Last January, a young man named Brock Turner sexually assaulted an incapacitated woman behind a dumpster—less than a mile from the home I share with my wife, my 15-year-old son and my 13-year-old daughter.
Most of us did not hear about the case until earlier this month, when the Stanford student was given a shockingly lenient sentence for his crime (six months), and his victim wrote a powerful letter to him detailing what she has experienced since the sexual assault:
“On that morning, all that I was told was that I had been found behind a dumpster, potentially penetrated by a stranger, and that I should get retested for HIV because results don’t always show up immediately. … Imagine stepping back into the world with only that information.”
While the Brock Turner case has garnered national headlines and impassioned editorials, sadly it’s not an isolated incident.
In fact, 1 out of 6 American women and 1 out of 33 American men will be the victim of an attempted or completed rape in their lifetime, according to the anti-sexual violence organization RAINN. These cases hardly ever make the evening news, and most perpetrators walk away free. Out of every 1,000 rapes that occur, only 6 rapists will end up incarcerated.
As a father of two children, I know that I need to talk with my kids about sexuality and consent.
One of my most important jobs as a father is to instill an awareness in my children of what it means to respect boundaries and that violating someone’s boundaries has serious consequences — physical, emotional, mental and societal.
“Violating someone’s boundaries has serious consequences—physical, emotional, mental and societal.”
I share the same concerns for both my son and daughter as other parents: broken bones, drugs and alcohol, a desire to be devious. However, my concerns for my daughter’s safety are unique and trouble me deeply.
Sexual assault happens to people of all genders, but women are most often affected. As the Brock Turner case showed, female survivors of sexual assault all too often face invasive and demeaning questions meant to undermine their character. Their accounts are too readily dismissed:
“What were you wearing? Why were you going to this party? What’d you do when you got there? Are you sure you did that? … “Do you remember any more from that night? No? Okay, well, we’ll let Brock fill it in,” the victim recalled in her letter read to the court.
Understanding the stigma that survivors face goes a long way toward explaining why merely 20 percent of female college students even report their sexual assaults.
My children aren’t yet college aged, but the values I choose to instill in them now can prepare them for a world that doesn’t always place mutual consent at the forefront. Right now, I choose to talk with my son and daughter about what is in their control and what is the right thing to do.
As a father, I recognize that my kids are vulnerable to being influenced by cultural attitudes that could lead them to dark places, and that is why we can’t be afraid to talk to our children about tough topics like sexual assault and consent.
Our responsibility to our sons is especially vital. To other fathers out there, I’d like to offer you some tips that I have used when talking with my son:
- Remind your son that, despite what his hormones may be telling him, it’s important to control his urges. His friends may think it’s cool right now to be the guy who “scores,” but explain that there is a lot more to it than that. Sex isn’t a conquest—it is an act that is only done when all parties are absolutely sure they want to participate.
- Remind your son that consent is fluid, and people can change their minds. Just because someone said yes in the past doesn’t mean they can’t say no in the future, or even in the middle of an act. In fact, we shouldn’t just be teaching “no means no,” but also “yes means yes.” This means that you only touch someone if they have expressed it is okay, and that if someone asks you to stop, you stop immediately. Teach your son that if he’s not sure, he can and should ask.
- Remind your son that his role is to first be someone’s friend. If someone is in a situation where they are incapacitated or passed out, he should be there to help them.
- Remind your son that he will be held accountable and face the consequences if he touches someone without their consent. Remind him that he also has the power and responsibility to step up if he sees someone else being victimized.
“Remind your son that he also has the power and responsibility to step up if he sees someone else being victimized.”
Talking with our daughters is also essential. Here are some points dads should consider when talking with young women:
- Remind your daughter that she has ownership and autonomy over her body, despite the messages she might receive from peers or society at large. In fact, from a young age parents should ask for permission when they touch their children and encourage them to verbalize when they do not want to be touched (yes, that includes hugs and cheek-pinching from family members). This fortifies the understanding that they are in charge of their bodies.
- Remind your daughter that her autonomy extends beyond her body to her ideas, her decisions, her feelings, and beyond. The idea that women and girls must exist for the pleasure or entertainment of others is a dangerous one that should be challenged early.
- Remind your daughter that it is okay to want to engage in sexual activity, as well as to not want to. It’s her choice. Simple as that.
I hope someday there won’t be such a strong need to address sexual violence. But until then, fathers must take responsibility for teaching our daughters that their worth is so much more than their bodies and teaching our sons that their worth is defined by their compassion and respect.
If you agree that it is important to keep open communication with your children, especially following such a widely publicized rape case, consider signing the pledge to #TalkToYourKids about consent.
Eric Glader is a director of business development for Care2.com. He is a devoted husband and father of two children.
PLEDGE TO #TALKTOYOURKIDS ABOUT CONSENT AND SEXUAL ASSAULT
BY: PETE DOMINICK AND ERIC GLADER
TARGET: PARENTS AND FRIENDS OF PARENTS