How Do I Talk to My Son About Sexual Harassment and Assault?
The Sexual Assault Landscape: Why Boys Need to be Aware too
Sexual harassment, abuse, assault, and rape are a huge problem in our society. According to the National Sexual Violence Research Center, 1 in 5 women and 1 in 71 men will be raped during the course of their lives. In 8 out of 10 cases of assault, the victim knows the perpetrator. If you include sexual harassment, the numbers climb even higher.
Parents of daughters often take a lot of time warning their girls about protecting themselves as best they can from sexual assault. This is a wise thing to do, however, the girls are not generally the perpetrators of sexual assault, they are far more often the victims. So, while preparing girls for defensive maneuvers and strategies is prudent, it begs the question of why more parents do not talk to their sons about sexual harassment, abuse, and rape and what these concepts mean. After all, if we can teach our sons what is appropriate behavior and what is not it can lower the rates of sexual assault and it can also protect our sons from potentially becoming sexual offenders, a thought that should horrify any parent.
I am a mother of one daughter and two sons. I have degrees in psychology and sociology and worked at a shelter for domestic violence victims. I am also the survivor of a rape that happened just after I turned 15 when two slightly older students planned a trap that involved holding me overnight. As when Dr. Ford testified against Judge Kavanaugh, I can clearly hear their laughter echoing through my mind to this day. I also suffer from anxiety and PTSD and have nearly daily flashbacks.
Dr. Christine Blasey Ford Testifies About Listening to Kavanaugh and Judge Laugh
Talking to Your Younger Sons
It’s good to start talking to your sons early about certain concepts that relate to respecting each other as humans and then build to discussing sexual harassment, abuse, and rape issues. First, it’s best to start with the basics when they are young.
Teach your son to say no. It is important children learn that if they are uncomfortable in a situation where another child or adult, whether a stranger or someone close to them like a family member or friend, wants to touch them in a way they do not like they have the right to say no. You should also encourage them to come talk to you.
Teach your sons the names of their body parts. If your sons do not know what their body parts are called, they cannot name them if someone is touching them inappropriately.
Explain what parts of the body are private. Teach your son the names of these body parts, both his and the female private parts, and why they should be kept private. Emphasize that doctors can examine these parts, but you should be in the room when they do so.
Secrets are bad. Talk about the difference between surprises like we’re going to have a birthday party for your brother on Friday and we’re going to wait to tell him until then and secrets where someone is trying to keep your child from telling information to you.
- Tell your son he won’t get in trouble for coming to you: This is important. Kids can feel very ashamed and confused if something does happen to them. They need to feel that they will be supported at home.
Talking to Your Older Sons
- Sexuality in teens and tweens: Just when you feel your son is old enough to start talking about sexuality is a personal decision, howeve,r kids begin sexual activity at in middle school and in a 2015 survey, 41% of high school students report having sexual intercourse.
- Talk about caring for a friend: Helping your son learn to care for others can give them a grounding in treating others with fairness, kindness, and respect.
- Personal Boundaries part 1: When your sons are old enough to understand that each person has their own body and their own space, start talking about not touching people unless they say it’s okay. You can also try talking about simpler boundaries like not taking the food off another person’s plate unless they say it’s okay. The idea is to get your sons to begin to understand that if something belongs to another person, whether it is a toy or their arm, they get to say what happens to it.
Use your own experience as a safety story. This can be hard, especially if you had a particularly hard experience and have lasting scars such as dealing with PTSD. But those experiences affect your family and it can be important for boys to know the extent the damage can be for ignoring a girl (or boy) on this subject. Talk clearly about how the boys’ decisions led to the sexual assault and the various moments when they could have stopped or avoided the assault. Make sure to get your sons to question this from the perpetrator’s point of view, not going back to the old trope of blaming it on the victim.
- Personal Boundaries Part II:This is where you need to talk to your son about “No means No.” However, the message needs to go far past this quick trope. Here are some of the many things that mean no:
- She said yes, but now she says no = NO!
- She’s been drinking alcohol or doing drugs and says yes = NO!
- She seems to be incoherent or otherwise acting strange = NO!
- She is passed out or asleep = No!
- Your son has been dared to sleep with her=NO!
- Your son is inebriated = NO!
- Your son said yes but now feels no = NO!
- She is completely coherent and so is your son. This is a reasonable time to make a decision on whether to have sex.
- Listen. The number one thing you can do for your son is to listen to him. This will both allow you to hear what is going on in his life and what problems or questions he might be having about sexual interactions with girls (or boys) or to pick up on some possibly inappropriate actions and guide him in the right direction.
- RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) is the country’s largest anti-sexual violence organization. It runs a National Sexual Assault Hotline (800-656-4673) and online at online.rainn.org or rainn.org/es.
- National Sexual Violence Research Center: You can find plenty of good information and resources on this site.
- ReCAPP Resource Center for Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention
- Center for Disease Prevention's Adolescent Page: This page has a wealth of information on teenagers, what studies have found on their sexual habits, and on ways to help your teenager stay safe.
Warning: Tough For Some To Watch—Boys Reading Friends' Letters of Sexual Assault as Male Victim
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2018 Teeuwynn Woodruff