I wish that I could say that there is a simple solution to rape culture and the problem of rape and sexual assault on college campuses. I wish I could say that by simply telling people to respect others and to listen when someone says they’re not interested would fix the problem. I wish that simply holding athletes and those in power responsible for their actions and not letting them off the hook because they make the college money would fix the problem.
But wishing won’t get us anywhere.
With the rise of the Me Too hashtag on Twitter, and the push for survivors and victims to speak up about their sexual assaults, we are slowly seeing a change in the narrative surrounding sexual assault. Slowly the old myths and the usual push back from those who refuse to acknowledge the culture we live in are being undone by the sheer number of cases and people coming forward to speak up. While many of the people who committed the acts will never see a day in jail for their crimes, people are slowly learning that one day, it will all catch up to them.
So what do we do to fix the problem so we don’t have to play catch up when it comes to sexual assault?
The solution is two fold, we must work on educating and enforcing the laws and articles such as Title IX in schools, and we must begin education on consent and respect at an early age. While we are seeing tiny baby steps with working with adults, such as the formation of The White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault, which was formed in 2013, and students actively petitioning and protesting against sexual assaults on campus, it won’t fix the problem on its own.
So hear me out on this.
Most parents balk at the thought of teaching a child sex education, but the truth is that we begin teaching them the moment we start talking about their bodies. If we as parents and educators were to insist on using proper terminology for body parts while the child was a toddler, and we continue to reinforce the belief that if something doesn’t belong to you that you don’t touch it, we will begin to see progress in boundary respect and in how people interact with others.
When we’re little we’re told that if something isn’t ours, we aren’t to touch it without permission, correct?
When we’re little we’re told to keep our hands to ourselves when it comes to touching others, correct?
So what changes between the time we’re little to when we become adults? What happened to “if it’s not yours, don’t touch?”
What happened was that we taught our boys that it was ok to grab a girl’s hair, or to push her.. We taught girls that if a boy was mean to them or pulled their hair that the boy liked them. We began justifying bad behavior that we’d previously told them was wrong. We actively undo the rules that we set in place for our children and then wonder why they don’t follow the rules when they become adults. We teach boys that it’s ok to ignore a person who says “no” so long as the adults around them think it’s cute.
Yet then we turn around when they become of age and tell them what they’re doing is wrong!
Look at it from their point of view, they went from being treated like what they were doing was perfectly fine, but then the moment they turned 18 it became wrong again. How would you personally deal with that if you’d grown up that way? I bet you’d feel confused, possibly even like you’d been set up to be punished by some imaginary force (the Patriarchy!™) or by the evil feminists out there who are only out to punish men for some imaginary reason. They begin to buy into the belief that women only claim rape to ruin people’s lives, or as revenge. They gravitate towards the various “men’s rights” groups out there that tell them they’re not the ones to blame for their actions, they can’t help it that they want to do whatever they want to others or that they’ve been punished for things outside of their control.
If parents and the other adults around them simply kept consistent in their rules and in enforcing boundaries, many of the problems we’re seeing would most likely not exist. It would also remove many of the so-called “grey areas” surrounding sexual assault and rape. There are hundreds of different sites online that offer ways to teach children about sex and about bodily autonomy from a young age (as early as two in some cases), some of which I will list at the bottom for further reading, but every single one holds the same message:
Teach your children about their bodies, about privacy (boundaries included), touching, and age appropriate talk about sex.
The one thing that they all seem to ignore though, is the consistency needed to keep those lessons fresh and in place. As parents, we need to continue stressing the points we have taught, and to not fall back on harmful thoughts such as “if he hits you he likes you” or “boys will be boys”. As parents, we need to make sure that all children understand that they need to be respectful of others and to not assume that because they said yes once, that it will always be a yes.
We also as parents, need to respect our own children’s wishes. If a child doesn’t want to hug someone, then we shouldn’t force them, because that teaches them that their word of “no” means less than someone else’s. It makes us contradict ourselves, and teaches the children than no doesn’t always mean no (which then can lead to “they secretly wanted it!” excuses during a sexual assault case).
So, here’s what I propose:
We start teaching children early on about their bodies using proper terms (no “pee-pee” or “wee-wee” type words, but actual penis and vagina).
We teach and enforce the rule that if something doesn’t belong to you, you don’t touch it without permission.
We teach and enforce the rule that if you don’t want to be touched or to touch someone else, that you can say no and that it will be respected.
We teach children that if something does happen, that they can come forward and safely speak up about it to a trusted adult.
We STOP using excuses such as “boys will be boys” or excuses for assault such as “he doesn’t know how to show he likes you so he hits you”. There are no acceptable excuses for assault.
We make sure that adults receive “refresher” courses on consent and bodily autonomy.
We make it so that those who have been assaulted or harmed can come forward safely, regardless of sex, gender, orientation, race, or ethnicity. No more police judging them and turning them away at the door.
We make sure that those who need help can get help, through counseling, support services, etc, even if they never report their assault to authorities.
We actively work to ensure that male victims and survivors can come forward safely by breaking down the patriarchal lies about male rape victims.
While it will take a lot of work, we can turn things around and make things safer for students of all walks of life. Yes, crimes will still happen, but if we implement my proposed actions, we will not only see less of them, but the victims will be able to get the help they need instead of having to hide it from others and let it fester until it destroys them.
For further reading:
Sexual Assault and Men:
When Rape Culture Meets Reality:
Resources for Survivors: