future is a blank slate; I imagine him curing cancer, singing lead in a band, or playing on the US soccer team. I don’t envision him drunk and taking advantage of a girl at a party, but neither did numerous parents who now face that reality. Unfortunately, rape is not limited to twenty-somethings at a college frat house. It can happen at a high school party, during a walk home, or on a camping trip.
Sexual assault knows no gender, so our boys and girls need to be equally educated, and gender stereotypes need to be ignored. Even though women make up the majority of rape cases, they too can also be the perpetrator.
Rape education needs to start with consent and eliminate the belief of entitlement. Consent must be gained to engage in sexual intercourse. You are not entitled to sleep with someone just because they made out with you an hour ago. If someone says no, even if you are well on your way to third base, you must stop. You are not entitled to force yourself on someone because of the way they are dressed or because they drank too much. If someone buys you a drink, that does not mean you are indebted to them for the rest of the evening. You also do not have to consume that drink if you are unsure of what might be in it. Most importantly, if it happens to you, it is not your fault.
Everydayfeminism.com provides wonderful tips on how to teach children consent:
- Teach them how to ask for consent.
- Consent can be given or taken away at any time.
- Talk about the importance of the word “no.”
- Discuss the different between a non-response and enthusiastic consent.
- Parents need to follow the rules of consent as well.
Our children need to be able to independently identify a dangerous situation and navigate their way out of it successfully. We would be doing our children a great disservice by not giving the facts about rape. If we instill these concepts while our children are maturing, hopefully we will produce confident adults who respect boundaries and realize the consequences of their actions.