A few years ago when I would read a story like the Brock Turner sexual assault case, I’d think about the victim. She could’ve been one of my girlfriends, or even myself. But now that I’m the mother of an almost-2-year-old boy, I find myself thinking more about the accused rapist.
And I think about how, as mothers of boys, we need to do better.
Most parents do everything in their power to keep their child — of either gender — from becoming a victim of sexual violence. We talk to them about not letting others touch the parts of them that are covered by bathing suits. We encourage them to tell us if something doesn’t feel right.
But are we really doing everything in our power to keep our kids from becoming perpetrators of sexual violence? That’s not a rhetorical question — I genuinely want to know.
So, I spoke to Dr. Crystal Bullard, a child and adolescent psychiatrist with Carolinas HealthCare System, all about how we can shape our children into adults who know they are the sole “boss” of their own bodies, and no one else’s. Here are a few tips Dr. Bullard gave me:
Let your child decide when they want to give or receive a hug or a kiss, and don’t force it.
I get it — it’s adorable when your toddler leans in and pecks his 2-year-old “girlfriend” on the cheek. But if we as parents let him do it even if she says no, pushes away or otherwise shows she’s not interested, it’s putting a dangerous idea in both their heads. He learns that he can get that kiss no matter what, and she learns that “no” doesn’t matter, so she may as well get it over with.
Arm your child with information.
Dr. Bullard said many sex offenders were once victims of sexual and domestic violence themselves. Teach your child the difference between “okay” and “not okay” touches, and explain that not only should no one touch his private parts — he shouldn’t touch anyone else’s private parts either.
Dr. Bullard also suggests teaching your child the accurate names for body parts, including male and female genitals, to minimize confusion or misunderstandings if your child reports inappropriate sexual behavior to a non-family member or other trusted adult.
When your child is old enough, have a very frank conversation about sexual consent.
Being parents means we need to impart lessons on our kids, including both the warm and fuzzy kind (“treat others how you want to be treated”) and the uncomfortable kind (“if someone is drunk or unconscious, you should not attempt to have sex with that person”).
Dr. Bullard also says teens and tweens should be made aware of statutory rape laws. In North Carolina, the age of consent is 16, meaning people 15 or younger aren’t legally able to consent to sexual activity. It may make you squeamish to think about getting that graphic with your teen, but isn’t a few minutes of cringing better than a few months sitting in the courtroom?
I believe that by taking the time to deliberately talk to our kids about sexual consent, we can raise a generation that makes sexual assault a thing of the past.
A mom can dream, can’t she?
Photo: D. Ross Cameron/AP