Reports of sexual assaults have dramatically increased in recent times. Statistics show that more than half of all rapes of females occur before they are age 18; 22% occur before they are 12.
Because children are more naive around this age, and child molesters are not always strangers, we cannot overemphasise the need to protect your child from molestation.
Although adolescents may not be engaging in sexual behaviours with each other, the beliefs and attitudes they develop in these formative years are what they will carry into adulthood. It will most likely affect how they treat people, how others treat them, and their choice of partners in the future.
Teaching what consent is
Teach them this simple Oxford English dictionary definition of consent, ‘permission for something to happen or agreement to do something’. Consent occurs when one person voluntarily agrees to the proposal, terms or desires of another.
Putting consent in terms of what your child might understand would have more to do with friendships and play. At this stage, kids are still quite evasive of sexual activity.
Teach them to observe their friends’ facial expressions while playing to ensure that everyone is having fun. Help them understand that their behaviours and actions affect others. Doing so will Promote assertiveness and respect for others’ autonomy.
Teaching them these three basic premises of consent in a non-sexual way breaks it down into its simplest terms for easy understanding. It allows them to apply it into everyday life as well as into their relationships as they become adults.
- Ask: Encourage kids to ask for permission, be it in dealing with their friends or siblings. They should have to ask before entering a sibling’s room, borrowing their clothes or playing with their toys. In return, do the same for them, knock before entering their rooms, stop tickling when they say stop, etc. — thus helping them understand autonomy and respect for things that belong to others.
- Listen: Respecting your child’s responses is crucial. If they say yes, then they want you to touch them, enter their rooms, or see them naked. If they say no, then they do not want it. Don’t Try to force them. If they aren’t sure, it’s best you leave them alone. If you try to touch them and they pull away, stop. Hence, teaching them to be attentive to others’ wishes.
- Respect: It is essential for your children to understand that consent (for any activity) can change. A person can say ‘yes’ now, and ‘no’ later. Everyone is in control of their body. So they should not get mad at if others say no, do not want a touch/play or for them to enter their room. They should never try to make others change their mind forcibly.
Who can give sexual consent?
Children should understand that a person needs to be awake to be able to give consent. People who are unconscious or sleeping are not capable of giving consent.
That isn’t licence for them to take anything that belongs to others without asking. They have to wait until the person is awake.
Help your children understand that until they reach the age of consent determined by the country or state where you live, any sexual intimacy shared with them or any minor they know is illegal and rape, regardless of if the child in question granted verbal consent. They have a responsibility to report any abuse or rape witnessed.
What is rape?
Rape is when a person does not respect the desires and bodily autonomy of another person. Explain this abuse easily by saying: “Rape is when someone forces you to let them touch your genitals, or when they force you to touch theirs”.
Several young adults have been faced with rape and didn’t recognise it at the time because although they were familiar with the word, they didn’t understand that it could happen with a family member or their crush. And they wish their parents had explicitly talked to them about it.
If anyone tries to touch them inappropriately or force them into any sexual activity, that is rape! They have the right to kick, punch, bite, pull, drag, slap and scream regardless of if they have a relationship with the abuser or not. They should report any abuse to you — their most trusted advocate who will always believe them.
Teaching about consent may not wholly eradicate rape and abuse, but it will go a very long way in making sure our children are not abused, or worse, abusers. It will also help them develop healthy relationships in the future.
It would help to read and discuss stories from multiple sources, openly and calmly talk about it as a family. Involve your children in discussions about rape and the different ways it might occur.
Remember never to place any blame on the victim, thereby teaching them to speak up should they ever be in the situation. Continuously point out that rape is rape and force is still force. Regardless of the circumstances or type of relationship shared by the two people involved.