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October 23, 2019

How to Talk to Your Teen About Sexual Assault

We all pray that our children will experience a world safe from harm. We do our best to love and protect, but what do we do when things are out of our control? Sexual assault is a serious and scary thing—something about which we can’t afford to not talk to our kids. As parents, we should equip our kids and ourselves with practical tools to tackle the unthinkable.

The National Center for Victims of Crime reports that 1 in 5 girls and 1 in 20 boys is a victim of child sexual abuse. If our children haven’t experienced abuse, chances are they’ve got a friend who has. So it’s our job to learn how to love our kids through it, whether it’s a firsthand experience or preparing them to be a better friend to victims of abuse.

What counts as sexual assault?

Sexual assault is any form of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without the consent of the victim. It’s a big umbrella term that includes much more than rape; it can be attempted rape, uninvited touching or fondling, forcing the victim to perform sexual acts or any other case of unwanted physical contact. Above all, it is never the victim’s fault.

Sexual assault usually falls into one of three categories:

  1. Penetration crimes.
  2. Contact with intimate body parts.
  3. Exposure of intimate body parts.

Each state varies slightly in its definition of what sexual assault is, but when it comes down to it, there is no excuse for unwarranted sexual acts. (Note: If your child, student, or other teen you know has experienced any of these things, please don’t hesitate to take action. Reach out to the 24/7 National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800-656-HOPE for help.)

How do I talk about sexual assault with my kids?

It’s never too early to discuss sex, boundaries, and consent. Start these conversations when your kids are young so they know what is and isn’t appropriate, and so they know it’s all right to bring these topics up. The key is to adjust your tone, specifics, and level of depth based on your child’s age.

No matter your child’s age, one of the best ways to start a conversation is to actively search for natural ways to bring it up. If your family watches something on TV that shows some form of sexual assault, don’t assume they fully understand it. Ask your child to explain what happened and their reactions to it. Or if they see a post on social media that discusses the topic, use their technology to relate with them, which can lead to a less-forced discussion of a rather tough topic. 

It’s also important to address the topic directly and intentionally. It’s easy to assume that if our kids are under a certain age or if they haven’t brought it up with us, they’re simply unaware of it and everything is fine. But the truth is that’s often not the case. And most (if not all) of us would rather endure the awkward conversations than have the painful, heartbreaking conversations after something terrible happens. So it’s crucial to talk openly about it before something happens in order to not only educate them but also continually let them know they can talk to us about anything.

When you bring it up, talk not only about what sexual assault is but also about signs or circumstances to look out for. Young people are innocent (a good thing), so they often can’t conceive of others’ bad intentions, let alone recognize inappropriate things as they’re happening.

Though hard to swallow, it’s important to bring up the fact that 93% of victims know their perpetrator. It could be a friend, classmate, relative, or someone they trust. Making sure our children know the reality of sexual assault is the best thing we can do for them because it gives them the ability to look out for themselves. And if it feels awkward, that’s perfectly all right! These conversations are tough; let them feel welcomed by your humility about the subject.

Helping our kids to understand the reality of sexual assault can help prepare them to face their world, as well as encourage friends or loved ones who may have experienced some form of abuse.

Additional Resources

Note: This is an excerpt from our Parent’s Guide to Sexual Assault. For more on how to prevent sexual assault, equipping children to resist it, dealing with if it does happen, and much more, check it out.

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