Sexual Assault Awareness
April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, which is a good excuse to use to talk to your teen – both boys and girls – about this important issue. Many parents make the mistake of only talking to their daughters about sexual assault. While it’s true that the majority of sexual assault victims are women and girls, many men and boys are sexually assaulted, too. Parents must talk to their sons as well – some teen boys will become sexual assault victims, while others may become perpetrators. Preventing sexual assault begins with parents talking to their children about the problem.
All teens need to be given a clear definition of what sexual assault is.
For sexual activity to be all right, it must be consensual, which means that both people want it to happen. Sexual assault is when any person forces you to participate in a sexual act when you don’t want to, even if it’s just touching or being touched. Perpetrators of sexual assault can use physical force; drugs; threats or intimidation to make a victim feel afraid or unable to refuse them; or take advantage of someone too young or mentally disabled to be able to stand up for themselves.
Most victims are assaulted by someone they know: a friend, acquaintance, or boyfriend or girlfriend. Dating or being sexually involved with someone does not give that person the right to force you to have sexual contact you don’t want. You are allowed to change your mind at any time.
Unfortunately, teen sexual assault is very common. Studies have found that:
- One in four teen girls was verbally or physically pressured into having sex during the past year.
- One in 10 high school girls—and one in 20 high school boys—reported being forced into sex.
- More than one third of acquaintance rape victims are between the ages of 14 and 17.
- One in three teens is a victim of sexual or other abuse by a dating partner each year.
- About 9% of high school students are physically hurt—on purpose—by a boyfriend or girlfriend.
- Almost 20% of college women reported experiencing sexual assault on campus.
The damage of sexual assault isn’t just physical, it’s mental. Survivors of sexual assault are:
• 3 times more likely to suffer from depression,
• 6 times more likely to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder,
• 13 times more likely to abuse alcohol,
• 26 times more likely to abuse drugs, and
• 4 times more likely to contemplate suicide.
If your teen has been sexually assaulted, they absolutely need to see a qualified mental health professional to help them recover.
There are several ways that parents can prevent sexual assault:
- Role model and discuss the qualities of respectful and healthy relationships with both boys and girls.
- Teach your teen to decide what limits he or she wants in relationships and how to express those limits to dating partners. Tell your teen, that if someone crosses those boundaries or if he or she senses danger, to speak out and act immediately. For more specific information, read our previous blog, Healthy Relationships: Avoiding Teen Dating Violence.
- Give your teen the information and support he or she needs to make smart choices. Educate your teen about sexual intercourse, how to be protected from sexually transmitted disease and pregnancy, and the impacts of alcohol and drug abuse (including date rape drugs) on sexual encounters. Talking about these topics can be hard, but the more open and honest you are with your teen, the more likely it will be that he or she will turn to you with any questions and concerns.
- Educate your teen about consent. Let them know that teens or adults have the right to change their mind, to say “no,” or to agree to some sexual activities and not to others.
- Be sure to let your teen know that sexual assault is never the fault of the victim. Explain that if they become a victim of sexual assault, they are not to blame. The perpetrator is at fault, regardless of the circumstances.
- Educate your teen about how to avoid placing themselves at risk of sexual assault. There are several actions teens can take to keep themselves safe. Read share our previous blog, Teach Teen Girls to Avoid Rape, with your teen.