Chances are, your son isn’t a rapist. Most boys aren’t.
Yet when we hear about young men like Brock Turner, who was found guilty of sexual assaulting an unconscious woman on Stanford’s campus, we assume he is every man.
And our messages to the boys and men around us go something like this: Don’t rape. And if you’ve got that down, stop your friends from raping people too.
While there’s nothing wrong with saying this, I have to wonder whether it’s the most effective way to engage and educate men and boys about sexual violence. What if we raised our sons to do more than simply not rape people? What if we raised them to prevent and respond to sexual violence with empathy, compassion, and action?
When we imagine the world of our dreams, then these are the essential lessons every parent ought to teach their son:
Consent. Consent is not a complex topic, but it needs to be discussed in clear and direct ways. All boys should know that consent is mandatory, yet also sexy. And that any sexual activity without consent is a violation of another human – and against the law. Start with this guide to understanding consent.
Tell them the truth about sexual violence. Addressing this issue head-on is the only way to help reduce the shame, stigma, and myths that surround it. Start by making sure they know sexual violence impacts men and boys as victims too. And that not all men are rapists.
Prepare them to help a friend who was sexually assaulted. An estimated 20% of women and 7% of men will be sexually assaulted as a college student. While few men and women report these crimes through official channels, over 70% of victims tell someone about what happened. If this person is your son, will he be prepared?
Humanize survivors of sexual violence. In my conversations with men about sexual violence through The Enliven Project, I’ve learned that, many times, the beginning of a man’s path to engagement on this issue starts with a personal relationship with a survivor. When you understand the impact of sexual violence on a person’s life, you develop empathy and understanding that imprints on your mind, body, and spirit. It’s why I openly share my story of sexual violence with friends and strangers alike.
Help him practice his moves. I’m not talking about his dance moves. I’m talking about intervening with other men and women as a champion and up-stander. It takes time and practice to bring up the topic of sexual violence with peers, challenge myths about women, men, and sexual violence, and call out troubling behavior. Workshop various intervention scenarios with him. Sign him up for a bystander engagement workshop. Teach your son to make the silent majority of awesome guys more vocal.
My son is only four years old. I want him to grow up to be more than just “not a rapist.” I want him to honor his humanity and the humanity of others – and stand up for what’s right in all things. I have a lot to learn about how to teach him compassion, empathy, and caring. But we're starting off on the right path.