In the wake of the #metoo movement there’s emerged a necessary and welcomed conversation about consent and its importance in the reduction of sexual assault. On the local level there has been a strong emphasis on self-defense classes to help empower individuals against potential attackers. While this is important work, it leaves out a key component of the equation. Simply teaching victims how to “not get raped” perpetuates the problem without addressing the true issue. In order to reduce sexual assault we do not need to teach young girls how to be ninjas, we need to teach young boys using consent based sex education. Victim blaming is the ideological cycle we have been stuck inside since the dawn of civilization. Blaming the victim for things they are doing such as the clothes they are wearing, walking alone at night, etc. gives us (potential victims) the illusion of control. It implies that if women only “follow the rules” we will remain safe. Knowing how to fend off an attacker has importance, however it does nothing to address the real problem.
Parents of sons, and the community at large, have an obligation to teach consent in everyday life, and from that can emerge a true respect for women as equal members of society who have a right to safety and security. Dr. Wes and young adult coauthor, Nicole Ahn are writing a book about Consent-Based Sex Education. In the meantime, here are some ways to make it a part of your everyday conversation:
- Don’t force children to have non-consensual physical contact with others. The days of forcing children to hug old Aunt Trudy with the minty smelling breath at Christmas are over. Children should not be forced to engage in physical contact with others if they do not want to. We can instead model healthy behavior by asking our children “can I hug you?” or “can I have a kiss?” before engaging in physical touch.
- Teach children that you do not touch anyone who does not want to be touched. Period.
- It is natural for children, boys in particular to want to engage in behaviors such as wrestling and rough housing, however we need to set limits and provide education surrounding this. For example, teaching children that tensing up, screaming, trying to get away, or looking scared are a persons’ way of saying “stop” and we need to respect this and stop immediately even if they actually never say the word “stop.”
- Stop telling young girls that if a boy is teasing her it is his way of showing her that he likes her.
- Explicitly teach boys about low consent and no consent situations: No consent includes engaging in sexual behavior within someone under the legal age to give consent, someone who is incapacitated by alcohol or drugs, and pressuring someone into sexual activity using fear or intimidation. Low consent includes engaging in sexual activity with someone who is under the influence of alcohol or drugs but not incapacitated by them. Only “enthusiastic” and sober consent should be accepted as the standard for any sexual expression (and we include in that kissing, hugging, or any kind of touching that is not just a friendly gesture and even that should be clearly consensual).
We must as a community, nation and world begin a conversation about consent-based sex education. Until resources and energy are funneled into this direction, we are only placing a band-aid on a gaping and bleeding hole in our society. Parents of sons, in particular, are charged with the responsibility of teaching their sons to “not rape” in the same way women have been taught for decades how to “not get raped.” I’ll be excited to see Dr. Wes and Nicole’s book about this topic when it comes out!