Sexual Assault and Consent: A Family-Wide Conversation
Updated: Mar 16
As part of Raising Resilience's series on Sexual Assault Awareness, we partnered with Bark (parental control app) to bring you supplemental content as a resource. They are also extending a 20% discount for Raising Resilience community members if you use the code, RESILIENCE.
Keep reading for practical tips on how to talk to your kids about consent and sexual assault...
By Jordan Bissell, Creative Content Strategist at Bark
It’s tough to help your teen work through their chemistry homework or figure out how to get through an entire day
without picking a fight with their sibling. But having a conversation about sexual assault and consent? That can feel tougher than tough. In fact, it can even feel so important and so nuanced that it almost feels impossible. Here’s a little secret: you don’t have to have it all figured out. It’s important to have some good talking points and resources to guide you (and there’s plenty of that below), but it’s totally fine to not be 100% prepared for any question your kid may ask. This is a journey you’re going on together, so extend yourself some grace, take some deep breaths, and maybe pour yourselves some tall mugs of hot chocolate. You’ve got this.
What is Consent?
Consent is an agreement between all involved parties that something — usually sexual — is allowed to happen. Getting consent does not exclusively mean hearing the other person say “yes” out loud. Consent can also include:
● Making sure you are not pressuring the other person
● Ensuring they are not under the influence of any substances that can affect their decision
● Considering any power dynamics that may make them feel unable to say no
● Being immediately willing to stop if they change their mind at any point
You might be worried about acc
urately explaining the nuances of getting and giving consent to your teen who’s recently started dating. The good news is that you don’t have to dive in and talk about everything there is to know about consent in a single conversation. In fact, this is a great opportunity for you and your child to really deepen your relationship by talking through what consent looks like in different scenarios.
Some Questions That Can Help Determine Consent
● What would you like to do?
● May I hold your hand?
● Are you feeling uncomfortable?
● Do you want me to stop?
● Should we do something else now?
Non-Sexual Ways to Practice
● Don’t push a friend to do an activity they’re uncomfortable with
● Ask if you can have a bite of someone’s sandwich before taking it
● If someone has told you something privately, don’t share it with others
● Don’t pressure someone into watching a horror movie if they’re scared
● Learn to pick up on body language signs that a friend is uncomfortable
What You Should Know About Sexual Assault
If something sexual happens without consent, that is called sexual assault. It’s tempting to assume that your own child will never experience sexual violence, but the issue is actually far more common than you might think. In fact, according to RAINN, evidence of child sex abuse is corroborated or confirmed every nine minutes.
How to Talk About Sexual Assault
Even if your child hasn’t opened up about experiencing sexual violence themselves, it is a good idea to have a conversation with them about what sexual assault is and what they should know should they ever go through it. How much detail you go into depends on your child’s emotional state, age, and maturity level, so it’s totally fine to take things slowly. In addition to having regular conversations about consent, be sure to reinforce that your child is under no obligation to let someone see or touch them inappropriately — even if that person is a cousin, a coach, or someone else they know very well. Your kid has the right to refuse anything that makes them uncomfortable. As tough as it can be, come up with a plan for what your child should do if they ever find themselves in an uncomfortable situation, and let them know that it’s OK to tell someone “no” in response to a sexual request, even if they’re worried about offending them.
How to Help If Your Kid Has
Experienced Sexual Assault
If your child reveals that they have experienced sexual violence — whether through something that took place online or something that happened in person — the way you react can affect how they feel about the experience they’ve had. It can be really tough to know exactly what to say in the midst of such an upsetting conversation, so to give you somewhere to begin, here are some ways you can validate, support, and guide them through their experience.
Say, “I love you.”
It’s of utmost importance that you help your child feel loved. They might be worried that you’ll be angry with them or fear that you’ll view them differently once you know what they’ve been through. Be sure to let them know that you love them just as much as ever.
Tell them it’s not their fault.
People of all ages can feel guilty after becoming victims of sexual assault (even though nothing a person does can make them at fault for experiencing sexual violence), so be sure to assuage this concern early on.
Listen to how they are feeling.
There’s no one “right” reaction to experiencing sexual assault, so take the time to let your child explain in their own words how they’re processing it. This is also a good reminder to pay attention to the ways your child might be communicating non-verbally. For example, if they aren’t ready to talk,
they might complain of a headache when you ask them questions. Give them space when they need it, but pay attention.
Say, “I believe you.”
Survivors of sexual violence — especially children — can worry that they won’t be believed when they speak u
p about what they’ve been through. It takes a tremendous amount of courage and vulnerability to open up about something so upsetting, so be sure to let your kid know that you aren’t questioning what they’ve told you.
Explain that you can help keep them safe.
One tactic perpetrators of sexual violence can use to continue or get away with abuse is to threaten kids. They might say they’ll hurt the child’s family members, share photos or videos from the assault, or even repeat the violence if the child reveals what has happened. Make sure to let your c
hild know that — despite any threats they’ve received — you’re committed to protecting them both physically and emotionally.
Let them open up a
t their own pace.
Even though you probably have a long list of questions about what happened, be sure not to push them to recount each detail unless they’re ready and willing to do so. Let your child feel in control of what they share and when.
Another Way to Help
If your family needs extra support, my team at Bark is happy to help. We care so deeply about helping to protect kids from online predation (which is why we’re so proud to have partnered with Raising Resilience to cover this important topic). Our monitoring tool can alert you if your child has been approached by an adult online, is experiencing sextortion, and more. Feel free to reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions you might have. If you are interested in a subscription, use the Raising Resilience code: RESILIENCE to receive 20% off your Bark subscription for life.