THAT NEEDS TO START WAY BEFORE WE THINK...
That, in a nutshell, is the problem with rape culture in our society. We are worried about what may happen to our girls, but we're not so concerned about the behavior of our boys.
This creates three distinct problems:
1. It puts the responsibility on potential victims to protect themselves.
2. It fails to identify boys as being potential victims of rape.
3. It perpetuates the mentality that rapists are somehow incapable of controlling themselves, and that we cannot do anything to curb potentially abusive behavior.
So, if parents do talk to their children about preventing rape, it often results in the following:
1. Teaching girls how to supposedly "not get raped," and
2. Parents (often fathers) threatening young men interested in their daughters with acts of violence - usually involving a shovel or shotgun (or both).
We can tell you one thing that is for certain: This. Method. Is. Not. Working.
We need to focus more on
raising kids that won't rape.
- Nearly 70% of all reported sexual assaults (including assaults on adults) occur to children ages 17 and under (Snyder, 2000).
- Youths have higher rates of sexual assault victimization than adults. In 2000, the sexual assault victimization rate for youths 12 to 17 was 2.3 times higher than for adults (U.S. Dept. of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2000).
Unfortunately, children do not have the same abilities that adults do to speak out against the injustice they face against sexual abuse - they cannot organize rallies or write letters of complaint to their constituents. Children, sadly, are dependent on adults to protect and advocate on their behalf, and frankly, I don't think we're doing a very good job.
And while we're being honest -
lets face one very important issue:
These are not pedophiles in the making, necessarily, or children that are born with abusive tendencies that will continue into adulthood.
Regarding newer laws that are requiring sex offenders - even as young as nine, to become registered for life, Finkelhor, one of the nation's leading experts on child sexual abuse responded in a USA Today article in 2012:
"There needs to be a highly discriminative response system," said sociologist David Finkelhor, director of the University of New Hampshire's Crimes Against Children Research Center. "It needs to differentiate between the kids we should stigmatize as little as possible, who are probably going to be fine with some kind of education, and others who need a lot of intervention, including maybe incarceration, because they pose a tremendous risk."
Since 90% of child sexual abuse is never reported, the majority of information regarding adolescent offenders involve cases where the abuse was substantiated and therapy was deemed necessary in an attempt to rehabilitate the juvenile offender, but we have a few ideas based on our research about how we can try to reduce these numbers before therapy is necessary. (Click here for more information on juvenile offenders.)
Sexual abuse perpetrated by children can involve:
- incest - most commonly an older brother abusing a younger sibling (most often a sister), but also cousins and other younger relatives.
- abuse in school, sports, camps or other youth programs.
- neighborhood children, babysitters, friends, or siblings of friends.
What we can do before there's a problem
- Make Body Safety a 2-Way Lesson Whatever we teach our children is wrong to have done to them, make sure we teach them that it's wrong to do to someone else. And stop assuming (or denying) that children are not capable of abuse - treat situations involving children in 1:1 situations as we would with adults.
- Protect Our Boys While females may experience the majority of abuse (1:4 girls), males are not far behind at an estimated rate of 1:6 affected by sexual abuse before the age of 18. Evidence shows that males are less likely to disclose abuse and take longer to do so. Let's do what we can to protect our boys from abuse so that we're not addressing it down the road, or because they exhibit abusive behavior as a result (which can happen with girls as well).
- Teach Empathy, Consent & Respecting Boundaries Early & Often! This article featured on the Good Men Project shows how we can begin this lesson as young a 12 months old. It's not just about sex - it's about raising compassionate, thoughtful adults and there are lessons in everyday life that we can exercise as an opportunity to strengthen these character traits.
- Accept That Children Are Naturally Sexual & Guide Them - Lets be the parents that don't just let kids "figure it out on their own" - it's that path of least involvement that can lead to sexual abuse - especially with siblings & relatives. Sexual curiosity that is not proactively addressed can lead to experimentation with other children that develops into a repetitive, abusive situation. Kids need us to guide them into adulthood and human development and sex are no exception. If we're not teaching our kids, we can guarantee that mass media or their less-than-qualified peers will. Most experts recommend having conversations about the human body and the opposite sex as young as 4 years old, and puberty & sex somewhere between age 7-10. The sooner, the better - kids are being intentionally or unintentionally exposed to pornography and the extent of content that they're being exposed to is more extreme than ever. (Read more here and here.)
- Teach Sexual Responsibility - Arousal is not something in our control, but what we do about our arousal is 100%. No one is obligated to satisfy our sexual urges - regardless of relationship. As humans, we have something called a conscience - we need to teach our children to exercise it when it comes to sex. For more, check out the Sex-Wise Parent by Dr Janet Rosenzweig.
- Redefine Sexual Consent - Consent should not be the absence of the word "no" but rather, asking and hearing the other person say "yes." A person should not simply "judge" by their own opinion that the other person has consented to what is happening. The best practice is to ask and receive confirmation that the other person feels comfortable with what is happening. This is especially important if one or both parties has been drinking.
- Rape is Always Wrong - It's a crime. Any sort of sexual contact and specifically penetration is a serious violation of another person - even if the perpetrator's intent was not sexual gratification (ex, hazing), it doesn't matter. (For more read this article on surveyed teens admitting to forcing sexual contact)
- Address Abusive Behaviors - Even physical and verbal abuse by children can be indicative of existing or potential sexual abuse in the future - especially among siblings. Be cognizant and address bullying, violent, and/or controlling behavior. If you find your child is being sexually inappropriate with other children - telling them no or punishing them may not be enough. Do not think that you are sparing yourself embarrassment by avoiding therapy for sexually abusive behavior - it's much better than having to face that your child continued the behavior and harmed innocent people in the process and is facing imprisonment.
- Stop the Victim Blaming & Shaming - Regardless of how you feel about short skirts, getting drunk at house parties, and being sexually promiscuous - no one is asking or deserves to be raped. Rapists are not created by a supply of flirtatious young women, rapists create their own demand and will seek victims out, not necessarily by their appearance or behavior, but by their perceived vulnerability.
- And Finally, Lets Teach Kids to Stand Up For What is Right - In cases like Steubenville Ohio, there were people who stood by and not only allowed an incapacitated 16-year-old girl to be raped but laughed about it - even videotaping as her assailants joked about her possibly being dead. The whole town stood behind the two boys responsible for the abuse because they were "good kids."
Einstein said, "The world is a dangerous place, not because of the people who are evil; but because of the people who don't do anything about it."
Let's do something about it.