What we need to teach our sons

With the rise of the #MeToo movement, and recently with the accusations made against Brett Kavanaugh during his nomination process to be the next Supreme Court justice, sexual assault has been omnipresent in the news cycle and on social media.

If there is something good that comes out of recent events, it’s that men and women are talking more about sexual assault. Conversations and debates between parents, friends and co-workers have become more common. And though their stories are painful, assault survivors are talking more openly about their experiences.

Children and teens are not sheltered from the media coverage of this difficult topic. No matter how awkward you feel, now is the time to talk to your kids, especially boys, about sex and consent.

From a young age, girls are often taught that they alone are responsible for protecting their bodies. It’s their job to stop people from touching them. We tell girls to be safe, what type of boys and men to stay away from, what situations to avoid. And God forbid if something happens, the questions start … what were you doing? What were you wearing? In
other words, what did you do wrong that made someone do that to you? The shame becomes the burden of the victim.

But what do we tell our sons?

Oftentimes, nothing. We assume that a boy knows what is right and wrong and that they inherently know how to respect boundaries and understand what consent is.

According to a study last year by the Making Caring Common project at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, 32 percent of males and 17 percent of females in a national survey of 18- to 25-year-olds either agreed or were neutral about the view that, if “a woman does not physically fight back, it’s not sexual assault.”

The only way to clear up misconceptions is to have ongoing discussions about sex and consent, to talk about complicated situations where consent may not be clear. Knowing what consent is should not be learned from friends or from television.

From the article, “5 ways parents can help kids understand consent and prevent sexual assault” published in the Washington Post in October 2018, parents are advised to clearly define assault and provide concrete examples; talk about — and keep talking about — consent; give boys permission to talk about strong emotions; encourage young people to be allies and upstanders; and share the stories of survivors.

We need to give all kids the information and tools to keep them from getting into a bad situation that could affect them for a lifetime. That starts at home with clear and honest communication. 

More Letters from Editor Melanie Hitchcock

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