I just read an article that discussed a new research study that showed 1/3 of college males would rape a woman if they knew they would get away with it.
What the hell is wrong with the world that we live in? When did consent become optional? When did a man decide he had the right to anyone's body whenever he desired? Did you know that 97 out of every 100 rapes result in the rapist walking free? Why is there not more outrage over this?
We try very hard to teach Elden that his body is his and no one else's body is his. We even tell him he needs to ask the cat if he can hug her before he does so. This often seems trivial or awkward to some parents--for instance, Elden knows he has a penis and girls have vaginas. He uses those words. We are trying SO HARD to make sure he realizes there is no shame associated with his anatomy. He is also at the age where he is exploring himself. We try very hard to help him understand what he is doing is perfectly acceptable and natural--in the appropriate environment. Having grown up in a true love waits environment (the author here does an excellent job of describing the issues I have with that concept and the way it's taught), I want to make sure my children know they are defined by more than just their sexual "purity." I want them to know that if anyone ever lays a hand on them without their consent they can come to me, shame-free, and I will go to bat for them. I want them to know they have a right to say "no" in the first place. But I also want them to know that touching anyone, without their consent, is absolutely not okay. Even for something as harmless as a hug: you ask. Because any sense of a right to hug someone leads to a misguided sense of a right to do other things to them. Obviously, as they get older, they will understand there are certain people they don't need to ask to hug (and kiss): Jon and me, their grandparents and aunts and uncles, their closest friends, eventual romantic interests. But I genuinely wonder how other parents approach these issues. Is that part of the problem? Is that why 1 out of every 3 college men surveyed would happily rape a woman if they could get away with it?
Every year as our kids get older, we plan on having some variation of a sex talk with them. When they are really young, we won't dive into the details of where babies come from, but we will talk to them about sex-related things (masturbation being the likely front runner... I'm sure some of you cringed just reading that) that are tailored to their age; what they will likely be curious about, keeping in mind their individual maturity levels. We will do this individually and Jon will likely handle all talks with Elden and me with Edith. Our hope is that if we can create a safe and naturally open environment for our kids to ask questions without fear of a response they will always feel safe coming to us with anything. Abuse, teen pregnancy, etc. We certainly hope our kids will choose to wait for a variety of reasons, but the harsh reality is that they probably won't. We want our kids to be as prepared and respectful as they possibly can be. We want our son to stand up for a woman if he sees her being mistreated and we certainly don't want him to be the one mistreating her. We want our daughter to be treated with respect. And the best way we can strive for this is if we prepare our children to the best of our ability. In case you were curious, here are some of the practical tools we use:
1. Always refer to body parts with their anatomical names. God forbid, if someone sexually abuses them when they're little the best way to yield a conviction is if they can use the actual anatomical names to describe what was done. It also teaches them there is nothing to be embarrassed about their body.
2. We are making a conscious effort not to hug or kiss Elden without asking his permission/if he says no, and we've asked our families to do the same. We want him to understand that he doesn't have to do those things, even with us. We don't want him thinking he HAS to do something because we are adults and somehow in authority over him. We certainly do have authority over him, but he has every right to decline our physical affection.
3. We reiterate to him that he's not to hug a friend without asking first. We also try really hard not to say things like "go hug [child]" - again, he has a right to decide if he even wants to hug that child, and then that child has a right to decline.
4. We've never yelled at Elden for exploring his body. We've never told him he shouldn't be doing that or it's inappropriate. We have taught him that he should only do that when his diaper is off (mid change or in the bath) and he has thus far been compliant with that.
5. We have started telling him that no one should touch his penis and no one should tell him to touch their penis or vagina. This is a tricky area for me because I also don't want him to think that all sexual touch is bad because it is eventually a wonderful thing in a committed and trusting relationship, but I think he's still too little to really make that distinction.
6. We have begun asking him questions about different environments. We don't think anyone in our lives would ever touch him sexually, but if we notice a distinct behavioral change (for instance, he is not excited to go to Sunday school at church anymore; he doesn't want to sleep over our parents' houses, etc.) we make it a point to ask him why he feels certain ways. We will even ask him if anyone touched his penis or made him touch them (the answers are always no and usually along the lines of "Elden shy").
I'm sure this seems like extreme parenting to most of you. To be honest, some of it is fear-based. I'm part of a statistic (that I think is grossly underestimated) of 1 in 5 female child sexual abuse victims. Approximately 2/3 of sexual assaults are committed by someone familiar to the victim. I will probably never let my kids sleepover their friend's houses unless I know their parents extremely well; even then, I will probably have a restless night. I know I can't protect my kids from everything. But you better believe I'm going to do everything in my power to keep them safe from predators, as well as trying to prevent them from becoming predators.