The Mom Stop: It’s time to talk about sex abuse
From the sentencing of Bill Cosby to Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination and the #MeToo movement, the topic of sexual assault has been widespread in the news cycle lately.
Regardless of your opinions on Brett Kavanaugh, Bill Cosby or any of the other dozens of accused, the sad reality is that sexual assault is all too prevalent in American society. At least one in five women and one in 71 men will be raped at some point in their lives, according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center. In eight out of 10 cases, the victim knew their rapist. Victims of rape or sexual assault are also mostly female — 91 percent, while 9 percent are male.
The #MeToo movement has focused largely on the experiences and repercussions faced by adults impacted by sexual assault, and rightly so. They should be brought to light and the victims should suffer often long-delayed consequences.
But sexual assault and rape is not something experienced only by adults — the sexual abuse of children is a travesty in American society, too. One in four girls and one in six boys will be sexually abused before they turn 18-years-old, according to statistics from the National Sexual Violence Resource Center. And it’s an abuse that can last a lifetime — more than one-third of women who report being raped before they are 18 also experience rape as an adult.
As a mother of three kids, including two young daughters, the topic of sexual assault in the news has been paralyzing lately. When I hear stories of teenagers assaulted at parties, or college students at bars, when I hear of abuse in the workplace, I always question myself — could this happen to my girls? And how do I raise my kids to try to ensure that it doesn’t? How do I raise my son to ensure he is empathetic and respects the rights of all people, regardless of gender, race or sexual preference? It’s pertinent that my children are raised not only respecting their own bodies and personal preferences, but those of other people, too.
Parents face a hard reality regarding sexual assault in today’s society. But as uncomfortable of a topic it can be to broach with our children, it’s vital that we raise our kids knowing about boundaries and respecting others. Here are some tips from the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network about how to teach children about appropriate boundaries and open lines of communication:
— Teach young children the names of their body parts.
— Educate children that some parts of the body are private, and that other people shouldn’t touch or look at those parts of their body.
— It’s OK to say “no.” Children should know they are allowed to say “no” to touches that make them uncomfortable. Support your child if they say no, even if it means they don’t want to hug a relative.
— Make sure children know they can always talk to you, especially if they’ve been told to keep a secret.
— Be a safe place for your child to share information about things that they have questions about or that make them uncomfortable.
— Model positive, helping behavior, whether it’s helping an elderly person get off a bus or picking up change that someone has dropped on the ground.
— Make time for your kids. If your kid comes to you with something they feel is important, give them your undivided attention and let them know that you take them seriously.
— Use the media to make issues relevant. If you have a teenager, ask their opinion on sexual abuse/assault issues happening in the news, in a new movie or on TV. It can open the door for more conversation.
— Share your own experiences or about someone you know, to make conversations relevant and feel more real to teens.
— Talk about caring for their friends — not just about their own behavior. Talking about how to be a good friend can be a powerful way of talking to your teens about doing the right thing.
— Talk about sexual assault directly, and share statistics. For some teens, safety issues like sexual assault aren’t on the radar.
— Lydia Seabol Avant writes The Mom Stop for The Tuscaloosa News in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Reach her at email@example.com.